It’s often pointed out to me (usually by my mom), that I’m a first-class addict when it comes to gaming. Then I would quickly reply: “well you're also a Korean telenovela addict”, but of course I only say this in my head.
But I digress, and I try to wonder: why can’t gaming be my primary choice of entertainment? I would speculate the non-gaming mass, especially the older generations, haven’t come to grips that gaming could be considered a legitimate form of narrative.
Throughout my so-called “gaming career”, I’ve been very lucky to have experienced some of gaming’s finest moments. These are some moments that so far, no other medium has been able to match. Here are some thoughts on games that I think gave me a fulfilling experience.
Red Dead Redemption
Early 1900s America, where settlements are being found and wild animals still freely roam the land. Picturesque landscapes of canyons and mountain ranges and dusty deserts with the tumbleweeds crossing about. You play the role of John Marston, a man struggling to do what is right (or sometimes wrong) in order to see his family again. It’s one of the rare games that would make me not use the fast travel feature, because I’d rather soak in the sights and sounds during the pioneering days of America. Not only that: it was able to successfully capture the feel during those days of lawlessness and how one can brutally survive with a Colt single-action revolver. Like the the art and aesthetics, the story is beautifully paced and the characters all have depth and personality, especially the protagonist, John Marston. I would go as far as to say this game was truly a masterpiece of its genre as I’ve never been so absorbed with any other title to this day.
Mass Effect Series
Man has found a way to travel beyond Earth and to other solar systems with the help of technology curiously left behind by an unknown race. You play the role of Commander Shepard, who can be male or female, depending on how you customize the character. The plight of saving humanity and how you do it -- morally or immorally -- really depends on you as the player. The game successfully captures the feeling that each decision you make can have a rippling effect throughout the whole series. You are also given comrades in arms to fight with, both human and alien, and all of them are interesting enough to bring along as they will give you nibble sized bits of their opinions and backstory. Of course, the game takes place all over the universe. You get to hop in and out of different planets with different kinds of environments. What is a space opera if it doesn’t deal with some kind of “jumping” from one star system to the other?
Far Cry 3
It was supposed to be an exciting getaway in an exotic island filled with flora and fauna that could only be found in the tropics... until suddenly everything turned for the worst! The island is filled with murderous pirates: not the charming kind, but the human-trafficking, sell-you-for-drugs-and-money kind. An excellent example of a first person narrative, the game never shifts out of the first person perspective of Jason Brody. Every grit, pleasure, and pain that Jason experiences is communicated very well by the game to the player. You get to witness first-hand the transformation of an adrenaline junkie man-child into a courageous yet ruthless warrior who seeks revenge. It may be cliché, but the main difference is in this game, you get to pull the trigger.
Why it's different
The one unique aspect of gaming that trumps other forms of media is the emergence. As I have mentioned with Mass Effect, some games today give you the freedom and choice to shape the outcome of the story. Imagine that you get to be the writer and director of your favorite TV show or movie, choosing the path of the protagonist and how he/she acts when presented with different kinds of situations. Some games also put you right smack-dab into the middle of the action, making you (as the audience) experience what the protagonist is experiencing first hand. Other forms of media only go as far as trying to make you understand by painting you a picture either visually or with words. Games, in my opinion, immerse you better since you have direct control of the character on the screen, and depending on the game, you are granted certain freedoms to go with certain situations. Couple that with quality visuals and professionally produced audio, and I can guarantee you that this is by far a superior experience to simply being the passive audience.
I urge the non-gamer readers out there not to dismiss gaming as a hobby, or a distraction for children. The sad fact is that gaming has been generalized to be an activity meant for the juvenile populace, especially where I live. Yes, I acknowledge the fact that there are some games that are geared towards children, but same goes for any other form of media. There are shows and stories that are carefully designed and created to target certain age groups, which is equally true for games.
Although I enjoy the occasional summer flick on the big screen, TV shows with multi-dimensional characters (shout-out to Downton Abbey!), or a book that could easily toy with my emotions (go read: She’s Come Undone), I would still hand it to gaming for giving me truly unique and memorable experiences.