Monday, December 11The Voice of London

The nerd, the video game and the stereotype that needs to end.

Spectacles, high waisted trousers and a copy of Fantastic Four #481. Seen in a movie, perhaps, but this archaic representation of gamers isn’t accurate anymore.

Reporter: Ryan Yeo | Sub-Editor: Emre Gunes

“I remember my stepdad asking me once when I’d grow out of games. I rebutted: do you grow out of books? Do you grow out of films? No, then why must I grow out of this particular entertainment medium?”

He makes a good point. I sat down with former IGN news editor, Luke Karmali, to discuss why the video game culture has become saturated with this negative stigma. Bombarded with accusations that we’re wasting our time with brain-harming activities and adopting aggressive and lazy personalities, gamers can find it hard to proudly be their pixel-loving selves.

The sheer nature of a game only progressing with your immediate interaction, creates an immersion greater than other entertainment mediums can dream to achieve. “Games are an active medium whereas films and books are passive. You’re a participant, rather than a spectator, and that brings an entirely new range of emotions and immersion to proceedings.” And Luke’s right. Uncharted  and The Last of Us experiment heavily with camera angles making for some truly breathtaking gameplay. A simple jump across a ledge becomes intense drama when the games program intentionally makes the character miss the leap, and sweeps the camera past his clambering hands to the bottom of where their demise might lie. While these parts are not controllable, they blend seamlessly to create a new genre of gaming – it essentially becomes a playable movie.

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Uncharted 4 featured an ability to pause the game at any point and move the camera about in order to take a screenshot, emphasising the game’s classification as artistic and individual expression | Source: Ryan Yeo

Because of this, however, he shocks me when he sympathises with those that cite video games as the instigator for violence such as the mass shooting in Connecticut. “With such intricacy and detail, it’s more easy to be led and emotionally manipulated; it’s crucial to think critically about things”. Failing to see how the more pixelated a fire breathing dragon is, the less chances I have of still knowing I’m looking at a screen, I decided to do some research.

Not only have studies have found no link between video games and aggressive behaviour, but ironically, playing violent video games long-term equip people with the mental skills to handle stress, reduce rates of depression and create less hostile feelings during stressful tasks.

Many users of Pokemon Go cited the game as the reason they overcame their anxiety of leaving their house, therefore improving their livelihood. Researchers at the National Institute on Aging launched a $1.2 million project to use a Nintendo Wii in order to help improve the daily cognitive functioning of senior citizens. I personally enjoyed playing as female heroines as my own way of dealing with my closeted sexuality. Simply put, gaming improves people’s lives.

Yet still, if you kick back on the sofa after a hard day and play on a games console, you’re branded as lazy or immature, as opposed to the fad-hungry mediation manics who are praised in healthily reducing stress levels.

It’s no wonder, then, that young people turn to gaming more a form of escapism rather than other entertainment outlets. Given the fact that gaming has been around for a fraction of the time that movies have, video games have seen gender and sexuality representation progress at a much faster rate. While debates surrounding women’s scantily clad appearances in James Bond movies are still ongoing, Lara Croft’s physical transformation is a showing sign that the gaming industry knows that its players value equality and are ready for change now. In such an immersive landscape, you don’t want to feel like you’re playing a representation of a character that doesn’t fit with today’s social standards.

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Lara Croft’s big busted and small waisted appearance was criticised harshly, yet only took a few years to drastically change this | Source: Quora

And it’s not like this is an industry that can afford to take such risks because of its small consumership. The second most expensive film ever created is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, with a $300 million budget. Grand Theft Auto 5 matched this budget and made more than the film did. In fact, it made $1 billion in its first three days, whilst the Avengers film took 19 days to make the same sales, and that still stands as the record. It’s clear to see then, that it’s not some mediocre platform that is an inherent niche.

Far from it actually. More than 1.2 billion people are playing video games, breaking gender boundaries with a 46% figure of female gamers. Dumbfounded with what seems like such a progressive and mainstream appeal, I pushed Luke for more reasons he could think of for why people hate gaming.

“Some think that the realm of gaming is specific to the greasy, lazy individuals who lie in their beds steeped in sweat, mountain dew and dust from doritos.”

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Five gamers who were watched more on livestream gaming services than the NBA final in 2015. And not a glob of fat or dorito anywhere | Source: quora

“Some think that gaming is extremely anti-social.”

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The small number of individuals that turned out for the Lol gaming World Championships in 2014 | Source: quora

“Some think that it’s strictly for kids and young adolescents.”

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Your Grandparents don’t just sit in a stale room and eat Werther’s Originals it seems | Source: Ryan Yeo

“For some, it’s simply ignorance – they think gaming is still stuck in the days of Pacman.”

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Admittedly only a slight improvement from the days of jumping down green pipes and falling puzzle cubes | Source: Ryan Yeo

I think after a while he got tired of me pausing for 2 minutes in between each question to shove these images in his face.

I can understand that conservatives think gaming lacks depth and meaning. Sure enough, when I played the autobiographical game ‘That Dragon, Cancer’ it wasn’t the narrative exploration of a number of abstracted scenes based on two parents’ experience of losing their five-year-old to cancer that made my heart irrevocably wrench. No. It was clearly the lack of anything worthwhile.

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A game that will leave you in tears – ‘That Dragon, Cancer’ deals with the emotional turmoil families deal with when faced with terminal illnesses | Source: static

Disappointing cynics with its lack of jump-n-shoot mechanics, the game requires the players’ interaction with the characters to make certain choices, reflecting the ones the parents had to face. The game also includes narration from both parents, as well as recordings and voicemails they made during their journey with their child, and screenshots of real letters and drawings made by him.

In Gone Home, the player explores an abandoned family home and interacts with clues and objects that detail the backstory of a young girl struggling with her sexuality, and her dad who was sexually abused by his Uncle. Instead of a film where there is no alternative but to watch it as the director intended you to consume it, an explorative game allows you to decide your own path, your own immersion, and ultimately your own role.

In Depression Quest, the game endeavours to show players what it’s like to live with such a burdening mental illness. Praised for it’s educational value, the game can end in multiple scenarios based on the players choices of certain hyperlinks. Some choices are often crossed out and cannot be clicked on, a mechanism that Depression Quest uses to portray the character’s mental state and the fact that logical decisions may not be available to them. It also does something that most films would never dream of doing – it can be played for free, and has a pay-what-you-want pricing model. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline receives part of the proceeds.

Games are not simple anymore. Nor are they useless. We all love gaming for different reasons. For the time we fell in love with a particular character or bonded with someone over the frustration of a level, we cherish the immensely interactive experience. Because that’s what gaming is all about. Why else does technology such as VR come into existence? Putting yourself right there in the action fulfils individuals needs for relation, comfort and escapism. And who can blame us for wanting to escape reality…have you seen how 2016 turned out?

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