I am not, generally speaking, a console/computer gamer. I generally prefer my games to be interactive with other people, preferably people I know and will interact with in real life.
However, a recent article about Mass Effect (regarding it’s compelling characters, engaging storyline, and OMG SPACE!) actually made me want to seek it out. Nate is a console gamer and happened to have Mass Effect and ME:2 handy. When I mentioned that I was sort of interested in checking it out, he ran to the shelf where we store his games, popped it into the ol’ XBox360, and put a controller into my hands.
I am not a console gamer. Occasionally, I will play a game with my Nate as long as it’s not too difficult. Sometimes a game will be sufficiently interesting to me that I’ll give it a go – the last game I played all the way through was Portal, which I enjoyed a great deal. But it took me about five times as long to play through it as everyone else I know.
The senses that veteran gamers have, the ones that have been developed over years of play, are largely absent in me. Give me a battle mat, dozens of figures, and a D&D combat system, and I can run a battle like a general. Give me a video game controller, and that poor figure whose life I’m now responsible for will wind up stuck in a wall over and over again. It’s embarrassing. As a result, when someone asks me if I play video games, I demure.
“I’m not really into them,” I’ll say, although every now and again I could wish that I was. I watch my partner in crime play them. I read comics that mostly only appeal to that kind of gamer. I read articles about them. I talk knowledgeably about game theories, how games are constructed. Many of my friends work or have worked for game companies. Knowing about video games is important to my social life.
When I moved in with Nate, I made him deal with anything involving the variety of consoles he had. Over the last two years, my level of comfort with them has increased substantially. They are no longer strange, foreign boxes of plastic and electronics, but rather recognizable entertainment tools. I can troubleshoot problems and feel confident that if something happens to them, it wasn’t my fault. I am now at the level of the average American seven year old
The allure of Mass Effect (and OMG SPACE!) was enough to pull me from my usual hesitation. Nate patiently explained the controls to me, gave me a little advice, and has mostly left me to my own devices. Once, I couldn’t get through a battle and after spending five hours beating my head against it, he asked me if I wanted to let him have a go at it. I swallowed my pride, handed him the controller, and went to bed. The next morning, he assuaged my pride a little by telling me that it was a really hard fight and that he saved the game with Shepard standing over the remains of the fallen colossus, gave me some more advice, and let me meander through the rest of it myself.
I ask Nate embarrassing questions (“So, I landed at the Citadel, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to get off my own goddamn ship!”) which he answers, usually without looking up from his own computer game. He doesn’t make me feel embarrassed about my laughable lack of coordination, and when I do something that I feel is particularly clever, or at least reasonably competent, he is as pleased as I am about my (perhaps dubious) accomplishment.
An ongoing discussion I have with friends is about the ability of video games to tell a compelling and immersive story. Leaving aside the “are games art” question, is it possible for a game to convey the depth of emotion that a film or a book can? I am not entirely convinced that it is possible, but I know with certainty that a game can convey the depth of emotion that popular fiction often does.
More importantly, while I have often thought of video games as being essentially a personal and somewhat lonely activity, Nate and I have bonded on a whole new level while I wander (and murder) my way through the galaxy and I am reminded once again of what an amazing, interesting, and loving man my fiance is. Clearly, the emotional content is not limited to the game play itself.