I’m a writer, first and foremost, but I won’t deny the fact that I love my Xbox 360, Nintendo DS and Playstation 2 games as well – not just because I’m a pasty geek who doesn’t go outside, I assure you.
If I look properly at my favourite games they almost all have something in common – a strong storyline and/or a strong set of characters – characteristics of my favourite books.
Role Play Games, including the long-standing Final Fantasy series, the Elder Scrolls series and free-standing Eternal Sonata (based on the music and supposed dreams of composer Chopin), involve you controlling and following either a single strong character of your own making or a team of characters as they make their way through a storyline structured with clues and hints of where to go next and what to do. They each take place in beautiful fantasy worlds that sweep you away and steal hours of your day as you keep playing, desperate to know what happens next in the story. You talk to other people in your world, trade with them, help them, work for and with them and, on occasion, assassinate them.
Yes there are battles to fight but they go towards ‘Levelling up’ your characters and developing whichever characteristics you want – strength, endurance, health, attack or defence – or in some cases your magic or weapon skills. The system is different in each game, but they all work on a similar premise that I love to immerse myself into.
These RPGs are a lot like ‘playing’ a book, reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Ending books I’m sure we all tried at some point in our childhood. I love the way you can develop your character in your own way, not a set way designed by the inventors of the game. In some games, such as the Fable and Fallout series, you even get to make your own decisions in respect of being good, evil or somewhere in the middle. I love these games because you can play them over and over, each time choosing a different path – this time I will kill the man and steal the treasure, next time I will pay him for it – the possibilities are practically endless and you never get bored because you’re never following quite the same path.
I don’t limit myself to RPGs though, far from it. Other games I play include the Halo series with their strong storyline and characters which are loved the world over. The action packed game play is fun to enjoy both alone, online with other players and at home with friends. I enjoy the game so much I am fully intending to invest in one of the Halo novels and give it a read – such a story-lead game should lend itself well to novelisation and I expect I will enjoy it immensely for what it is.
Then there are games like Viva Pinata: Trouble In Paradise where you get to build your own world of ‘gardens’ and control the goings on within – it is up to you to strike a balance between predators and prey, prevent over-population, protect your creatures from the minions of Professor Pester and create a happy environment for all. The final objective is to defeat Professor Pester and draw his meddlings to a close however I have wasted many hours simply arranging and rearranging my garden to fit in with how I want it to look. Much like how I play with the settings and locations in my writing – it is a visual practice of world building and I relish every second of it.
Tomb Raider Underworld is another game I play a lot. Again, it features a strong storyline which works whether or not you have played any previous Tomb Raider games. The game play of Tomb Raider focuses mostly on the solving of puzzles and the application of logic in your situations – pressing buttons in a certain order, figuring out a maze or climbing the walls in the right order to prevent from falling to your death in the jaws of a tiger or two.
The puzzle structure of Tomb Raider is what makes it both compulsive and infuriating. Many a time I have sat repeatedly dying in the same place whilst trying to solve a puzzle, giving up for a few hours before coming, sitting down and instantly solving it – usually with some kind of outburst along the lines of ‘How did you miss that glaringly obvious button over there, you idiot?!’ The logic skills you develop as you play are surprisingly useful in writing – storylines can get complicated and tangled, having the ability to logically extricate them and set them straight is invaluable and, as is often pointed out, practice makes perfect.
I very occasionally dabble into the world of military First Person Shooters and though they are very far from my favourite games to play I actually quite enjoy watching Sy play them on an evening. What could I possibly learn from Battlefield Bad Company or Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that could help with writing, I hear you ask. Surprisingly, quite a lot.
Logic again for a start but more obviously – military strategy. Think of all the books you have read and how many battles, wars and fights there are. I could never have begun to write anything like that until I started paying attention to things like games and films because I didn’t have the faintest idea about strategy. I sucked at chess (still do if I’m honest) because of my inability to look beyond my current move which is something military strategists have to do all the time – ‘If we move here, they’ll attack us there, then we can do this and they’ll flee to here and be weakest there’ etc. Watching and playing these army games has broadened my mind to this so much more than anything else because suddenly it matters when it is you being shot at, albeit virtually.
I may not particularly enjoy playing military FPS games but I certainly see value in it, particularly if you are playing an online team-based mission. The importance of communication and paying attention to everyone else’s movements and coordinating your own with theirs is as invaluable as predicting your enemies next move. This is something I have already incorporated into some writing and will no doubt need to use again, a skill I would probably lack without the games in my life.
Clearly I play other games just for fun, Lego Star Wars (because I love Lego AND Star Wars thus making this a match from heaven), Professor Layton (because I love my puzzles), Burnout and Need For Speed (because, honestly, who doesn’t enjoy razzing round in a fast car causing havoc?) and, of course, all the classics like Sonic, Mario and, one of my personal (ZX Spectrum) favourites, Horace Goes Skiing (just because).
So the conclusion of all this? Sometimes people play games for reasons other than what you might expect. Indeed, many writers play RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons with a deliberate view to constantly practice their writing – creating a bigger story around their steady progression through the game.
I play games because I learn things I would otherwise miss out on and because I enjoy it immensely. Sometimes I want to read, sometimes I want to write, sometimes I want to go outside and look at the world and sometimes I want to sit down in my front room and play. If this makes me a geek then that’s fine. I’m a geek and I’m proud. And happy.