The Other Reality: Or How I Learned to Stop Grinding and Love the Multiverse

I read a great post over at The Geek Anthropologist today and it got me feisty.

Forgive me – I don’t outline, I spew until I stop. Tangents are my slippery tentacles.

I’ve been an avid gamer since I was little. I remember the original Mario Bros. and Joust stand-ups at Safeway. I remember pizza-smeared tabletop Space Invaders at Godfather’s Pizza. Video games have been a part of my life since I played Pong on a shitty little television upstairs at my grandparents’ house.

These days I’m living the high life as Isaac Shepard saving the universe from the Reapers, or abandoning it to them. I am a Jedi Sage named Griegan trying to stay true to the Unifying Force as I run errands for the Council. I’m a leafy Guardian throwing down some serious hammerage on the Nightmare Court. I’m John Marston holed up in a barn against overwhelming odds.

I wasn’t always this immersed in my games, though. I was once a button-masher, a level grinder, a completionist. I didn’t just beat Kid Niki, I mastered it. I didn’t just beat you at Mortal Kombat, I made you shit your pants. For what? “Thanks a Million”? “A Winner is You”?

I started WoW shortly after it came out, well before Burning Crusade, and it hooked me like it did millions. Before that I was already experienced with MMOs through my addiction to Ultima Online. Hell, my family didn’t have an internet connection until that game came out and I demanded it. UO exposed me to a style of gameplay I hadn’t been involved with in years, since table-top gaming D&D: role-playing. Sure, Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Dragon Quest – those are Role-playing Games, but you didn’t get to sit down in a chair and drink a glass of ale, or compose a spontaneous poem about the undead in front of other adventurers at an inn.

For once, it didn’t matter what level I was. I stopped trying to beat the game or become a Grandmaster Scholar. I had friends in the game, and we pretended the game realm was real. Our characters talked about the politics of the fictional game world. We immersed ourselves in it. My ranger married a nice warrior chick and we built a tower outside of Yew. World of Warcraft took it even further. There were whole servers dedicated as realms for people just like me, taking the game to another level beyond PvP and Heroics. Oh, I still maxxed out my time in Arenas and Raids, but it wasn’t why I stayed with it.

Gaming changed for me then. I saw what video games had the potential to be. In the last ten years, I could read a Spider-Man comic, watch a Spider-Man cartoon, watch a Spider-Man movie, and then play as Spider-Man in a video game. One day, that’s all going to be one form of entertainment.

Who needs a 2-hour movie about a guy who cannot tell in the end if he’s stuck in a dream world or not, when you can experience it, sand-box style, in the comfort of your very own virtual reality entertainment room?

That’s where video games are going – not to a 7″ screen. Smartphones and tablets need video games, because one day people will realize and are realizing that having 3 separate gadgets that essentially could be accomplished with one is pointless and not cost-effective. Those companies haven’t perfected the NodePad, or the HoloDeck, or the LiveDome, yet, but they need your money now.

“Look! You can play games on it!” I must need that, because I’m a gamer!

No, you’re not going to take me away from my 50+” screen and my surround sound. You might can do what my Xbox 360 does with Call of Duty, but you can’t capture what WoW on PC is on an iPad.

Science fiction has picked up on VR some, but it rarely addresses how humans are going to handle virtual reality when its so good its real. It may be beyond our time, but its coming. Along with androids that look like us, and alien life on other planets. o.O

What happens when a man can have v-sex with any woman he wants, without his wife even knowing? Imagine young adults exchanging data chips that contain their avatars, giving up their likenesses to be used and abused by whoever they choose. Did you see Caprica? What happens when that pedophile can do whatever he wants in VR? What happens when that serial rapist stalks facsimiles of people he knows in his game?

Those are tough questions. Is VR keeping the pedophile off the streets? Will it satisfy the blood lust of maniacs who we might rather have take an ax to a video game character than a real person? Will it be a safe prison for those criminals we can’t fix with drugs and incarceration?

That kind of entertainment changes everything – and we have a tiny taste of it today. Look at games like Grand Theft Auto, Fallout 3, Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption. You don’t have to grind quests to level up and get better gear to beat bigger enemies. You can sit your ass in a chair, get drunk, and play poker all day. You can also make a living chopping wood, holding up stagecoaches, driving a taxi, beating prostitutes, or selling junk you find in the wastelands. And then you have games like Minecraft, that aren’t necessarily about playing a character, but exploring and building a world, using your imaginations to create tangible works of art, intricate machines, big … holes in the ground.

It’s these other realms I want to immerse myself in when I don’t have to crunch numbers and provide logistical support to my clients. I love movies like Inception, television like Lost and Doctor Who, and the occasional Jersey Shore episode, but I don’t get to interact with those adventures, I have to just watch. That will change one day, whether I get to experience it or not.

I can throw birds at pigs all day, but what do I really get out of it for me? I can headshot a careless 13-year-old who fills my headphones with painful urban dialect and doesn’t understand cover, but does it bring me peace and wisdom? Little games are going to satisfy the little gamers, the casual gamers, the social gamers … but I don’t want to see the industry pump funds into trumping consoles with smartphones and tablets to keep “fresh” because they think mobile gaming is the console killer … its not the natural direction for games, at least not the forward motion that the video game industry needs. We need bigger games, more sand-box, more MMOs, more epic realms to explore, more story that challenges us intellectually.

There is a bigger prize out there, and it will change how we look at games, and how we look at life.

Our future lies in other realms of human consciousness, whether on distant planets as our race expands through the cosmos, or in the game worlds we create in our own homes.

4 thoughts on “The Other Reality: Or How I Learned to Stop Grinding and Love the Multiverse

  1. Hello! I’m glad you thought my post was great! But just to clarify, what I wrote made you spew and feel feisty? Uh, so is that good or bad as far as what I wrote? šŸ˜‰

    I agree with you about the incredible potential of games. I love explore possibilities I don’t have in the tangible word in games. For example, going rogue or paragon when talking to a Krogan and seing the result.

    I’m a bit more ambivalent about mobile games. I enjoy a few of them, but not for the same reasons I enjoy WOW, Mass Effect or any other console or PC game. I wouldn’t play ME2 for 15 minutes on the bus. I might prefer to check out SuperBetter to plan my day a little, or play a puzzle game. Of course tablet or smart phone games will one day be outdated when better technology is available, and I admit I don’t rush to my ipad to play a game when I’m home, I go to my PC or PS3 instead. But for now some mobile games are pretty nice to play, even if only while on the go.

  2. I’d also like to see more in the way of open-ended worlds and mind-boggling stories. Unfortunately, the standards for stories in video games measures quite low, probably due to the youth of video gaming. We get some awesome stuff like WoW and Mass Effect and such on a yearly basis, but when I consider these gems relative to the sheer number of video games made, I realize that there’s a hell of a lot more “Little Games” for the little gamers.

    I hope that video gaming, or whatever new forms of interactive media come out, gain recognition as a legitimate story-telling medium. I certainly believe it is, but it’s hard to convince non-gamers that I became enthralled by the story of a video game. I’d love to see literary quality talent invest in telling intricate and evocative stories through video games, though there are obviously challenges beyond just story telling when it comes to gaming, but there also so many advantages I think someone will do it.

    To have vision of both masterful game design and masterful story-telling; hopefully, this breed of developer will exist one day and become the norm amongst the gaming community. They might already exist for all I know, as while I am a gamer, I’ve done little more than scratch at the enormous pile of games that are generally accept as good to great.

    Good article. Thanks for writing!

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