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dabanhfreak avatar 3:50 AM on 01.26.2011  (server time)
The Profound Potential of Videogames

So not long ago I saw an ad on for a freelance writer. Whoop! Dream job. All they were asking for was a short CV and a 1000 word writing sample. I whipped it up the same night. They never got back to me. Assholes.

I couldn't think of any other thing else but to put the application up here as my maiden Dtoid post. I will also use the internet to add a few pretty pictures. Enjoy.

2010 was a different year for me in terms of video games. Like any other year, I kept up to date with the releases, read the reviews, picked up all the acclaimed masterpieces. But there was one game that separated itself from the pack. It demonstrated to me that videogames, when approached from the right mindset, could become a profound medium for generations of people.

That game was MAG.

I will admit that I was late on entering the MAG scene. It launched to a lukewarm response from critics. I assumed the 256-player-count was a gimmick, and I was put off by comments that it felt like “a generic first-person-shooter”. However, there remained a latent curiosity. It was not until June of last year that I picked up MAG, at a discount.

Since then, I have poured over 700 hours into the game.

MAG is a shooter unlike any other. Hidden beneath the player count, the endless bunkers and the hidden objectives, MAG offers a deep level of strategy and tactics. This is what keeps me coming back. It is not through a monotonous process of shooting enemy soldiers without purpose. Instead, it is the reward that comes from knowing I contribute to something greater than myself. MAG is huge and diverse. It is more than a shooter; it is a theatre of war.

There is an even greater reward: that of leadership. To actually be given the opportunity to lead. Given the chance, a player can thrust him/herself into a position where they can organise a combined assault of 32 or even 128 players. That leader can broadcast a voice, heard by every single teammate on the battlefield.

This is profound. Effective leadership in MAG requires the same skills that a real leader has in real life. For example, a leader does not command, he requests. A leader strives to bring out the best in his subordinates. A leader leads by example. A leader naturally commands via respect.
I brooded over these elements for a few weeks. Reaching into my knowledge of oriental literature, I came up with this:

The Art of War and MAG (unfinished due to habitual laziness)

I have come to the conclusion that MAG had the potential to teach me the art of leadership. A genuine life skill. On the flip side, it reveals some of our darker elements. I have seen evidence of leaders full of verbal abuse, muteness and selfishness.

Here I think lies the deepest potential for videogames. We already know it is the most engaging entertainment medium. It has been for the last few generations. There is a now a space for videogames to reach even further. It has the potential to teach us about life, to enrich our emotions, to help us connect, and to teach us about ourselves.

I believe that the industry is ripe to make this level of transition. This is because the industry has become polarised.

There is the top-level of development, where, year in, year out, AAA developers promise us a river of “blockbuster games”. But herein lies the problem: the reluctance for these developers to take risks, leading to an endless production line of annual sequels and updates. Activision and EA have already been found guilty of running their respective music and sports franchises into the ground. These are the leaders of the industry. They are subjecting everyone to feelings of monotony and apathy. What a waste.

Rather, it is the smaller developers - many of them independent - giving us the room to blossom. These guys are more willing to take risks. They are more willing to express themselves with integrity. They possess greater vision. This is where MAG succeeds over its competitors. Its scale forces its players to connect with other people on unprecedented levels. It is people that play MAG, people that lead other people in MAG, people that can hinder, even destroy MAG. Gambling on human responses is the risk developers must take. These smaller developers hold the key - these guys are to the major developers, what Bob Dylan was to the Beatles.

One of the great examples is LittleBigPlanet. Since its release in 2008, the PS3 community has been united in collective amazement. By combining a network of cloud community and creativity, thousands of gamers are offered a blank digital canvas to create their dormant dreams of platforming beauty. Some of these creations have defied belief. 2011’s sequel can only deepen its potential.

Similarly, platformers have provided a medium for independent developers to embark on new methods of storytelling. In some cases, the relative simplicity of a platformer allows a deeper level of emotional immersion. Simplicity also permits online distribution for under twenty dollars. Two games in particular come to mind. This year’s Limbo confronted gamers by juxtaposing innocent images of children against visceral feelings of ambiance, dread and horror. 2008’s Braid, in addition to its original time-manipulation gameplay, basked us in beautiful music and long written soliloquies of love and loss. Arguably, these releases are not so much videogames, but genuine works of art.

Art form has shown an ability to stretch itself beyond what was thought possible. Two PlayStation juggernauts demonstrate this through level design. “Epic” is the only word that can justify God of War’s levels, provoking feelings of both the familiar and the mythic. Shadow of the the Colossus, on the other hand, gave us vast, barren, decrepit landscapes that gave us feelings of dispair. SotC also succeeded is amazing storytelling, enough to make even the sassiest female gamer (Jessica Chobot) burst into tears. This is a good thing.

Storytelling is also gradually popping up as a key aspect of many recent games. Heavy Rainn left me feeling genuine tension. Mass Effect story is, for my money, the best sci-fi story I have seen in a long time. The Uncharted stories, gripped me with movie-like cinematics, believable voice acting and realistic sexual tension.

The future of the video game industry is at once certain, and uncertain, in these unstable economic and social times. What is for sure is that the industry will continue to grow, and it is up to developers to find new ways of engaging us. It is the human element of videogames that is the key to grasping our imaginations. Gone are the days when videogames were simple kid’s toys, when all that was required was press A, jump over a burning barrel, climb a few ladders and grind the next level. It is time for videogames to mature to the point when they can change us, teach us, make us feel, make us connect, make us human again. There is a bottomless well of content here; all that is required is a bit of creativity and some gamble. It is then that videogames can tap into its remarkable human potential.

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