Sometime over the summer, I had the opportunity to attend a nationwide program called Boys State. There's one program per state for a handful of states, and for those of you who aren't aware of what it is, basically it's alot like a mock United Nations program, except it focuses on state level government. Seeing as you kinda have to be "hand picked" to go, it's a pretty incredible honor and experience just to attend it. While there, we had the option to take a few mini-courses. While most of the boys on the campus decided to go spend their course time playing soccer or football, I decided to take a better speaking course, in which we all wrote and edited speeches and presented them to the class, eventually voting on who would go on to read at the final ceremony (I was a very close runner-up). With the exception of my final speech, I wrote my three or four speeches on the topic I know best, video games. But in an extremely analytical way. I wrote one about the uncanny valley and another on the violence debate, but my personal favorite was a speech that I wrote about one of my most favorite games, Ikaruga. Now, I had literally just beating Ikaruga for the first time right before coming, and as such, I had about an entire week to lay awake at night just thinking about it (there were no electronics available). On my list of possible speech topics, this was definitely on top, and as soon as the class got used to my "nerdy" speeches, I figured it was time to lay on them the big one. Now, my speech may not be as analytical as Topher's classic article prior to the games XBLA release, but these were my initial reactions to beating the GCN version for the first time. (Please note that I don't have the actual speech written down, but merely a basic outline.)
What I learned from Ikaruga
Many people enjoy scrutinizing video games for many reasons. They claim they offer nothing to society, simple wastes of time. Well, what can you take away from games when major lessons are 'shoot the red ships' and 'you can aim to be world's greatest fighter by going out in the streets and fighting foreigners?' Not that much, really. But at the same time, some games taught us skills and lessons that really should stick with us all life long and sometimes even makes us stop and think about things we may not even stop to consider all on our own; Braid taught us the power of responsibility and taking back our mistakes. Shadow of the Colossus made us realize that no matter the situation, we should stop to look at things from others' point of view. Beyond Good & Evil warned of putting too much trust in an overbearing government that refuses to tell us the truth. The list goes on and on. But recently, the last game I played managed to teach me even more of a lesson than I even thought was possible.
The latest game I acquired was 2-D shooter called "Ikaruga". I stopped here to explain the mechanics of Ikaruga... after all, I was the only one truly familar with games.
Now, I bet you're wondering what sort of lesson a game like this teaches? Not obviously something like pattern recognition and hand eye coordination, but a very important lesson about hard work. In recent years, the appearance of a larger audience meant that games got a little easier. They were no longer truly challenging and offered no true penalty for failure. There had definitely been a steep drop off in overall difficulty. But Ikaruga has definitely been one of the harder games I have played in a good long while. But the game avoids becoming discouraging by offering the player many chances to get better and succeed. The more you play and practice, the more credits you acquire. This was another spot where I had to explain the concept of credits this time.
For every hour that you play, another credit is earned and added to your overall count. In other words, the longer you play, the more time you earn to play. Not only do I see this as excellent game design at it's true finest, but it truly seeks to reward the gamer who seeks to actually get good at a game and not just complete it in order to move on. It's also one of the game's many strong metaphors for life.
If you are ever approached with a problem in real life, I feel that this is definitely the way one should approach it, and it will respond similarly. It's important that when trying to solve what may seem like a unsolvable problem, one should be willing to approach it from other angles to find that new solution. And as one progresses, things will get invariably harder, but at the same time, the more effort you put into it, the more opportunity for success will become presented and the more skill you too will have garnered in order to overcome the problem.
The game itself is also incredibly motivational towards the player. In fact, when beating the Trial Mode which consists only of the first two stages, it tells you "Great work, but Rome wasn't built in a day." Think about that, honestly think about it. What that says is that you will not be successful the first time. You will encounter hardships. You will fail. But that doesn't mean you will never succeed. It takes time and effort to get better, of course, Rome wasn't built in a day, afterall. And when you lose all your lives and credits and get a game over, the game responds with "Game Over... we shall meet again someday soon." If you fail, you should not give up. You must return to the challenge someday if you hope to overcome it. Whether it's five minutes later or even five days later, you must never leave a problem that you want to solve. These are just some of the thoughts one should have when there is a challenge that must be solved.
Now, I suppose I didn't really "learn" anything new from Ikaruga as these are all already things I have learned and taught myself over the years. But maybe someone else will pick up Ikaruga. Maybe it will be someone who is down on their luck or often finds themselves discouraged. Maybe they'll get hooked on Ikaruga like so many others. And maybe, just maybe, they'll come away from Ikaruga with a new outlook on life and on how they handle life, challenges, and their own personal goals they set out to achieve. Just maybe.
LOOK WHO CAME: