The Thing I Like About …

… video games: the endless possibilities.

I don’t actually play video games.  My eyes do not enjoy trying to navigate an avatar through moving terrain.  I play less visually complex games such as Peggle or Mario or Spider Solitaire.  But I do watch other people play video games; I have watched friends play – among others – Star Wars, Zelda, Resident Evil, various Batman incarnations, various Lego incarnations, The Last of Us, Black Rain, L.A. Noire, and Grand Theft Auto V.  It’s very fun to watch – I don’t get attached to looking for treasure or beating anybody at anything, and it’s kind of like a re-e-e-eally long movie with an ever-evolving plot and dozens of characters.

But the most amazing thing about all these games is how many different possibilities there are.  It isn’t just about going right instead of left. There are choices for good and evil, for money versus fame versus power versus other goals. There are so many different ways to complete so many different Lego-Marvel missions that I don’t know if a person could exhaust them all in a lifetime.  There are programmed personalizations that can take thousands of forms, and there are now often on-line features that let you add your own stuff.  Many games add new adventures later that can be downloaded. And even in my level of game – Mario, for instance – there are different ways to approach the journey: against the clock, to get the most money, to get the most lives, to spend the fewest lives, to jump as quickly as possible through the levels, to go through each level one at a time, to get all of the hidden stuff … and that’s in Mario.  I couldn’t begin to count the different ways you can approach a more complicated game like Grand Theft Auto V.

There is one problem, though. Companies are now spending hundreds of millions to make video games, and people are spending billions to buy them, and these millions of people around the world spend hours and days and weeks and even months playing these intensely, almost unbelievably complex games.  They devote time, energy and money to the endeavor, and they often have complaints at the end of it that the games weren’t complex enough – that they wanted even more layers, more choices, more paths, more differences, more outcomes, more possibilities.

Why is that a problem?

Because these millions of people with their complex, infinitely changing brains tend so often to shut off the games and the consoles, put on their shoes, and walk into a world where they refuse to believe the truth: that they can alter things, that they can choose to “play” however they wish, that any number of ways of living are equally good and viable, that they can change their minds in the middle or start over from the beginning. They don’t see that the world that spawned the video games is therefore so much bigger than the games – that the only limitations are the ones we make for ourselves.

Maybe we could try shutting off the consoles but keep the game running. Maybe we could let it play out in front of us, with every step we take and every decision we make. Maybe the key to world peace is not for everyone to be of one mind, but for everyone to be of countless unique and boundless minds, following their own paths and shaping the world into whatever they can imagine. Maybe the thing I like about video games is that they’re just like life.

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