Every single game that I was weaned on from Space Invaders and Asteroids onwards involved destroying things in some form or another. Sure, additional elements were there, sort of, buts let’s be completely honest: blowing shit up is where the real fun’s at.
I mean, Pong: seriously?
And so when I’m presented with a game that eschews this anarchistic philosophy, I’m left feeling, well, rather numb: Journey; Flower; SingStar; The Sims; Sim City; Professor Layton; Jetset Radio; Peggle; Tetris; Braid; Rez; zzzzzzzzzz…
Now, I know that these are all great games, believe me, I do, but each and every one leaves me completely and utterly cold in comparison to an experience where I’m either under-fire or in hot-pursuit. It’s as though I’ve been pre-programmed to abhor anything that’s purely calm and creative and be drawn like a moth to anything that involves aggressive or destructive activities; usually both.
Is it just me? Am I just built that way? If I am, I seem to be in the vast majority.
For the longest time, I convinced myself that this is because games are so very good at tapping into deep-rooted, perfectly natural human tendencies and that, far from being a negative influence, this venting of primeval aggression is actually a therapeutic process that keeps far more of us ‘modern’ beings on the straight and narrow than it does tip-over the edge. For every psychopath that plays COD to death before climbing up the bell-tower with a real sniper-rifle to deal out some death of their own, I give you a million happy gamers that would probablyfall over if they were any more laid-back.
And so when the latest in this growing line of ‘pacifist’ titles, Minecraft, hit the big-time, I was naturally inclined to steer well clear of it.
My eldest son, on the other hand, is absolutely bonkers mad for it.
Since finally persuading me to buy the pocket edition for iPad, he’s not touched the Wii or PS3 and buries his head in Minecraft at every available opportunity. Now, I try to monitor how much time my kids spend playing games just so that they maintain a reasonably balanced life but when I go to take the iPad away after an hour, I’m not met with the same grumpy face that I was when he was playing age-appropriate ‘destructive’ game such as Lego Star Wars.
Instead, I’m met with a hugely enthusiastic monologue:
“Dad, dad, you’ll never guess what, dad, I made this house with an underground bit with rooms and places and caves and a big hall and I put some lights in it so I could see in the dark and I put a the door in the corner so you can go outside and then up these other stairs that I made, dad, and on the top of it there’s this glass sculpture that looks like a sculpture but it’s really another set of invisible stairs and from there you can look down to the garden with chairs in it that I made and there’s a playground in the corner and, dad, later on when I’ve had a break can we make a tunnel that goes under the water, dad, I want to see if you can do that will you help me, dad, hmmm?!”
Aside from the fact that I’m just plain filled with pride because he’s not had a massive tantrum after being asked to stop doing something that he clearly loves, what strikes me square between the eyes every time is his clear passion for creating a world all of his very own.
And he’s not alone.
You don’t have to look far to see how obsessed people can become with this purely expressive process and marvel in wonder at the hours, weeks and months that are spent creating, both in isolation and in collaboration, what can only be described as stunningly beautiful works of art.
As a guitarist and writer with a degree in the arts, I’m all for creativity: so why does creativity in games leave me so blasé? Is it a generational thing? Am I simply too old to be bothered to learn new tricks? Perhaps if I’d been exposed to equally powerful and intuitive creative digital tools at a young age, I too would have developed a real thirst for it? Maybe acquisition of this ‘digital language’ is no different from the learning any other language: the older you get, the more difficult and tiresome it can seem?
And what impact will this have upon the younger generations of gamers as they immerse themselves increasingly in such expressive titles and, more importantly, grow-up in a world where this is seen as ‘the norm’?
Whilst so many predict a negative future for games, it’s thoughts like this that fill me with a reassuringly positive outlook.
Perhaps, one day, we’ll look back at the debates that presently rage over the so-called ‘harmful effects’ of games and happily note that the next generation calmly went their own positive, expressive and collaborative way, all of their own accord, whilst silencing the rather loud and aggressive critics in one fell swoop.