What Games Teach You- by Anjum Razaq

I am a teacher and have been for over 8 years now. I chat to people and when we get onto the topic of hobbies I notice that when I mention the fact that I like computer games many get a surprised look in their eyes. A look of  ‘But you’re a fully grown man... why are playing games!’ look. Then they invariably change the topic and probably walk away thinking I am a man-child or ‘eccentric’. It’s never really bothered me all that much, after all my passion is games whilst other people like watching ‘Pop Idol’, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or soap operas. I got married recently and my wife (who is also a teacher) asked me, ‘Why do you like computer games so much?’

To be honest I found it hard to get into words why I like computer games but giving it some real thought the best I can come up with is that computer games are immersive- you control what is going on rather than being a passive bystander, there are choices to be made and adventures to be had. In the humdrum adult world life is filled with bills, chores and work, we develop routines and many of us live for the weekend. Computer games provide endless possibilities and spark up our imaginations.

I remember watching Jean Cousteau’s wonderful Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast) years ago and at the beginning of the film he starts off with a wonderful quote which breaks the Forth wall:

Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause him shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things.

I ask of you a little of this childlike sympathy and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood's "Open Sesame": Once upon a time...

Games are like the ‘Once upon a time…’ that Cousteau speaks so eloquently of. In computer games there are worlds to explore and the possibilities of what might be out there are endless.

La Belle et la Bete... a beautiful film that asked you to harken back to your innocence as a child- where anything was possible.

Who didn’t gasp in wonder the first time they came upon the expansive Hyrule Field, or escaped from a fiery plane wreckage into a capsule to find a decaying art deco underwater city, or discover a robot who has waited centuries in a Derelict Factory to be found.

The Legend of Zelda- Ocarina of Time. Who didn't gasp in wonder at the sheer scale of Hyrule Field?

Some people grow out of games as they feel more in control of their lives. When you are a child it’s easy to see why computer games appeal; they cast you as a protagonist who can save the world or defeat some unfathomable evil. But when you are older you have real responsibilities, you don’t need to level-up to feel in control of circumstances. You can progress in your personal life and work so going to Termina to stop the moon from crashing into the world seems less appealing.

I think that those people who didn’t grow out of games are those individuals who still believe the world has a sense of wonder and mystery. With Google Earth we can see the entire world at a click of a mouse; many mysteries in the world are solved. But I believe us older gamers are those who are still intrigued by what is out there… a Loch Ness monster, the Abominable Snowman or Eldorado. Common sense and technology would say no but it’s nice to believe they just might be out there, waiting to be discovered. A new game is like this, a whole world to explore and in it all things are possible.

The Mysterious Cities of Gold. My favourite childhood cartoon that followed a group of adventurers looking for the fabled city of El Dorado

However not all the games I play are like this? There are games that are ‘quick fixes’, no world to explore just systems to figure out. Some of my favourite games include Plants vs Zombies, Doodle Jump, Tetris and Space Invaders Infinity Gene. These games reward trial and error, discovery, ingenuity and problem solving.

Computer games have the ability to absorb, challenge, engage, surprise and intrigue like no other medium can. At their best computer games can transport you to another world and engage you like nothing else in this world. Computer games are not just complex programming; they are characters, stories, battles, mysteries and worlds. They are more than the sum of their parts, they are projections that need you to become fully realised. In a world that is becoming more jaded and cynical maybe computer games are the only bit of magic and relief we have where we are not just passive consumers but rather actors, masters of our own destiny...