One of my favourite things to do in all my loser spare time is play video games. You’re looking at someone who owns every generation of PlayStation (LIE… I don’t have a PS4 yet!), a WII, an xBox 360, like three DS‘, and then all of the old relics, like SNES and Gameboy Color. All of this is to show that I AM a fobby super geek in designer clothes (I suppose it’s possible to be THAT diverse in live).
The beginning of the school year (2013-2014) was rough because Rockstar Games decided it would be a good idea to release Grand Theft Auto V at that specific time; WEIRD decision if you ask me, because all other focus in life was lost by millions all over the world. I know many will agree that this was the best video game of the year, best in the series, and probably best ever in general! That kept me entertained for a little while until Christmas came and I was gifted Ubisoft‘s Assassin’s Creed IV. The thing about this, though, is that I had never played the previous games, meaning I had much catching up to do! I already owned AC II, so I went from there and before I knew it I ordered Brotherhood, Revelations, and III off eBay for dirt cheap and finished all those titles too! [NOTE: I think this will explain to all my friends why I haven’t had liquor since the New Year began.] Anyway, I finally know why everyone loves Assassin’s Creed; it’s a damn good series! Finally, I’ve been looking through my older games and spotted one that I really would like to revisit: L.A. Noire, also by Rockstar. It’s been a good three years since that gem came out, but what an amazing game it was! This is what got me to thinking about writing this article…
The bottom line that I’ve heard all my life is that video games are bad for you. They are a pointless waste of time, teach and encourage violence, and damage one’s brain from being productive. Examples of people who commonly say this? Parents and teachers. I can see where both parties would get this impression from. Parents would much rather see their kids being physically and socially active (never mind there is the WII and xBox Live for this), and teachers will argue video games distract from homework, which is definitely true (as given from my earlier mention of GTA V and my classes clashing). There is truth in the fact that video games, especially ones like Grand Theft Auto, are violent and can teach violence, but I think one should keep in mind that the games are rated for their target and whoever underage gets their hands on them… well? To each their own. If someone decides to go shoot up bitches in the streets and blame it on that GTA lifestyle, I think that person is simply nuts, not influenced. Video games being damaging to the brain is a joke at best considering they stimulate the hell out of the brain. What kills me, though, is the thought of games being a pointless waste of time. I actually beg to differ.
The video game is a very misunderstood thing. Admittedly, thanks to the innovative tech of the Wii U, PS Move, and xBox Kinnect, many non-gaming people are seeing where games can be educational and physically exercising, as well as for making good bonding activities for families and parties. However, the conventional one-player action game that usually absorbs the big time gamer is so incredibly underplayed for what it truly is; a spectacular masterpiece.
GRAND THEFT AUTO
This game has such a bad reputation, it’s not even funny. It is well known for all of its vices, including reckless driving, gun violence, massive explosions, gross brutality, sexual obscenity, big time association with drugs, and, of course, very strong language. By that amazing sentence alone, even I have to admit this game sounds BAD. They say, however, never judge a book by its cover, and that statement holds so true here. While the earlier versions of the game were developed at a time when many concepts like cinematic sequences and in-game voice acting were not possible, GTA III and beyond definitely made good use of the changing technology. Bearing in mind the next-generation titles like GTA IV, the two DLC Episodes, and GTA V, here are some points that might surprise those who harshly judged this epic book by its brazen cover:
- The geography of Grand Theft Auto is PERFECT! Rockstar Games especially seems to love the setting of Liberty City (aka New York in the real world), so much that the in-game map is shockingly true to real-life. I’ve driven by places in the game that I’ve driven by in real-life! Although the game uses fake monument and street names, if one learns their way around in the game, he/she could ACTUALLY relive the same footsteps in the real big apple. The developers have also mapped out Miami and California in other games too. It’s exciting to think which city will be next!
- There is a lot of soul given to each character and a very deep story-line too. I think the biggest misconception is that the player gets in a car and start running over people and that’s the end of the game (this actually can be done, but the true game has storyboard missions to carry through). Many of these missions that end in violence and usually relate to drugs are the result of the complicated lives the protagonists have been given. They’ve all been men so far (Niko, Luis, Johnny, Michael, Franklin, Trevor, etc…), but men with families, love-lives, and a lot of messed up friends. For me, personally, I found the relationship between Luis (a straight Latino guy working as a bouncer) and Tony (his extremely gay boss) amazing in The Ballad of Gay Tony. It was an entire story arc about a straight man working for a gay man and helping him, as a friend, avoid the gangs and dealers out to get him. There is a lot of rich story behind GTA and each story teaches many lessons and morals that are completely relative to this day and age.
- THE MUSIC! Yes, the one thing not widely advertised, but definitely extremely important to any fan of the series. There had to be a good enough reason for the player to want to jump into a car and drive from one end of the city to the next, and that reason would be the radio stations. It was a very small thing the game implemented initially, but is now a staple in the culture of the series. Each game features a collection of different radio stations that cater to different genres. In GTA IV, my personal favourites are San Juan Sounds (Spanish music), Electro-Choc (all clubbing beats), and K109 The Studio (the disco era reborn). Each station features about 15-20 different REAL SONGS that the developers fancy and play at random during different times of the day. What is very interesting is the fact that the game features some very unlikely music too, especially on the worldwide stations. Culturally, one will hear things they’ve never heard before and will love it all as well! Best example? THIS. The artists most definitely love it, as many of them now have very high-ratings on their YouTube videos which, according to the comments section, is all thanks to GTA.
- If you break the law, they’ll come for you. 1-star, all the way to 5-stars; stars in this game don’t represent quality in this series, but how heavily wanted the player is by the authorities. Every crime committed will create a wanted warrant for the player’s arrest as police will arrive, followed by SWAT, the FBI, Interpol, and so forth. In the earlier games it was easy to lose the wanted status by simply speeding away as fast as possible from the cops, but in the newer games like GTA V, it’s tricky! I was really surprised when I found out something as simple as slapping another character could get the cops alerted and keep them alerted unless I cleverly hid in the city. Of course, if one gets busted, the only real consequence to suffer is getting all money and guns taken away, but the point is that the game does not evade reality enough to let players think all crimes go unpunished.
- The freedom to do what you want when you want. The words ‘open environment’ have been given a new meaning by games like this… Now, why would this be a good reason why video games aren’t bad? Well, simply because one can take the time to learn many things in the game. There are many sports and activities available in the game to sharpen real-life skills. Another thing is the feel of the cars when driving as each model is based on the real life counterpart. The most recent game, GTA V, allows players to invest their money for different outcomes in the game. as well as buy properties and assets. The con of the open environment is that, yes I can go to the bar, yes I can drive drunk, yes I can go to the strip club, and yes, I can have sex. However, there is this thing called living a little and this game definitely allows the player to do so!
Up until the beginning of this year, I had no idea what this series was about and could have easily gone my whole life not knowing. That being said, it sure would have been regrettable if I didn’t end up finding out! The title of the series says it all; a set of stories that focus on a society of assassins. That’s pretty bad, right? Well, the real deal is why that society exists and what it stands for. Unlike GTA which always takes place in the present day and in modern Western society, the bulk of this series takes place in the past within different countries and across different historical eras. While the premise of the game is essentially murder, there are many valuable things this title brings to light:
- Again, an astonishingly accurate geography. This is the very thing that won me over when I started playing… the sense of diversity and culture given in the environment. The second game and its spin-off counterparts took place in Italy during the 15th-16th Centuries and it is very surprising how accurate the details of Venice, Florence, and Rome are in these games. One can tell even by just knowing modern-day Italy as it has remained largely the same throughout the decades. Unlike in the GTA series where the developers used fake names and areas, Ubisoft very much stuck to what’s real by ironing out each district to be distinct to real life. The game also features places like Constantinople (now Istanbul, which this game taught me!) and England. Because of the diversity of the settings, each location features characters speaking the local languages, wearing the traditional clothes, and selling common items from the time period. One could actually impress their teachers with such geographical history.
- Character’s, real and not real, that you’ll connect with. As with the GTA series, thus far the protagonists have been all men (Desmond, Altair, Ezio, Haytham, Ratonhnhaké:ton, Edward, etc…), all with very intricate stories. Given that all of the games take place during past eras, it makes sense that the game would focus more on the male characters than the females, but there are all kinds of relationships within the story. I think the character everyone will always love the most is Ezio Auditore, who suffered many loses, but grew up quickly and became an icon for the creed. The developers followed his story up until his death, showcasing why and how he became an assassin, and that his ultimate realization was the importance of love in his life. Another personal favourite character for me would be Leonardo Da Vinci; yes, THE Leonardo! It might be fascinating to know that some of these characters and their stories WERE REAL! Ezio’s friendship with Leonardo, I thought, was very sweet. Even Prince Suleiman was a good entry into the story. Talk about effort.
- A teacher’s dream: a game that takes insight into real history! Many of the events in the game are based off real wars, elections, politics, and big revolutions. What more could teachers want? The games introduced many kinds of characters that were prominent throughout the ages, such as the Courtesans in Europe and the Natives in America. I have to say, I found it interesting to see how the creators hand-crafted their own original stories about the assassins into real historical events. HOWEVER, the key is just that; not everything is real! One thing that may surprise players is that the series includes the Apple of Eden, a strange object with magical powers. There are also Gods revealed that controlled the Earth during a certain time and plenty of fantasy-like components hidden in the story-line. To me, it’s quite interesting because it’s such a collaborative mash-up of so many different themes and stories. It turns out the path of an assassin can be very educational after all.
I would have to be an ignorant asshole to forget this magnificent work of art created by Rockstar Games. L.A. Noire came right out of the blue and took the gaming world by surprise. The makers of GTA took a step in a very different direction, setting this game in 1940s Los Angeles in a film noir style, similar to a city detective movie. Because this game is the first in its series (rumors still suggest a sequel is on the way), it does not have as much hype as the previous two titles, but it did have a very profound impact on the video game world. This game also contains mature content, such as violence, nudity, and bold language, but there are so many great things about it that make me even want to go back and play it again. Here are some highlights:
- Yet again, a very realistic map. Obviously, Rockstar cannot go wrong when it comes to their geography, but this project took a little bit more work as the map predates anyone alive on their team today! Definitely the look of L.A. will not be anything like what it is today, yet many critics have confirmed that the locations in the game are very nostalgic. It is refreshing to see the level of detail put not only into the world, but also into the objects, such as the old vintage cars made available. Even the music in the game add the perfect noir touch needed. Again, another great look at some history!
- The realism of the characters is almost horrific. MotionScan made its wonderful debut in this game, a new technology using 32 cameras to film the actors as opposed to motion sensors commonly used for most other games. What does this mean? The main character Cole is ACTUALLY someone to develop a crush on because no one can declare the concept crazy, considering he is basically a real person! The biggest selling point of this game was the facial reactions of the characters, especially during criminal interrogations were the player would have to choose if the character was lying or telling the truth. The realism of the characters, especially throughout the many cut-scenes, definitely make for an appreciation of how much effort went into the art direction of this game.
- Decisions, consequences, and an ultimate story. Another big seller for this game was the idea of the player having the choice to declare the outcome. Many video games are programmed with set missions and conclusions, but this one relied heavily on the player using all his/her best judgment to make the best choices in order for the story to progress. To me, it was almost stressful since screwing up could lead to the wrong person being convicted of a crime and a string of consequential murders occurring. It was very much trial and error for me. Beyond that, though, the story-line of the game was simply art. The title says all; a classic detective story unearthing many scandals and scenarios in a very entertaining way, much like a grand movie. The crimes are not censored in any way, and the player gets to live every step of the journey from the crime scene to the court room. Not to spoil anything, but the ending of this game is so tragic that it really makes the player CRAVE a sequel. In the end, L.A. Noire is so riveting that there isn’t a soul, young or old, who wouldn’t say it fails to impress.
In the grand scheme of things, I hope my points have illustrated that video games can be quite surprising to those who are not experienced with them. They can expose a lot of culture, religion, history, and morality lessons that influence the player for the better. They are most definitely not anti-social given that character and story development are so important in games, just like in shows and movies. Just like other forms of visual entertainment, the music and sound score are as equally important and can be very enriching to many. Some of these games urge players to make their own decisions that can have immense consequences or benefits, which can very much boost real-world confidence. I neglected to mention earlier that the entire tactical process of playing video games enriches the brain functions and allows for quick reflexes and processing. None of this is to say that video game are the holy pillar of society and can change the world, but they certainly cannot be as bad as people make them out to be. They certainly have great value to me, and I hope that (if anything) this article has been inspiring enough for people to go check out some of these titles. See some more below!
OTHER INSPIRING GAMES
There are many other games out there by many other developers that are so fascinating and deserve more appreciation. I couldn’t possibly write anymore on this topic, but here are a few great ones:
Uncharted Series by Naughty Dog
Mirror’s Edge by Electronic Arts
The Last of Us by Naughty Dog
inFamous Series by Sucker Punch
Little Big Planet by Sony Entertainment
Catherine by Atlus Persona Team
Portal Series by Valve Corporation
Journey by ThatGameCompany