I generally only play one kind of video game. It's the kind that involves a set of crosshairs in the middle of the screen, and near the bottom of the screen cluster the icons showing how much ammo you have left, and how profusely you're bleeding.
These games are often deeply, deeply stupid when it comes to plot. You want me to go through these alien canyons and get repeatedly shot at by Mad Max-esque bandits? Why am I walking? Isn't it the future? Where's my spaceship or my jetpack or my hoverbike - OH MY GOD THAT THING'S COMING TO EAT MY FACE KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT!
As you can see, these games avoid allowing their players too much time for introspection. Get to the next checkpoint, grab the ammo, frag the next bad guy, repeat until you have created a pile of digital corpses the height of the Chrysler Building.
A handful of games encourage thought. Games like the very simple, short game Journey actually gave me more pleasure and jazzed up my brain more than a hundred hours of playing shooters.
In Journey, you are this- person. A hooded, armless, genderless thingy, you are in a desert. You travel towards a glowing mountain in the distance. You can meet another almost-identical pilgrim along the way. And there are puzzles to solve and a story about how the land became a desert, and an ending that- well, I suggest you play it. Do it with another person.
Of course I've spent a lot more time playing shooters than games like Journey.
Why? Probably because that heightened sense of artificial danger is mildly addictive and tends to block out the passage of time.
If you have no other responsibilities, you only get up because your backside's gone to sleep and your bladder is full.
I've recently been playing a resource management game, one of the most notoriously slow games in the world.
The Settlers is a European game with a long string of titles, and it moves about as fast as molasses in mid-winter in Winnipeg. You start out as the proud possessor of a tiny slice of land. Hey, build a mine! Okay, I'll mine some copper. Okay, build a factory to make tools from the copper! Okay. Also, you'll need to fell some trees, quarry some stone- better set aside some of your metal for swords!
It's here that The Settlers' slow pace runs smack into the brick wall of its story. Your settlement is surrounded by "bandits." You're told that these are mean, vicious brutes, in need of killing.
Except, that's clearly not true. E! The bandits never actually attack you. They don't even pilfer your supplies. They stay on their own turf, until you need to expand. Then you send waves of soldiers to wipe out their "camps."
A couple of weeks into playing, I realized the makers had unintentionally (I hope it was unintentional) created a game of colonial exploitation and mass slaughter. I'm controlling settlers wiping out indigenous people.
You wouldn't think a game made by Germans would be all about lebensraum.
And then I realized that most of my games encourage me to kill everyone in sight, but the other games move too fast for thought.
I'm not saying that games like this cause people to become violent or desensitized. And there is a place for brainless-but-engaging action games.
But I've had a fair amount of fun with my thin Settlers plot now that I know I'm an evil conqueror. I'm coming to terms with the notion that my empire will crush all opponents.
It's not the plot they picked, but they let me think about it too much.
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