Video Game Work 11/23/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

A friend of mine is buying a game console and has asked for advice on the best game console. I used to have one, which I chose specifically because it plays the most recent updated version of one of my favorite hack and slash games from my youth.

The first time I played my new game, I was absolutely thrilled to see that the game kept the feel of the original game. Yes, new graphics, new monsters, and even a more complex story line (to a degree), but the same feel. The characters gained experience, could buy items, upgraded, all in a very dungeons and dragons feel. The characters, themselves, had several different types that could be played (fighter, wizard, rogue, monk and a few more as I recall). I picked the fighter and ran through the game restarting from the beginning whenever he was “killed” until the fighter had the skills, level and equipment to be able to get through the entire game without dying. Once achieved, I tried it with the wizard, and so on. The monk, however, posed a challenge.

The monk’s greatest skill was reflexes and speed which limits the equipment s/he can use. I could never get the monk all the way through without dying at least once. It was exhausting. I started playing it over and over, gaining more experience, more levels, more protections but it was never enough. I just kept trying.

Eventually, I made a startling revelation. The game had become a job. Not a good job, though. It came with no benefits, and no paycheck, but I would sit for hours, frustrated and working harder and harder just trying to accomplish this meaningless goal I had created in my own fevered mind.

The time and energy I spent on this imaginary frustrating job could have been put towards other endeavors that would have been so much more productive. For example, I’m trying to learn a new language, I’m continuing to work on an optimization algorithm I developed, and I even have an idea for software to help predict criminal activity. Yes, all of them would have had times they were frustrating, and there’s a chance none of them would actually provide anything useful, but they all at least have the potential for great advances.

For my friend, I do have a bit of advice. Not for which console to buy, but seriously, just don’t get lost in the games. Track the time and effort you put into them, and don’t let it become out of balance with the rest of your life. When I was married, one of the boys made the comment to me that he thought I would be so much cooler if only I played video games, but in reality, I think real life is far more interesting than anything in a video game. There is always something to explore, something to learn, something to do if you want to. Not to say that video games aren’t fun and should be avoided altogether, but like anything else in life, it needs balance.

Having said all of that, let me add that I bought a table for the house I’m trying to buy, but it’s not a kitchen table. Well, it is, kind of. What I bought was a gaming table. See, the top has a padded section, and a place for players to put drinks and game pieces (it’s designed for poker so this is where chips would go). The beauty of this is that the top can be flipped over to protect the gaming side, and it can be used as a normal kitchen table. To me, the best kinds of games are those that you can play with others. I introduced Dungeons and Dragons to my then-wife and sons, and we would play together. I hoped that the game would bring us together as a family unit, and that eventually we might play other games together. As opposed to video games, this would be an opportunity for all of us to converse and interact beyond reflexes of two to four players in a video race staring only at the screen.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. Even today I watch entirely too many movies, which are not any better than video games (except that there aren’t constantly attempts to get you to buy resources to improve your play). I’m hoping, in a new house, I’ll create a new office and get back to these projects I’ve been working on. Will I succeed? Time will tell. Maybe I’ll blog about it.

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