Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Video Games

When my son was little, he loved playing video games and he was good at it. He and his buddies knew all the games. By some osmosis peculiar to the young, he knew about all the "easter eggs" which are hidden treasures, jokes or puzzles within the games. He knew the cheat codes that gave unlimited life, or bullets, or super powers to blast through the games. The thing I found most irritating about the games - a dizzying string of controller moves that once mastered would confer death blows to opponents - delighted him.

Of course, I was either a permissive parent, or a lazy parent, or possibly even a negligent parent because if he wanted to play the games for hours at a time, I did not care. I recalled playing Monopoly games with my friends for hours. It was so much fun watching him play the games that sometimes I would start a game as another character and play, too. When I ran into monsters I could not slay, my son would take over the controls for me. If there were parts of a game that demanded patience and time consuming gathering of coins or other slow, boring passages, I would take his character through for him. As you might guess, this led to some spectacular squabbles when one or the other of us would not give up the controller, or if we committed a fatal move that caused the other's character to die, or lose his powers, or if it meant starting over in a challenging level.

When the Tomb Raider games came out, with the female lead character of Laura Croft, a sexy, gun-toting, bad-ass who looked like... well... Angelina Jolie, I was blown away! Those games were so much fun. It was a role playing game and Laura Croft was a female Indiana Jones. A feminine character who could beat up bad guys, shoot machine guns, blow away scores of monsters and armies of thugs was a delight for a woman who grew up with only dolls and the 50's female stereotypes. I had to practice diligently to control that character in order to put her through all the physical demands of the adventures. I could never get much more than halfway through those games, but my son could finish them.

By far, the best games, ever, are the Zelda series of role playing games. Link, a little elf-like character, starts out in Hyrule to find the Princess Zelda. Through a series of puzzles, mysteries, mazes, fighting a variety of enemies, Link matures, eventually possessing an arsenal of clever tools, magic, weapons and expertise to slay ever more difficult monsters or bosses. You have to search the environment to find a map, then unlock all the puzzles to get to the treasures, and eventually defeat a big boss in order to move to the next level. There are forces for good that help Link persevere in his quest. This game is one of the most beloved games of all video games. People of all ages around the world play it. I loved it at first because I could keep my character alive for hours, searching the Hyrule world for treasures, instead of constantly fighting monsters.

The Zelda games always contains some small secondary, humorous surprises. In the little village where Link lives, there are chickens that behave exactly the way real chickens do, clucking about, coming and going in their chickenly pursuits. Link can chase them to try to catch them, which is about as difficult to do in the game as it is in real life. If he succeeds, he can carry them around, gently set them down, or toss them in the air. They squawk and beat their wings the entire time he is carrying them. When tossed, they fly off clucking in alarm. If Link chooses to hit the chickens with his sword, if he is mean enough to a chicken, all the chickens in the village come flying to attack him until he stops being mean. In some games, Link has to catch a chicken so he can use it to fly off roofs or hilltops without damaging himself. It is utterly charming.

Video games are a modern art form, containing sophisticated logic challenges, humor and entertainment. Some of the digital worlds are the beautiful, amazingly inventive work of very talented artists. Modern techno-composers are creating an entirely new genre of music for these games. There is no end to human creativity. I wonder what the games will be like in ten years from now, and I hope I am not too old to be able to play them.

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