Nick Arboleda (2nd place. Creative Nonfiction. Spring 2012 Writing Contest)
What do you play? For some people this is a frivolous question that can be answered rather apathetically. However, there’s a cultural group that can answer this question with as much zeal as a neurosurgeon expounding the intricacies of brain surgery to his obtuse apprentice: all hail the gamer! With such a playful moniker, it’s difficult to weigh the lofty gamer with levity, but a gamer and his passion are as abundant as a farmer and his summer harvest are to his tummy-tickled family. By a rote definition, a gamer is an individual who plays video games, yet that colorless depiction fails to encompass the prismatic nature of a gamer. As a digital farmer, the reward I reap is equaled to the care I put into the seeds sown. The tilled ground being my eager mind, the seeds sown being the lore of the game, and the reward being my satisfaction of believing that what I planted could grow into nourishment for my imagination.
This harvest is the location that the honest gamer inhabits and it can only be tended by the gamer and no one else. The gamer is an individual with an uninhibited imagination and more importantly, a commitment to creating an impact on the artificial, yet engrossing world. At the most heightened form of gaming, that commitment evolves into a “responsibility.” This responsibility is identified by the investments the gamer offers, such as time, emotions, even logic. This is where the interconnectedness between the gamer and the game is most taut. For example, instead of wanting to save a small dystopian village and its indigenous residents from a ravenous plague that leaves black death and chilling angst within its wake, I feel as if I “need” to. The gamer fully realizes the game world and is determined to impress how its history unfolds from the moment he was born into it. How the gamer actually decides to affect the enchanting world is an incredibly personal and interesting formulation that’s unrecognizable to a non-gamer, a casual gamer, or sometimes even to the gamer.
With all CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, UMD, and blu-ray disc-based games, as well as many downloadable games, there’s what’s known as a “loading screen.” The loading screen’s purpose is to pre-render and pre-load the game data before you enter the actual game, which effectively gives the game a believable cohesiveness and is especially crucial to larger-scale games. What’s far more fascinating and mystifying than the loading screen process is what’s actually happening to the gamer. While the game is distributing an incalculable amount of code and data, the gamer is doing the exact same thing. In lieu of esoteric computer language, the gamer is donating learned values and beliefs and philosophies into this world, which consequently, allow the gamer to make decisions that reflect his/her morals. Talk about getting your head into the game.
That’s certainly where my head is. Gaming isn’t only a part of my lifestyle, but also an extension of my personality, and greatly contributes to my direction in life. Personality, because much of what I do, such as how I relate to people, the news I concern myself with, and simply how I prefer to entertain myself, is related to gaming. Additionally, it affects my direction in life. After years of pledging fealty to nations, dethroning ruthless tyrants, colonizing inhospitable planets, rescuing damsels, and slaying dragons, I’ve developed a keen knowledge of what makes games effective. Repurposing the knowledge that I’ve garnered is how I have mapped my educational journey, and later, how I will choose my career. In addition, gaming has been directly connected to a fascination that has compelled me since childhood and has perpetually enraptured me without stagnation. Often times I feel like a child witnessing a magic performance and, awestruck by the convincing illusion, I earnestly want to learn what’s behind the performance to see if I can invoke to an audience the same bedazzlement and wonder I experienced.
One might expect, with so much gaming, my brain would be permanently desensitized from polygons and zaps or grunts and dings, but miraculously, I’m as acute as I was the first day I saw the cool blue Sega logo projecting on my tiny TV screen. Gaming is such an enthrallment because it allows me to explore new and uncharted worlds that can never be discovered with the laws of physics and relativity keeping me shackled and imprisoned. Gaming means that I can experience the honor of defending my country, yet never enlisting, or moonwalking on distant planets, but never having to go through the rigmarole of spaceflight programs and selection, or becoming a world renowned break-dancer without ever having to don a bucket Kangol hat and fat-laced Adidas. Gaming means that I’m not restricted by what’s trendy or by prudent decision making. Gaming means that I’m Batman, Superman, and Spiderman all in the same night. Gaming means that I’m inebriated on a ten-lane highway going 500mph, while ignoring limitation and consequence, under the influence of unadulterated freedom. Gaming means that I’m gaily boundless.
Gamers have experienced this liberating enthrallment since as early as the 1940’s, but there have been many defining moments that facilitated gaming to what it is now, both personally and commercially. Having been a gamer for over fifteen years, I must pay homage to my actual introduction to videogames. The year I received a Sega Genesis from my parents for Christmas is admittedly one of my fondest childhood memories and will be emblazoned in my head as the time my life changed. “Sonic the Hedgehog” left an impression that grew into a hobby, which then grew into the greatest passion of my life. Indeed, the first time I “understood” romance, as a teenager, was from a Japanese role-playing-game, “Final Fantasy 8.” As video games progress, it is best for developers to adopt the most current technology, for such adaptability allows designers to blur the line between what is viewed as believable, or artistically sound and what is technologically defunct. For instance, the introduction to 3D graphics, which was masterfully demonstrated and made timelessly popular by the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 in 1996, allowed the player to realize the game world in an entirely new perspective with unparalleled detail and dizzying 360 degrees of motion and control. Prior to that, gamers were condemned to the repetitious directions of up, down, left, and right. The introduction of 3D graphics will be venerated as one of the most definitive accomplishments in gaming history. This will also shamefully publicize a time in history where occurrences of at-home vertigo was at an all-time high. Another lauded milestone of the video-gaming industry was achieved by a first-person-shooter franchise, “Call of Duty,” the life-to-date sales of which exceed worldwide theatrical box office sales for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, two of the most successful entertainment franchises of all time.
These achievements are simply precursors to what the gaming industry is becoming: a media powerhouse. In a digital age where science is flourishing with unprecedented briskness, developers and programmers are no longer stifled by inept technology. The capability to reach the writers’ and designers’ original concept without truncating is no longer a fantasy, but a surmountable actualization. Gaming has earned its place in media entertainment, and is no longer the paltry practice, or the null niche, but the new plane of digital discovery and cunning creativity. Yet, here I sit, playing as some character, in some world, solving some problem, gaining impetus to craft a world of transcendent marvel. So what am I playing? It may be more appropriate to ask: how do I live?
Nick Arboleda (2nd place. Creative Nonfiction. Spring 2012 Writing Contest)