“Video games are such a waste of time.” “You still play video games? Grow up, dude.”
Most gamers have had phrases such as these directed at them at some point in their life. Fortunately, this way of thinking is slowly dying as video games begin to hit the mainstream. However, there are still those few holdouts that refuse to give the platform legitimacy. NBC host Joe Scarborough, for example, recently tweeted, “Young men in the 1940’s liberated Europe from Nazism and the Pacific from the Japanese Empire. Today, too many stay home playing video games.” Hypocrisy and war glorification aside, his words represent a sentiment in the world that is very much still alive. There is a notion that nothing of value can come from playing video games. Well, gamers of the world, I invite you to join me in rebellion as I attempt to defend the honor of the games we hold near and dear to our hearts.
First, I want to get a few details out of the way. My examples will be based off of my personal experience. As such, I feel it is necessary to add a little context. Time to get real. In the summer of 2011, my mother passed away from cancer. At the time, I was only 17 and, justifiably, I fell into a bit of a depression. I felt as though there was nothing left for me in the world, even though my family and friends showed me plenty of love and support. To be frank, it was one of the few periods of time in my life where not even video games could bring me solace, so I didn’t really play them much. The healing process took a while, and it wasn’t until nearly 2013 that I was finally able to bring myself around to fire up the old PS3 again.
Around December 2012, I began to frequent video game websites such as IGN, Kotaku, and Gamespot to see what I had missed out in the past year, and more importantly, what was coming up. Most of the sites were covering an RPG that had been released in Japan a year earlier that was supposed to be one of the best titles released on the PS3. The title of the game? Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. After weeks of anticipation, and almost a year and a half of a hiatus, I was anxious to be blown away when I brought Ni No Kuni home from GameStop. Little did I know that I would be in for the ride of a lifetime.
(SPOILER ALERT) Within the first half hour of the game, Oliver, the protagonist of the game, witnesses his mother die of a heart attack. A year and a half of depression nearly behind me, and I had to see this shit?! Needless to say, I felt pretty damn distraught. However, I pressed on. The game itself becomes a journey to save Oliver’s mother’s opposite soul in “Another World”, a dimension where souls exist in parallel to those in the human world. Along the way, Oliver and the friends he makes during his travels must restore the hearts of people who have had certain traits taken away, such as love, courage, compassion, and so on. Amazingly, I found that many of the missing parts in the NPC’s hearts were also missing from mine. As I helped Oliver and Co. restore the hearts of the people of Another World, I found that I was restoring my own as well. The amount of care and, fittingly, heart that went into this game was immediately apparent and made it quite endearing to me. Through a JRPG about a little boy and his Scottish fairy (You’re my boy, Drippy!), I was able to access emotions that I believed to be long dead inside of me. My own family and friends weren’t able to accomplish what a video game could.
A few months after I completed Ni No Kuni, a new AAA title came to the PS3. A little game that goes by the name of The Last of Us. I didn’t know much about it, but Naughty Dog’s previous games, Uncharted 1, 2, and 3, were lighthearted pulp action games so I figured this would be a fun experience where I could turn my brain off and kill some zombies. I needed a palette cleanser after the emotional ride that was Ni No Kuni, so I decided to give it a shot. Well, if you know anything about The Last of Us, you’re probably laughing at my naivete right about now.
(SPOILER ALERT… AGAIN) It seems Naughty Dog didn’t have the patience Level 5 did, as it only took them 15 minutes to break my heart all over again when the protagonist Joel’s daughter, Sarah, dies. Things pick up 20 years later, where we find a hardened Joel reluctantly having to escort a little girl named Ellie across the country. While he initially finds her to be a burden, Ellie soon finds a way into his (and the world’s) heart. The relationship that Joel develops with Ellie was done in such a masterful way that I found myself, a 19 year old kid at the time, feeling a paternal bond with Ellie as well. By the conclusion of the game, where Joel has to make a literal life or death decision for Ellie, I couldn’t imagine being able to live with myself if anything happened to her. In the 15 or so hours that it took me to complete the game, I learned that even though life can be cruel and take away those whom we love the most, it keeps moving and even the deepest of wounds can be healed if given enough time. The fact that Joel was able to overcome a past tragedy in his life, move forward, and find something to live for is something that will stick with me for as long as I live.
Ni No Kuni and The Last of Us are two wonderfully emotional experiences that have transformed my life for the better. Sure, I could have gone to therapy to talk about my depression, but that would have been extremely expensive without the guarantee of any results. Instead, about 100 hours in the world of Ni No Kuni did the trick, and for only $60. People overcome the loss of their loved ones every day, and I’m certain I could have eventually found someone to help me get through the grieving process, though I doubt anyone would have found as much success as a certain 14 year old girl with a potty mouth and some sick bow and arrow skills did.
These games spoke to me specifically in ways that changed my outlook on the world and had an enormous impact in my life. I’m sure many of you have stories in which a video game has had an equal, if not greater, impact upon your lives than these two games have had on me. So the next time you hear some ignorant congressman, or your coworkers, classmates, or any other normies try to devalue the importance of video games, rest assured knowing that they probably just haven’t had the same awakening that we have. Hopefully, they will one day join us on the road to enlightenment.