Videogame activists have always been quick to point out ways games can be beneficial to our lives. It's said that games can improve our hand-eye coordination, stimulate our brain cells and encourage positive social behavior in multiplayer environments. In the early-eighties even President Reagan naively proclaimed that videogames were training soldiers of the future.
While there's certainly some truth in those beliefs, what I find interesting is how these same activists usually fail to mention what videogames don't prepare us for in life.
Videogames are safe and comforting. They sit and wait patiently until the gamer is ready to pick up a controller. They can be paused or saved at a moments notice. If one dies or loses in a videogame, players have multiple lives and infinite second chances. Don't like how things are going? Hit restart. Don't like who you are? Change your outfit or be somebody else.
In real life, or what we used to call "reality," there are no such reassurances, no such guarantees. The one thing you can expect is the unexpected.
Like when I started this column last month, I had conceptualized several follow-up articles dealing with impending fatherhood and finding time to play games. All that went out the window on the morning of June 5th when my wife, Regina, started having contractions and went into early labor. Not only was this two weeks earlier than our June 18 due date, but it also happened to be our one year wedding anniversary. Surprise honey! Pressing the "pause" button was not an option.
After being admitted to the hospital one day later, videogames couldn't prepare me for the concern I felt when nurses began to scramble and urgently requested the anesthesiologist's consultation when Regina was overly sensitive to the epidural and became completely numb from the neck down. Our unborn child's heart rate also increased dramatically as a side-effect.
What can I compare that to in videogames? Mistakenly overwriting a saved game? Server crashed while you're playing a MMORPG and hoping you didn't lose your XP points? Not even close.
Nor could videogames prepare me for the amount of pain Regina would experience after her contractions went from peaks of 60 on the monitor to a whopping 120-plus. Regina began to cry and writhe in an unimaginable amount of pain. Thank goodness Regina's mother was there to provide a comfort that only a parent can.
Did playing Carmageddon, Mortal Kombat and GTA3 desensitize me to Regina's suffering? Not one bit.
Videogames couldn't also prepare me for the level of fear I felt when Regina was wheeled off to the operating room to start the C-Section and I was asked to wait for an excruciating 15 minutes in a waiting area by myself, not having any clue to how my wife and child were doing until I was allowed into the operating room.
Creepy creatures from Silent Hill and window-crashing dogs in Resident Evil pale in comparison.
And games could not prepare me for the tearful joy and utter relief I felt when I heard my baby cry and I held him for the first time. I like to think completing the second stage in GoldenEye in less than two minutes and fifteen seconds to unlock the invisibility code or beating U.N. Squadron on "Crazy" mode is in the same ballpark, but it isn't.
Nothing I experienced in videogames could prepare me for or resembled the birth of my baby boy, Ryan. Games are something completely different. They fill a different space in our lives. Games aren't life.
The very purpose of GameCritics.com is to help the medium of videogames realize it's potential. Over the years, I've expended many words describing videogames as grandiose, life-changing experiences. This concept still holds much meaning and value for me. It simply gets put in perspective when I hold Ryan in my arms.
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