How Not To Play Your Life

Games have been a major feature in my life since I was a little kid. From the Master System to my current PS3, a controller in my hands has been a constant feature throughout my childhood and into my adult life. Sure, recently it’s been less of an influence, with the evils of work commitments hindering my freedom to fully immerse myself in a new title. I still use my console as a relaxation technique and a stress reliever (albeit occasionally more of a stress inducer).

I digress. Today I’d like to talk about the lessons I have learned over the years, some from back in the day and a few more recent additions. Let’s go back to the start and I’ll share with you guys a few things about life I have learned from gaming.

 

Lesson One: Money is EVERYTHING

Sonic the Hedgehog: one of the first games I ever played as a child. It had two main goals. Firstly, to reach the end of the stage. Secondly, to do so with as many coins as possible. Every time you took damage from a bad guy, the coins you had collected so far scattered everywhere, causing a panicked rush to retrieve as many as possible. In Sonic, coins equalled a second chance, because if you take damage without any coins in your back pocket… instant death I’m afraid!

So basically, Sonic taught me that money = power. If you have no money, you will die sooner.

 

Lesson Two: America, fuck yeah?

Is it just me, or do American games (and movies) seem to be a little uh… biased, towards their nationality? Take a look at Call of Duty, Medal of Honour (I refuse to spell it incorrectly) and Rainbow Six. The Americans are portrayed as patriotic heroes, and more often than not there’s some quirky British guy to act like an idiot. Eddie Price in Rainbow Six 3 is an example… I really hope you guys don’t think we’re actually like him.

“Not exactly the Ritz, is it? Har har harrrr!!”

Shut up, Eddie.

Every other culture seems to be made to look either stupid or evil in comparison to their American counterparts. Obviously, I prefer the evil angle. I especially love Atlas in Bioshock; the Irish guy who seems to be on your side through the entire story but turns out to be the master-of-impersonation, Frank Fontaine. “Would you kindly go off and save me family laddie?” Here’s the scene where everything is revealed. Spoilers galore, of course.

I also love Liquid Snake’s accent in Metal Gear Solid, especially in contrast to Solid’s distinctly gruff American tone. I think it’s amazing how the bad guy is automatically British. He sounds so typically English as well; I imagine this is how every other nationality perceives us to speak. Just listen to the contrast between Solid and Liquid, and bear in mind that they’re brothers.

Love it so much. Anyway, the point I wanted to get across is that American characters seem to be portrayed as awesome, patriotic guys who save the world eating a burger with one hand and butchering the English language while he’s at it.

 

Lesson Three: Do not get married

Marriage: a concept which I’m not overly keen on to begin with, but of course I hope one day I’ll get to wear the big white dress and make my girlfriends look ridiculous (just kidding girls, don’t panic!). Now, with games being such a traditionally “male” hobbie, it’s unsurprising that the subject of marriage isn’t broached very often. However, the few times it has come up, I’ve noticed that it’s projected as a terrible, terrifying or just plain stupid thing to do.

Catherine is the first that comes to mind, with its plot based around infidelity, mistrust and fear of commitment. Our hero, Vincent, is being put under enormous pressure from his girlfriend to tie the knot. His mental response to this is to cheat on her with a younger, more attractive girl. What a surprise!! Really flying the flag for men everywhere, eh? Well, he ends up having some really scary nightmares, in one of which he is actually chased by a demon bride. Symbolism all over the place in this game!

Now, I’m not sure I’d want my fella playing Catherine… especially if I was hoping for a proposal any time soon. Way to scare him off, Atlus! I wonder how many men out there dream about being chased by a twisted version of their missus.

On the flip side, it doesn’t have to be a fear of commitment issue to put someone off marriage. Grand Theft Auto 4, a game I didn’t expect to get so deep in such an issue, showed us the idea of loss, and how easy it is for a marriage to end. Roman marries Mallorie, and it’s a really sweet moment as the family leave the church, Niko with his Kate… only for there to be a drive-by shooting, and KATE FREAKIN’ DIES! Oh yeah, wonderful. True love lasts forever, eh? As soon as Niko lets himself fall for someone, she’s killed right in front of him. Wow. Way to encourage my trust issues, huh?

The final one to mention is Final Fantasy X, in which Yuna left Seymore at the altar. Of course, Seymore was a complete dick, and I’m glad she didn’t marry him. Still, such an event spurs more concern in real life. I can’t imagine a more humiliating experience than being left at the altar.

Ugh, don’t do it guys. Life ends with marriage.

 

Lesson Four: Do NOT have children

This lesson is the reason I decided to write my column on this subject. Catherine, one of my current favourite titles, has put me off children for life. Vincent’s girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant, and this inspires two of his nightmares. On my first playthrough I was pretty horrified with some of the boss battles, but my worst had to be the Child with a Chainsaw.

Holy shit. “PLAY WITH MEEEEE!!!!” I agree with Vincent, not a fucking chance. Apparently the kid looks so messed up because our boy is worried the baby isn’t his, and the grotesque outside appearance represents Vincent’s fear that he has been betrayed by Katherine. I imagine that most guys who are told their girlfriend is pregnant unexpectedly have a few moments of doubt and concern… I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they had similar nightmares. Catherine has put me off kids for a while, not that I was overly keen in the first place.

Next up on the scary-baby-bandwagon we have Dead Space 2 and its extremely creepy nursery area.

Standing on toddlers’ heads isn’t exactly… paternal. There’s something about raising up your foot and bringing it down on a baby’s face that’s slightly disturbing. Anyway, after that video I’d rather not start a family for some time…or at least not with anyone called Isaac.

One thing that seems to bother a lot of gamers, worryingly enough, is the lack of ability to kill children in-game. Skyrim in particular has come under some criticism for this, with lots of people wanting to teach a couple of arrogant little shits a lesson. Their immunity has been removed by a couple of angry modders with too much time on their hands. Enjoy, you crazy psychopaths. 

 

Lesson Five: Don’t do drugs!

In a number of games it’s possible to interact with narcotics and marvel in how they alter the gameplay experience. Some do nothing more than increase your health, some turn everything into slow-motion, and some make you stumble around like an idiot. However, some games decide to take this a little bit further with a discouraging message about drugs and alcohol.

Bioshock, for instance, introduced the idea of plasmids, drugs you inject directly using a massive needle in order to grant you strange magical powers. This is all well and good, until you take a look at the little sisters. They’ve been destroyed by ADAM and their childhood has been stolen from them, replaced by their thirst for ADAM. This is literally saying, “Don’t do drugs kids, stay in school!” The little sisters are taken advantage of and manipulated by adults, used only for harvesting more of their precious ADAM. Quite poignant a message, don’t you think?

Heavy Rain also dabbles in the area of drugs, more in terms of withdrawals and addiction. Norman Jayden, the detective, struggles with his addiction to Triptocaine, a blue powder which seems to induce euphoria and results in physical dependence. During the game, Norman experiences massive withdrawals, inducing sweating, vertigo, physical pain and anxiety. During these episodes, the player is given the choice of whether to take the drug or not, consequences ensuing for either option selected.

Heavy Rain doesn’t glamorise drugs… even if the above video did a little bit. Gotta love The Lonely Island.

Right then. That’s a few lessons I’ve learned from gaming, and what I have taken into my adult life. Except for the last one…

What have you guys learned from your life of games? Tell me! How should I sort my life out, according to the world of video games?