Chess. The game of kings. The mere mention of it’s name can make men weak in the knees. It is held in high regard within our society, a game for intellectuals that the average Joe should steer clear of. Those who play it, frequenting chess clubs, hosting games online or betting on their strategic prowess down on Market Street may be ridiculed by the “cool” kids, made to feel weak and meek, but in the back of everyone’s mind, chess players are, well, smart. Nerds and geeks maybe, but really, really, smart ones. Parents would be proud. Hugs would be shared. Tear would be cried.
Video games. Two words, yet they don’t hold nearly the same amount of force nor status behind them. We gamers would still be “classified” as nerds and geeks but with none of the royalties chess has. Guns, explosions, bikini clad women, steroid enhanced men, and more guns. Supreme court hearings on first amendment rights. Parents terrified of a new medium, unwilling to try it themselves, gathering their torches and pitchforks to run the game industry right out of town. Rodney Dangerfield I think puts it best; “No respect!”
Talk to any gamer though, especially about their favorite game, and they could go on for hours discussing strategies, on top of art style, storytelling, sound effects etc. In FPS’, finding the best cover points, knowing where the opposing team will be coming from and their most likely hiding spots, flanking tactics, and quick decision making all come into play on top of having excellent hand eye coordination. That’s memorization, critical thinking, and quick decision making for those who haven’t played an FPS. Cooperative modes and other team based games or game types takes coordination of a few players, as little as two, or many players, generally a max of 32, working together to achieve a single goal; more often than not, each individual player will also have a specific role that they play with it’s own strengths and weaknesses. Other player classes help to balance the weaknesses of their teammates, forcing players to critically analyze their own playing styles as well as those of their team, the types of classes that are available to them, and the obstacles that they will have to overcome in order to achieve their goals.
There is even a genre of games we call, gasp!, strategy games. Like chess, units in these games play their unique roles, with different movement constraints and attack patterns that must be taken into account in order to win the day. The Total War series is a great example of this, with gameplay based upon real world tactics and settings. Basically, it simulates what chess was built from; large open fields, huge formations of infantry backed by archers with cavalry ready to attack the enemies flanks. Here, the goal isn’t to run your men forward blindly but to outsmart the opposing player. Tactical retreats, feigning weaknesses to spring traps on unsuspecting foes, thinking steps ahead and planning accordingly are the keys to victory. Starcraft 2 and the Civilization series are two more great examples. In Starcraft 2, all the action and planning happens in real time; not only do you have to manage your units, you have to manage your economy through resource gathering and spending, building your base, or infrastructure, so that you can speed up your research times. Civilization tasks you with taking one of a number of ancient civilizations, thrusting you into the year 3000 BCE and letting you rewrite history as we know it. You can build Wonders of the World like the Great Pyramids of Giza, or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; found religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism; discover technologies like writing or chemistry and, of course, outsmart your opponents to claim world domination. Still, no respect.
Outside of our own circles, non gamers never see these sides of games. Having never played them, they base their opinions on what they see in ads and TV, stereotype an entrie group of people by the few gamers they may know, then disrespect the lot of us. It’s not that I mind being called a geek or gamer as I certainly am a geeky gamer. What bothers me is that on the one hand we have a game that’s hundreds of years old yet is highly respected by people who may have never played it in their life, or even know how to play, while on the other hand we have this new medium with the same level of depth and “brain power” requred to play them, with each new game created a labor of love sculpted and chisled at by dozens of people, yet receives nothing but harsh criticism and the equivalent of being rapped on the wrists by a stern and overbearing nun.
Perhaps because video games are still so brand new that it hasn’t received it’s due respect. No one could have imagined that rock and roll would ever have been considered classics or could have shaped our cultures musical taste in the way that it did. Who could have guessed that when first born in the 50’s, Chuck Berry or The Beatles would become household names held in great esteem and loved by millions. In this day and age it’s comical to think that they were the rebels of their time. Jazz was restricted to underground nightclubs in the 20’s; look at how the times have changed. Social games could be that driving force that shows the mainstream what games are all about, introducing the object of our love to people who never would have considered themselves gamers and probably still don’t. Schools have begun to teach video game design and art, popping up all over the country and world. As we, the X-generation, begin to grow older and as computer technology continues to become an increasingly important part of our daily lives, more and more people will fall in love with the medium that we geeky gamers love so much. Who knows? The word gamer could become synonomous with the same images the word chess brings up.
With, hopefully, less of the snootiness.