Computer games and what they reveal about us

I may be a bit of an old fart, but I do know something about computer games, I was young-ish when home entertainment consoles appeared, my first was a Spectrum, then C64, then I finally got a PC in the early 90’s, which has horrendously expensive and had a whole 4MB of RAM! (and a huge 750 MB hard drive).

I soon discovered that I tend to like role-playing and strategy games. Games like Civilization, SimCity, Ultima, Realms of the Haunting and so on. The only game I play now from time to time is called Skyrim. I like it because it is a fantasy game set in a sort of fantasy Nordic Viking world. It is full of quests and things you can do without having to follow the main quest line. I imagine that every player plays this game very much in their own way.

So what is the link between computer games and a therapy blog? Or in fact, what do they reveal about us?

In common with similar computer games, when you play Skyrim, at the start of the game you get to choose what kind of character, race and so on you want to be. And there are a huge number of variants that you can adjust with each attribute. So it pretty much means that no two players of the game will be the same.

A lot of these variants are around the appearance of your character. And this is where it gets interesting. Because as I was building a character the other day, I asked myself what was influencing my decisions?

For example you can choose race, and interestingly the only obviously black humanoid race is actually called Redguard. You can choose skin colour. You get to design all aspects of the face, body type, age, and so on. At this point you are faced with all kinds of decisions.

So let’s say you wanted to be a Redguard, because they may have attributes that suit your style of gameplay. If you don’t want them to look black, you can then design out all the default characteristics that make them look that way. You can whiten their skin, and alter their face considerably. So then, although the computer game would recognise your character as a Redguard, nobody else would.

You could of course choose any of the races on offer and make so many changes they would look nothing like their original. In my version of the game, I have 253 variables that I can control and change.

In short, while making these choices I realised that it challenged my thoughts about race, about appearance, about age and in general what characteristics made my choices right for me.

After all, if I’m going to be playing as a certain character for some time, I don’t want one that is ugly or unattractive…but who on earth am I to decide what is ugly or unattractive?

This isn’t a blog about racism, it’s just a blog that highlights what in our minds constitutes beauty or normality. It’s about how decisions made in a simple computer game can reveal our own internal assumptions and beliefs. This is why the current slogan is ‘Black Lives Matter’. It makes us question our assumptions and beliefs. That doesn’t sit easy sometimes.

As an example, you can choose to be an orc, and they look very fearsome and brutal. You can then choose to accentuate that even more, or soften it. I wonder, if you chose to be a male orc, would you accentuate the fearsomeness of your character? Probably. If you chose to be a female orc, would you filter out the ‘ugly’ stuff and make her more feminine? Maybe.

I wonder how many players of Skyrim have created old characters, or overweight ones, or ugly ones? Or do most of them look like Hugh Jackman, or Lara Croft?

Really though, this is the tip of the iceberg. There are other questions to ask too now I start to ponder even more.

Such as, why are so many computer games based on shooting or killing to be successful? I like Skyrim a lot, but it’s quite easy to just to go round killing all your opponents. That may take a bit of brain power with the hardest enemies, but I would like more puzzles, a chance to leave the sword at home and think your way to a solution.

Older gamers all know that playability is a quality in games that remains constant, whereas although the graphics in games now can be amazing, if the playability is low, then the game just won’t have longevity. I was a huge fan of Medieval Total War, until Sega bought it. Then it became a game with great graphics, but it was so dull. In fact I would apply that to all of the Total War games produced by Sega. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! (It seems my blog has become a third-rate computer games blog, so I’d better get back to the point about what I have learned from Skyrim).

Is this important? Well, yes it is. It may be just a game, but anything that takes up our time so much, MUST end up having an influence on the way we see the world, and others.

If you fancy having a look at Skyrim, here is a good place to start:

https://elderscrolls.bethesda.net/en/skyrim

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