A Childish Game?

So there I was browsing online dating profiles, as you do. Whilst looking I happened across a statement that computer games were “Childish”. That started me thinking.

Well, writing as someone who’s frequented virtual worlds of various guises before and is engaged exploring the Kerbin Solar System, I definitely disagree. What I would say is that some games have low quality and others high quality. Now, when I speak of quality I mean this vaguely in the sort of sense that Robert M. Pirsig meant. That ungraspable something, not the graphics or the sounds, something else. Some games have it, others most definitely do not. I (perhaps, controversially) group most, if not all, of the so-called “triple A” titles into the “have not” category.

The games I have in mind as “haves” are Minecraft, Second Life and Kerbal Space Program (KSP, hereafter). Why these? In each case there is a freedom that you don’t get with a scripted level design, and with each a chance at creativity. KSP is more creative when it come to crashes, I admit, though rocket design can be a slightly insane artform. The other part of the reason it’s listed here is the amount of awe and wonder. I’ve launched and flown a space capsule to orbit then sat and watched the sun rise from an orbital spacecraft, it’s a great moment and makes one wonder how much wonderful the real view must be. There’s a sense of adventure and wonder, which is also helped by the sense of achievement at actually getting the rocket to fly! It teaches you about orbit, aerodynamics and a number of other things and really does make you stand in admiration of the real world space programs and their achievements. I didn’t know the difference between Apoapsis and Periapsis till I started playing this game! I will leave a small trailer below, which I think captures the spirit of the game very well.

I’ve mentioned Minecraft before, and it will probably need no introduction. It’s a phenomenon which makes creativity very easy indeed and offers a huge amount of freedom to explore. Both KSP and Minecraft are modifiable, so the variety and potential can be increased in both games. Whilst KSP teaches physics, aerodynamics and other things. Minecraft can teach you to plan projects and organise your resources. It can teach teamwork, when working on joint projects on a server; I’ve used to to try to answer ethical questions I’ve had regarding the use of force. It has also been used to teach conservation and a number of other things; there’s a great deal of quality in such a simple seeming game.

Finally, Second Life and I must put on my flameproof suit for describing this as a “game”. For sheer creative scope, Second Life blows both of the previously mention titles out of the water. It has the motto “Your World, Your Imagination” and it lives up to it. This virtual world contains composers, musical performers, artists, authors and much more. I’ve seen meditation centres, lectures, memorials, art galleries and much more (including a great deal of adult content). Indeed, the building of entire landscapes has been raised to the level of an art form! I should also add that Second Life contains a full programming language with APIs for external access, the possibilities are huge. I’ll provide a link to a blog which gives a great overview of the kind of artistic beauty which can be found in this world.

Real Travels in a Virtual World

Where am I going with all of this? I feel that computer gaming, done right, has a great deal to offer and not just to children and young adults. I also firmly believe that we’re seeing the ongoing development of an artistic medium that is unparalleled elsewhere; a medium for experimentation, learning and the sharing of experiences. To dismiss all of these possibilities as “childish” is, I firmly believe, to show a huge amount of ignorance and to deny ourselves a huge opportunity.

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