I like Warhammer 40K: Space Marine more than I ought to. Before playing it I had never been into a Games Workshop and have certainly never painted a figurine, but Relic’s game made me walk into a store, lined with unpainted models and filled to the brim with players sitting at tables discussing their armies, and consider for a brief moment taking a dive into the world of miniature warfare. I didn’t of course but that game, but that simple third person action game that told the tale of humanity’s struggles against Chaos, got me the closest to tabletop gaming I have ever been. And so I left the store with a copy of the first book in the Horus Heresy series knowing that I was only a hair’s breadth away from being consumed by a very expensive hobby. Thanks to Space Marine I know the difference between an Ultramarine and a Bloodangel. I have extended my library of books with all manner of Space Marine related literature waiting for a rainy day to read them cover to cover. I even occasionally marvel at the character and art design of the wholly cohesive universe created by Games Workshop. So what started with an impulse buy of a game I knew very little about turned into an interest in Space Marine lore that still hasn’t waned.
And that’s what videogames are about, or used to be. They were about inspiring imagination, about bringing you into a world and making you believe you were there. They are the reason that the DOOM books existed, that there are Mario themed birthday cards, clothes and breakfast cereals, and there are people walking around with big Lambda symbols on their t-shirts paying respect to the wondrous Half Life. We didn’t want these worlds to end and it is clearly evident that we want the chance to experience and further our relationship with these games, these worlds, these characters. Fan Fiction, blogs, podcasts, all of these things extend our enjoyment of the video games we play and give us outlets to remember and give credit where it is due to the creators of this content. For many of us the rolling of the credits in a game is just the beginning of our relationship with it.
And it goes beyond the associations we form in our mind between videogames and our own lives, although that is no doubt an important factor. Playing DOOM II will always be coloured by hearing the shocking news of the Port Arthur Massacre while playing it, for example. But video games also have this ability to draw us in, pique our interest, even teach us something about the world we inhabit. Did you know of the Borgias or the Medicis before Assassins Creed II? I sure didn’t and the game inspired me to track down and read The Rise And Fall Of The House Of Medici. How many of us learnt about the Mongolians from Sid Meier’s Civilization, or got our first look into economics from Elite? Did you learn everything you know about Skateboarding from the Tony Hawk series? I bet for many people that is the case.
Video games are no different from other media in that their scope and potential to influence and to inform is great. I can’t count how many times I have been inspired to learn more about the subject matter of a video game. Microprose Grand Prix on the Amiga 500 kickstarted my interest in Formula One, and International Soccer on the Commodore 64 my interest in football (soccer) before that. These are things that have stuck with me and have not only made me into the person I am today but have also been the catalyst for many of my friendships. Whether it be the politics or stratagems of ancient Rome, the tactics of the Nazis during World War II, or the hard fought football match on the weekend between rival teams, I have built lifelong friendships on things I have learnt or been introduced to through a game. So while video games are often considered isolating, solitary activities – and in some cases rightly so – they also have the wonderful and often unrealised potential to help us interact with others and build friendships on common interests.
And so I say this – when you play games let your imagination run away with you. Games aren’t developed in isolation they are built on lore, from source material and influenced by other media. If you find yourself interested in a game’s subject investigate it further, read, listen, write. Games are wonderful gateways to worlds within our television screens – but if take them beyond the screen – they can be so much more. A truly most agreeable pastime.