Ready Player One: And My Love of Video Games

220px-Ready_Player_One_coverReady Player One, written by Ernest Cline, consumed all of my available attention from start to finish. I was transported to a captivating dystopia where the real world decayed and the general population spent their lives jacked into the Oasis, a virtual reality world based on Video games and 80’s pop culture, searching for the fortune of the designer and creator, hidden deep inside.

Published in August of 2011, It quickly joined the ranks of the New York Times Best Seller list.  Warner Bros. bought the rights to the movie before the book was even published. The genuine writing style and nerdy characters quickly drew me in.  I felt like one of them. I got to relive aspects of my childhood long buried. I highly recommend the novel, to anyone who has struggled to explain how immersing themselves into an rpg or platform video game was a formative part of their growth as an imaginative individual. I will not spoil the book! Just want to talk about games and growing up. GO READ IT!

Why I Fell  For Cline’s OASIS World

As a kid, my world was always filled with cartoons and super heroes. My playtime consisted of running around the house, making noises and shouting, fully immersed as one of those heroes.  I was completely alive in a world that only I could see, whether I was as a 2 story autobot Transformer, Batman, or a Power Ranger. Cline’s novel’s haptic system, or rather video game controllers that allowed you to touch the virtual environment with your hands, is the dream of my early years brought to life.

A love of your first games are traits that any gamer in any generation will share. I may not have been a master at the Atari classics, but I’ll never forget my first videogame console.  For Christmas in 1997, I awoke to find a Nintendo N64 console, two M-shaped controllers, and two grey game cartridges: Starfox 64 (listed as the 45th greatest game of all time by Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition in 2009) and Diddy Kong Racing (fastest selling videogame at that time, 800K copies in 2 wks).

My first experience in controlling the story visually played out before me would change my life forever. I raced, I ducked, I dodged, I did a barrel roll.  I moved with the controller,  left and right. I played those games for years.  Reading in between the lines, I have an appreciation for Cline’s love for the games of his childhood.

My Lifetime in Games

Over the years my heart has been stolen by many games. I’ll never forget when I got a VHS tape via SNAIL MAIL with a trailer advertisement for Banjo-Kazooie, an addictive 3D platformer with an amazing soundtrack- where you romped through 10 themed worlds solving puzzles in search of collectible music notes, puzzle pieces, and Mumbo Jumbo. I was stuck working my way through challenging games like multiple games of the  Legend of Zelda series, Metroid Prime, and Donkey Kong 64 for years. For a summer, every morning was filled with feverish Super Smash Bros tournaments and Tony Hawk Pro Skater competitions.  I sometimes forget what I ate for dinner yesterday, but I can’t seem to forget miscellaneous facts about the original Pokémon Franchise.

Consoles?  I stayed loyal to Nintendo for a while.  I got Gameboys, in B&W and color, and a gamecube.  I branched out and bought a playstation on eBay, with my parents permission, just to mod it to play a Japanese version of the DragonBall Final Bout title, which was much rarer in English (even though I couldn’t understand the menus or what they were saying).  That’s right, my love of hardware, now building my own computers, can likely be traced right here.

As I got older, my tastes matured.  I followed the Halo series (6 games) to the XBox Franchise, and ultimately to the XBox 360.  I enjoyed several series: Assassin’s Creed (6 games), Batman (2 games), Mass Effect (3 games), Fable (3 games). I immersed myself in story after story, driving forward, imparting my will on a virtual world. I didn’t do this at the expense of a social life- I still had time for school, friends, several after school clubs, and all other childhood hobbies.

My Gaming Education

Gaming did not teach me to be a killer, or destroy my innocence of youth. Video games taught me some things about life.

  1. Stamina, multitasking and control. One of my favorite computer games – Starcraft II, is considered an e-sport. If you don’t know how a video game could be a sport, watch this Korean pro gamer play and ask yourself if you believe me when I tell you his fingers are moving at 300 actions per minute.  For over 20 minutes. Focus habits from games like this have improved my study habits, critical thinking and decision-making under pressure.  No, I am not that fast when I play it!
  2. Living my life as a Quest, not a Test. One of the most popular notions of the growing interest in Gamification, or the use of games in modern education, is the idea that our reward systems in school are designed to dismantle confidence. You start with a perfect score, and then we focus on what you get wrong. In games, especially role playing games, you start as a novice, wide eyed and naive. As you progress and learn, you build skills, becoming more formidable. It’s no secret that ground up incentives work better than grind-down grading.  No one asks their kids to go play games, like they are a chore. Kids are self-motivated to do these things. Applied to life, which style of living would you perceive as the healthier of the two? Perpetual learner, or the person who dwells on what they got wrong?
  3. Walk my own path, and own my destiny. Games want you to progress linearly sometimes, but great games give you the ability to explore your own way, your own path. These games are such a psychotic break from a long litany of influences in life about the trajectory your life is supposed to be on.  At a young age, I was subliminally empowered to seek my own future, not just do as I was told, which has encouraged my creative thinking, and my overall happiness and drive in life. So, in life, I felt empowered to go straight sometimes, and sometimes duck around a corner and explore something new other times.  My future, whether successful or not, is my choice, and that too is the healthiest outlook, in my opinion.

Why You Should Let Your Kids Play Video Games

I’m sure my parents had their doubts about if they were doing the right thing when it came to supporting my hobbies. There were failed attempts to limit time spent in front of the TV, and natural concerns about violence and mature themes. My parents may not realize it, but I am eternally grateful for their support of this thing I am so passionate about. It was enough for them to recognize how passionate and alive I felt playing games.

I’ll never forget one morning when my dad, prone to nausea when watching busy games with high graphics, plopped on the couch next to me during a run through of Halo 2. He didn’t really get why I liked it.  HE saw guns and aliens, and that makes enough sense, but he wanted more. He wanted to know what his 13 year old son was learning from this violent science fiction romp.  He asked, “So Paul, what is Halo about, anyway?”

I paused and lit up, explaining in detail about how the human race had conquered planets, but still fought civil wars against each other, until they met the Covenant, an oligarchy of other sentient species that maintained the same religious beliefs, bent on destroying humanity it felt was a “blight on the universe”.  Humanity united behind a common enemy, and despite scrappy odds, the human spirit persevered behind selfless super soldiers, aptly called Spartans.  My dad was shocked.  His 13 year old son, with an unusually good vocabulary, had none the less just used words like Oligarchy, Covenant, sentient, and blight – words he was convinced I didn’t know the actual meaning of (which I preceded to define for him).  Besides that, the shooting game all of a sudden looked like an interesting motif on humanity’s faults and strengths in adversity, and even religious zealotry.

I like to think that this was the day my Dad decided that for better or worse, I was learning. I wasn’t engaging in mindless activity, and made his peace with it. I remember it as the day I validated that whatever I was learning, it wasn’t mindless kid stuff, and it wasn’t useless. Ask your kids about the games they play.  Learn why they like them. Support their passions where you can, and help them tie those passions to real life skills and passions.

No Paul Langdon, Without Games

I loved Ernest Cline’s tribute to his love of games and pop culture and inspired some nostalgia for my own.  I wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences.  What was your favorite game growing up?


Posted in Art, Inspirations, Life Lessons, Literature, Shifting Perspectives, video games. Tagged with , , , , .

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