There's something attractive about the end of the world. Don't believe me? Go take a look at the shelves of your favorite video game retailer, and count how many games there have their characters living in a world that is either teetering on the edge of some imminent catastrophe, or either smack dab in the middle of it by the time you get there. Not only are they numerous, but they are some of the most well liked titles in the gaming world today.
The question is…why? Under any normal circumstance, tromping around a world that has been or is experiencing the after effects of intense radiation, the dead rising from their graves, or an evil cult trying to bring the world to the end wouldn't be called fun by anyone who isn't a loon. I, like many of you, didn't think anything of it because I've been battling the digital forces of darkness since I can remember, but this situation became clear to me when I was trying to explain to the wife of a relative why Fallout 3 was fun.
She sat through my descriptions of the sterile environment, the gangs, the mutated humanoids and animals, and how you have to go brave all these in order to either damn the world or save it. She just turned to me and said “well, that doesn't sound like any fun”. I was about to give arguments as to why it was, but then I paused to think about her words. What is that makes a game set in an environment like that fun, fun enough to make me play it for about 100 hours?
Well, I think I've come to a conclusion, and here it is. We all face challenges in our life, but a lot of these challenges feel ordinary to us. Life, work, bills, whatever relationships that our a daily occurrence in our life…we've gotten accustomed to this. It doesn't make life any less exciting, or less aggravating, but it's a certain kind of repetitive aggravation that can wear you down. The only times things get exciting is usually when something unexpected happens, and we all know how much of a drag that can be.
See, I believe that at this point in the history of our species the struggle between two portions of our emotional makeup is becoming more pronounced. There's the one side that wants things to be comfortable and easy…fine things to want for. On the other hand, we all have this desire in us to push beyond both our boundaries and the boundaries that society at large has established for us. Pushing boundaries, however, has it's own host of problems(which may or may not involve jail time) so the only choice seems to be to shift this need into something else.
This I believe is what makes all these video games great. They thrust us into dramatic circumstances that normally we'd want to avoid at all costs, and which gives us a chance to push ourselves in new directions. In Fallout 3, you push open the door at the end of Vault 101's entrance tunnel, push it open and find yourself in a place where you can be a mover and shaker, where you can face poverty, psychotic levels of aggression and petty meanness, and either work to to make the place better, worse, or just to ensure your personal survival. No matter what the result, though, these experiences can have a beneficial effect that can extend into your daily life.
That, to me, is one of the best things about video games…not only do they are great devices for story telling, but they can help smooth the path of our lives in the process.