Gaming vs. writing

When you hear about the negative effects of gaming, it’s usually an attempt to make a marriage out of violent games and violent behaviour. You don’t as often hear about the problem of gaming as an addiction. And it’s oh so easy to become an addict, as I am discovering. I’ve been spending long hours most evenings glued to the Xbox. And (no prizes for guessing this) I am getting absolutely no writing work done. Part of me knew this would happen.

These days, games are usually multi-level affairs with story arcs that take about forty hours to complete. And the graphics are so rich that gaming becomes partly a cinematic experience. Pleasure is derived from progress through the levels. This is in stark constrast to the games of yesteryear (and we’re talking the early 1980s here) where pleasure was derived from staying alive for as long as possible and getting a new high score. In those games (e.g. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Asteroids), the entire game experience was given to you in one playing session. The pleasure was not in progressing to new levels of eye-candy, it was in developing a skill at the game. Every time you played, it was one complete gaming experience that you could walk away from without feeling that you had left unfinished business behind. The pleasure was a complete thing, if you see what I’m getting at. Now, it sounds like I’m knocking modern gaming. No, I’m, just trying to clarify the difference in my own mind and to illustrate why modern gaming is so addictive. Old gaming was like playing a game of poker or chess with a mate, and something in me just misses that same kind of experience with arcade gaming. I’ve even toyed with the idea of building one of those MAME arcade machine cabinets for the hallway.

Currently, I’m playing a first-person shooter game called Condemned, and this one is a good illustration of what I’m saying. Although there is a certain amount of skill in engaging enemies, the layout of every level is almost completely linear. There is very little scope for wandering in the wrong direction or getting lost or having to use clues in order to find your way. The game has a nice feature where you use an assortment of gadgets to collect forensic evidence. But rather than having to use your eyes to look for this evidence, the game actually tells you when it’s nearby. Aside from combat, the game holds the player’s hand the whole way through the story. I confess that even though I can see this is a bad thing, I still love playing the game. I guess it’s the experience of creeping through dark corridors with nothing but a flashlight, wondering when the next baddie is going to jump out.

But something’s got to change. I have got to get back into writing. I’ve already reneged on my promise to get Chion out during September. I need to finish editing the book and publish it. Does this mean I didn’t win the James White Award? Yes, it does. No big deal. I was in with a shot, but only one person wins. Actually, I found out that I didn’t make the top five, either (sob).

There is another, much smaller, contest that I’m going to enter this month. I’m a big fan of John Christopher’s Tripods novels (and the TV series). The League of Freemen, which is the official fan club for the series, is running a short story contest entitled “Captain Curtis, The Untold Story.” Curtis was a relatively minor character in the first season (although a memorable one), and the contestants’ task is the expand on him. I’ve had my thinking Cap on (groan) for a few weeks, and I’ve now figured out the story I want to tell. The prize is an extremely rare poster that I’ve wanted to get hold of for years. So, I’m going to knuckle down and try to get the whole story written this evening. Might as well put Chion off again, eh? Well, at least I’m going to be writing.

8 thoughts on “Gaming vs. writing

  1. Jeffrey Allen Davis

    I know how you feel. I haven’t written anything in two weeks, but this is more because of my depression over my father’s passing than anything.

    I’m also a father and my daughter demands more and more of my time. I enjoy spending time with her (she’s hugging me as I type this). I guess I’ll just have to start getting up an hour earlier in the morning to get my writing done.

    I prefer fighting games, like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. These games, by their design, are also mostly one-sitting games. You have multiple characters and each has his or her own ending, but the game’s not very playable (at least by myself) once I’ve beaten it with every character.

  2. Darryl Sloan

    The most enjoyable videogaming experience I ever had was two-player mode on an old Playstation beat-’em-up called Star Gladiator. This game is a largely unrecognised gem. In fact, I only discovered it because it came as a free gift with a yearly subscription to Edge magazine. It lived in the shadow of Tekken, but was way more playable. The joy of the game was that it was as much about blocking and sidestepping as it was about hitting. Almost nothing was down to luck. A couple of friends and I got really skilled at it, and I can remember us having some great battles.

  3. PRAEst76

    I’ve always loved games with a plot to discover and exloration to be done… as well as a certain amount of not too challenging action. (Remember Turrican on the Amiga? Perfect bloody game that. Fantastic music too.) I’ve never been brilliant at arcade joystick wagglers. On the PC I tink I’ve spent more time on the Baldur’s Gate series than anyting else… though I’ve been a keen follower of the Half-Life games too. Right now what little tme I have for games is spent either playing old games via emulators or the copy of The Settlers IV I picked up last week in Antilla for 5€.

    It does end to be a time sucker though. I’d often get a game and play it non-stop for a shot period then not play anthing again for a while than play in small healthy sessions. You might call me a binge-gamer.

    The girlfriend is trying to encourage me back into writing again. I’m supposed to do some tonight while she’s out. Maybe I’ll do some, after just one more game of Settlers IV…

  4. Darryl Sloan

    I’ve just got right to end of Oblivion and I can’t beat the boss. My weapons aren’t powerful enough and I don’t have enough health top-ups to get through. So it’s either go back about five hours of game-saves or give up. This sucks.

    Planning to buy Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy next. I need a dose of something light-hearted.

  5. James Maxon

    Have you tried “Gears of War” yet? I hear that rocks. I just upgraded to a PS2 recently myself (I know, I’m a bit behind). I like computer gamming too, such as “Dawn of War”, “Star Craft”, and “Unreal Tournament”. But you are right, I have been trying to write more and games (like TV shows) are a huge time sucker. I mostly play games with my buds, so I usually only play the Multiplayer ones – can’t get any writing done with mates around anyway 😉 Just remember when you are done with a story it’s 100 x more satisfying than beating a video game. Games to me are a more “in the moment” type of thing where as writing is ever lasting.

  6. Darryl Sloan

    Gears of War does look very interesting. I may get it at some point. Completed LEGO Star Wars II the other day. Turned out to be a bit of a disappointing experience overall. Got Tomb Raider Legends coming in the post at the moment. I’m the the mood for adventure and puzzle-solving.

  7. Rubbertoebooks

    Browsing through your site and came upon these threads about gaming. I recently purchased a PS3 and a few games.

    What’s your opinion on games such as Grand Theft Auto IV?

    From a Christian point of view are you against this form of gaming?
    Personally ….. I am completely blown away by GTA IV in particular , especially online play. Games have come along way from the days of my trusty Spec +2 128K!!!!!!

    One final point… just bought Lego Star Wars , The Complete Saga, I think thats a mish-mash of the first two games updated fro HD etc.

  8. I love the sandbox game genre, and played through Just Cause, Crackdown and Saints Row on the Xbox 360. Of those three, the latter is most controversial, for its use of gang warfare, drug-running, pimping, etc. I enjoyed it, and didn’t find it particularly offensive or objectionable, because it was just so outrageously over-the-top. “Satire” is the word I’m looking for.

    However, there was one particular moment where I was doing a mission that involved me having to deliberately get the cops on my tail, using any means at my disposal. The quick and easy way to do it was to run down the street bashing old-age pensioners’ heads in with a baseball bat. I did it to advance the game, but I felt pretty uncomfortable about it. The OAPs’ reactions were just too realistic.

    I haven’t played GTA 4, but I’m guessing it has this satirical edge, too. However, something about it just makes me want to steer clear. From what some friends have said, I just have a feeling I wouldn’t enjoy it.

    Crackdown was my favourite sandbox game, both in terms of its story and playability.

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