The end?

Welcome everyone to virtual mind, where we take a look at anything with video games. Its been a long time coming but Ive finally gotten the time to sit down and type my thoughts out. Will, I don’t know how you are able to consistently put out quality reviews because just getting this started was hard enough for me.  As I grow up, and old habits and hobbies fall behind me, I cant help but question what I do. I can spend hours a day sitting contently in front of a computer monitor, or a TV screen, playing my favorite video games. Usually doing this doesn’t bother me at all, but as of late there seems to have been some sort of change. Now, thats not to say I’m no longer enjoying video games, no not at all. What happens lately is that I find myself questioning the time I spend on a game.  A sad fact of life is that everything that has a beginning has an end. This rule applies just as much to the virtual words, as it does to the real world. For example, lets take a look at world of Warcraft. As some of you may know, Wow is an online MMORPG that has no set end. The game has been going on for five years now and the average wow player plays approximately 2-3 hours a day. You can do the math. Thats a lot of time on a game. It may seem like there is no end with all the new content that is regularly released, but unfortunately there is. There will be a time where the developers have to close the game down and It may be due to lack of money, the age of the game, or low subscription levels, but the fact is it will one day end. All that time spent grinding mobs for loot, all the dungeons, all the people you met, all the villains you helped bring to justice, all the time invested. Gone. Reading this, you may be asking yourselves, “Why would anyone spend so much time on something like that, its a waste of time that could be spent doing something productive, something with more value.” There are a lot of people out there that believe video games are a waste of time. That there is no value to them. That the pixels that you spend so much time in front of have no value and should not be played. I must say that recently, I have been asking if there is value to what I do. Firstly how does one define value? How can anyone say that one thing as more worth than the other? What I want to do is to explore the value of games. I don’t want to make this a puff piece, and as difficult as it may be with such a biased background, I want to explore what value video games do have. I mean, there has to be something to them if I’ve been playing them for so long, right?

If value is according to shininess, I know some shiny games

Value. How does one define value? What makes the value of an orange different than that of a gold nugget? It would not surprise me, in fact I know, that the majority of the world would call me crazy for even posing that question. Here is a hypothetical for you. You are alone on a desert island, and are stocked with limited food supplies. By some miraculous chance, a gold nugget falls from the sky, landing on the beach. What has more value, the food or the gold nugget?  The example may be extreme but it definitely makes you think what value is. Value is not defined in anyone way, I’ll tell you that much. Value can be relative. Relative value, or personal and cultural value, is subjective, depending on individual or cultural views. In laymen terms, you decide if an item has value. Another form of value is that of monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade. How many Benjamin’s is the given item worth? When we look at this we have to delve into the economy of things, and I am by no means an economist.  What is the import or meaning; force; significance of something? An example of this is the value of a word. Value can be the liking or affection of something.  When we look at value, we can see that there is no one way to define value. An orange to one person may be more valuable than a gold nugget. Like beauty, value is in the eye of the beholder.

Instead of just jumping into things I want to try to look at this in some organized manner. I want to take a look at the relative value of videogames, and whilst this is more personal, I’m also going to look into the cultural impact of videogames. Secondly I want to look at the videogame industry, and investigate the monetary value of it. If I’m going to see the true value of games, I’ll have to look at other facets of the world where video games are used. Let us begin!

Relative value: What value do I think video games have

Now as I’ve written before on my previous posts, my life has always been involved with video games. Instead of repeating why games are so important to my life, I want to tell you about what has kept me playing them for so long instead. Now, I will admit, I do enjoy a good ol’ shooter just like any other guy, and I like puzzle games every now and then. Driving games are fun, and plat formers are usually cute, but it’s not a certain genre that keeps me playing. It’s not a style that keeps me coming back. It’s not the music that keeps me glued hours on end. Can’t guess what keep me hooked? I’ll give it to you straight then. What has amazed me time and time again, and what drives me to spend so much time playing a good game is immersion. The best games are the games capable of telling a story. Good games can take a player and throw them into a whole new world, keeping you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next plot point to come. What Value do games have? They can tell a damn good story that’s what.

One of the most amazing story telling experiences, Mass Effect

Now I know, I know. There are exceptions, just like with anything. I have experienced the good the bad and the ugly. I know when people say that a videogame has no value, the first kind of game that they think of are bloody, violent shooters. There are some that are mindless, but try playing Bioshock, and not only will you be amazed by its visual prowess, but you will be put on a roller coaster ride that will rock your world. I have never seen my friends so intent on watching me play a game just because they wanted to see what happened next. It’s a shame that when people judge video games, they usually only think of the bad and have never been exposed to the masterpieces of storytelling. Heavy rain, Mass effect, Dragon Age: Origins, games that have had the ability to move me emotionally and have pushed me to go further.  What makes a game good, and what gives a good game value, is its ability to create an experience for the individual.  Good stories teach us something about ourselves or the world. This applies with video games. Video games are just another medium of storytelling; it’s as simple as that. Instead of reading a book you get to play the character in the book and see it in action.  If I were to define value in a video game it would have to come down to this. What makes a game valuable is its ability to tell me a story, to allow me to experience something new, to teach me, to move me. This is why video games are valuable I believe, because they have the power to evoke so many emotions.

Monetary and material worth: The business

If we’re going to judge video games by their material value then we need to take a look at the video game industry as a whole.  Now because I’m not one to analyze economic figures, I will give a list some interesting facts for you all and attempt at some sort of commentary.
-Growth – From 2003 to 2006, the entertainment software industry’s annual growth rate exceeded 17 percent. Over the same period, the entire U.S. economy grew at a less than four percent rate. Obviously if the video game industry has contributed to the growth of the economy, it’s got some value right?

-GDP – In 2006, the entertainment software industry’s value added to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $3.8 billion. The industry also makes a disproportionate contribution to the real growth of the nation as whole. For example, in 2005-06 the industry’s contribution to real growth exceeded its share of GDP by more than four to one.

-Computer and video game companies posted records sales in 2007. The industry sold 267.8 million units, leading to an astounding $9.5 billion in revenue. Let me put this into perspective in another way. Blizzard, the creators of Wow have 11.5 million subscribers to Wow alone. Each game costs 30$. Add two expansion packs and thats another 60$. Thats 90$ for the game alone practically. Now add on monthly subscription fees of 15$. You can see where im going with this right? Now this is just one company. Think of the other big names like Ubisoft, Bioware, or Activision. Put everyone together and that’s a ton of money. I’m almost certain that when looking at money, the industry as a whole is worth something. Now if an individual game is worth its price, that’s a whole other topic for discussion.

-Halo 3, the best-selling title of 2007, took in more revenue in its first day of sales than the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie (“Spider-Man 3”) and the final “Harry Potter” book’s first day sales;

-Computer game and video games  dollar sales (2006) and (2007): $7.4 billion (2006), $9.5 billion (2007)
you know just if you didn’t catch this before.

The video game industry is no small business. Its not like its some unknown group of people who are waiting to make it big. They are big. Now going back to my original question, are video games worth anything. By a monetary definition of value we can see yes, that the industry has a significant amount of value, but does that help argue a point when people say video games aren’t worth anything and are a waste of time? Ill let you decide but at least you now know how much money is made in this industry.

Video games and the world: You mean they are used for other things?

The criticism video games get a lot is that they are useless in the real world, that they have no applications. That they have no practical use besides passing time. As you know by now, I disagree and so would others. Let’s take a look at the other things video games can do or be used for. Let us try and see if they contribute some value to anything else besides entertainment. Let it be known that the technology behind video games is massive, constantly growing and ever changing. If you cant appreciate this fact then maybe you shouldn’t be reading virtual mind. You can come over and I can show you the depth and complexity of the the unreal engine I have on my computer if you want a quick schooling on high tech things (not like i know how to use it). With such strong capabilities, video games, and the technology behind them can be used for much more than the average person would think.

Working out and athletics: That’s right. I said it. Video games have the ability to do this. How you ask? Why don’t you take a look at such things as dance dance revolution or more importantly WII fit. DDR may be a stretch but it’s an example of a game that is fun and keeps a person active. Growing technologies such the Wii have introduced games such as wii fit, where in the game is the work out. It’s a relatively new concept, but growing fast. Some aerobic bikes are set up much like arcade motorcycle games, you play a racing game whilst working out. Implemented correctly video games can bring more children to work out and fight current issues such as obesity. Healthy and fun, now that’s some finger licking good value.

Therapy: A study at Oxford University has recently shown how videogames, in this case Tetris, has been used to help relieve post-traumatic stress.  Researchers exposed 40 healthy volunteers to a series of highly upsetting images. After, half the groups played Tetris while the other 20 patients did not. What they found in the study was that those who played Tetris experienced fewer traumatic flashbacks than those who didn’t. The study speculates that the short-term analytical rigors of a Tetris game interfered with the subjects’ ability to store long-term sensory memories.  Now the results of a test on a person such as a veteran with PTSD have yet to be seen, but who isn’t to say that games can be therapeutically?

Scientific research: Now this is an interesting little event that occurred a while ago. In September 2005, “Corrupted Blood,” a virtual plague, spread through the fictional world of Azeroth, killing everything in its path. WoW‘s programmers designed the outbreak to infect only higher-level players, but a nasty glitch let Corrupted Blood jump out of the instance it was built to stay in, to the world of Azeroth. This virtual pandemic modeled the spread of real-world disease, particularly with regards to human response.  Epidemiologists usually rely on past data and statistics to predict an outbreak’s trajectory, but with the Corrupted Blood incident they had a digital terrarium filled with real people escaping cities, risking their lives to heal the sick and freaking out. Now that’s not to say that wow = cure to diseases, it merely an example of how video games have transcended mere entertainment and into other uses.

Professional Training: The ability to create digital worlds allows for some interesting things. You know flight simulators right? Well those aren’t just flying games, those are programs that really do teach you piloting. The old fashioned way of teaching how to fly was to just put someone in a plane and let them go crazy. It’s a known fact actually. Now a days, thanks to digital technology, we can teach people how to fly, and conduct trains, without killing anyone! Astronauts learn to fly through flight simulators, what is that besides a fancy game? Virtual reality programs have been used in the military to help train soldiers by placing them into familiar battle field scenarios. We can set up safe environments for people to learn in. Who knows, Maybe one day we will just have to jack into the matrix to learn (one can dream). Piloting such reconnaissance drones as the predator have had their control systems simplified for easier use to younger soldiers, if you didn’t catch that, they are making them more like game controllers. A somewhat scary thing to me, yet another example of video game to real world scenarios.

There are many more things that video games and the technology has been involved with, but I think we can see that it can be used for more than just passing the time. I mean the technology that makes them can be used to create any sort of scenario for people to be put in. Archaeologists have recently been using game engines to recreate dig sights and old settlements to get a better look at what it may have looked like back at a given time. If video games are branching out in so many other fields, maybe they really aren’t a waste of time, and the posses a key to more knowledge for us to gain.

A time to reflect

Sadly I have to cut this short. What may seem like a long read for a Shpitz post is very small in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t even get to talk about all the other things that I could have. I guess that’s more material to be used later for more posts, what do you think Zach? I may question video games from time to time, but that’s natural, we as humans are always inquisitive about our nature and what we do. It’s a process of getting to know ourselves. I know how I feel about video games; I know how much I appreciate them and their capabilities. Video games do have value to me, or else they wouldn’t be such a big a part of my life. To those who doubt video games, I hope I introduced you to something new, and have given you something to think about. Now I’ll go ahead and say that I know that playing games 24/7 isn’t healthy or beneficial in anyway. I am by no means trying to justify that. My goal was to merely educate.  I’ll leave you with a few questions to ponder yourself. What value do video games have to you? What role do they play in your life? I hope you enjoyed this little exploration of ours. Stay tuned for more game videos in the future!