How video games changed your life
They formed our memories
Joel Golby on hor video games made him the man he is today
When I was five, we got our first games system. It was a battered Commodore 64 – old and outdated even then – and I loved it with all my life. It played games off a tape. They took between 20 and 40 minutes to boot up with a glitchy, white noise soundtrack. The only good game was Blitz, in which you inch across the screen in a plane and drop bombs on a city from above. We had to shift the TV and unplug the VCR to play it. It was the best thing in the world.
my own, with a full pack of batteries and Tetris. Just for me. All mine. Oh, wow. I played that game until my thumbs hurt. I played that game until my thumbs got blisters. Even now, when I close my eyes and try to sleep, I mentally play a Tetris game. Just edging up, up the sides, perfect blocks in the perfect order, and then right when I need one, yes: a four, a liner, blip blip blip, and it drops in just the right place, and the rocket goes off, and I am in pixelated nirvana.
Three years later, when I was 11, I asked for a PlayStation and my mum got me a Sega Saturn, which was wrong, and we’re not going to talk about that phase in my life, because it was wrong. All wrong.
Aged 18, I went to the first party in my life that me and my boys had ever attended with the express intention of meeting and/or talking to girls. Instead I saw a full N64 set up with Mario Kart 64 in the corner and I sat cross-legged and played 19 games undefeated, the king, the champ, while my friend Paul was talking to real-life actual girls. But who was the real winner, Paul? It was me. It was almost certainly me. Ask people now and they will definitely say it is me.
And now here we are, on the cusp of a VR revolution, and gaming has come a long way. It’s no longer Pong and Blitz and gurgling pixels – now it’s huge sprawling economies and clans at war (EVE Online), homage-paying indie darlings (Hyper Light Drifter), the greatest, dumbest game ever made (Rocket League), blockbuster megahits (Call Of Duty) and Paul Pogba in 4K, doing the dab (Fifa 17).
You can play games on your phone, now. Games are intricately woven in with our emotions. Websites for hotel booking and business connections even use gaming ideas – win badges! – to keep people coming back. We’re always playing. Here’s how video games changed your life without you even realising.
They’ve changed film
Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn explains how games have influenced his work
“I’m fascinated by video games. It’s the interaction, the sense that there are no boundaries. Most cinema is very flat. It’s rare you interact with it. Film is more interesting when it’s about what you don’t see. Video games have that ability – you can do so many perspective changes. It becomes a 3D experience on a 2D screen.
“Gaming was alien to me until I started on [2013’s] Only God Forgives. It was only when I met Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear, that I really began to see the whole inventiveness that is possible.
“It becomes a circle of creation. Many people have said that Only God Forgives’ fight sequence has a direct gaming influence. The camera angle kind of looks like a fight screen, it looks operatic. The score, too, is very grand.
“The Neon Demon is designed like a video game in that it has different levels. It’s designed for a futuristic audience who will potentially see entertainment in different ways. Its colour palette has an artificialness to it which isn’t dissimilar to a video game’s. I find it very beautiful.”
The Neon Demon is out on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download now.
We use them to bond
Sam Diss on the games that bring people, mainly men, closer together
The three most influential video-games of your generation are Fifa, Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and Call Of Duty (COD). Their impact can be felt everywhere.
COD – with its kinetic energy and first-person point-of-view – changed the way action films are shot. GTA – full of controversy and sprawling cultural references – took Tarantino patchwork creativism to the nth degree. And Fifa changed sport: the graphics of match-day programming, the language we use. The sport itself now panders to the game; now every fan is an expert; every player is a set of attributes rated 1 to 100; every formation is referred to with the cool air of a seasoned pro.
And in an age where much is written about social disconnect, these games bring us closer. No matter what’s happened, if you’re of a certain age, a simple “Fifa?” from your best mate is what you want to hear most.
It’s well documented that men find it difficult to open up. “Man-up” followed the “stiff-upper-lip” age and only now are we starting to see the emotional thaw. Games can help.
They can, for instance, be a great equaliser in a young man’s life. In primary school, social status is divided into two camps: good at sports and good at video games.
Being a sports kid means friendships are constructed as part of a team built towards achieving a common goal, and it’s pretty much impossible to not make pals.
Being a video-game kid is a bit different. It involves letting someone else into your private space; letting them root around inside your bedroom, your console, your head. No matter what your parents said, this is socialising. This still counts.
As adults, playing video games with friends can act as a conduit to expressing your emotions. Fear, sadness and trust – these are all things that feel much more palatable when discussed while staring at pixelated carnage on a TV screen. It’s because this thing you’re doing: it’s just a game, and games are supposed to be fun, right? That makes this a safe space. You have carte blanche to get as real as you like in a space where nothing really matters.
“A lot of my research has confirmed the idea of social video-game play being a ‘safe space’ for players,” says John Velez, assistant professor of journalism and electronic media at Texas Tech University.
“When we sit down to play, we agree to a set of expectations, an informal contract to help each other, and when the other person honours that agreement we instinctively feel like we can trust them a little bit more. It shows that our actions in the game carry a lot of weight outside of the game.
“Discussing sensitive topics takes a level of trust between people, given the vulnerability people feel when ‘opening up’ to another person. We foster trusting relationships when playing with others, which should lead people to feel safer to discuss these sensitive topics and give men permission to be vulnerable.”
When everything else is going wrong, sometimes “One more game?” is all you need to hear. Sometimes a video game is more than just a video game.
They’ve changed music
R&B singer Gallant on why is music features “sparkly 8-bit sounds”
“Video-game soundtracks are incredibly special. They sound completely different to film and TV music. With most games, you’re limited in what you’re looking at. There are only so many colours, only so many pixels – the blanks are filled in with the music.
“Gaming has been with me my whole life. The first game I ever played was Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation. It took me probably five years to beat that game, hilariously. But that’s because I was so
young when I got it, like four years old.
“My most memorable game is the same for many of my generation – The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Music is so integral to that game – ‘Epona’s Song’, ‘Saria’s Song’, ‘Prelude Of Light’ – those melodies stay with you the rest of your life. I remember The Temple Of Time theme – the choir of vocals, the eerie ‘E’ sound they sing. It’s just so odd and ominous.
“The soundscapes they use in Japanese video games are kind of atmospheric, kind of folky. They sound like the gates of heaven opening up. The most calming, most peaceful arrangements – just like the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, another one of my favourites. It’s one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of Japanese culture – I even studied the language at university.
“Video games have influenced my music, for sure. My song ‘Weight In Gold’ has an 8-bit thing going on. I really fell in love with that sound making it. That, and the beautiful strings and minor chord changes you get in game music. It’s like the world’s ending, but everyone’s accepted it. I became so obsessed with it I even went back to my album Ology and added 8-bit sounds.
“It’s influenced wider electronic music, too. Video-game soundtracks have a very specific, otherworldly vibe. It touches a lot of people – a lot of people who’ll go on to make music themselves.”
See how many video game references you can spot
Now see how you did