Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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New England Gamer
October 2010

The Sweet Escape

I grew up wishing I could be a superhero. It was a standard enough desire, I'm sure. After all, when you're just a child and most every detail of your life is controlled by someone else, the idea of being powerful, being outside the rules has to be incredibly attractive.

I'm not a little kid anymore, but a part of me would still like to be a superhero. A part of this stems from superheroes just being cool. I can't get enough of them! On the other hand is the reality that even without someone dictating my bedtime, my dinner foods, and what movies and games I can watch and play, my life is still fairly out of my hands. Maybe tomorrow I'll get side-swiped by a car. Maybe I'll lose my health insurance (again). Maybe the economy will plummet a few more tiers and I'll wind up unemployed again. All those childhood frustrations have been replaced by the adult realization of what real helplessness can be. And I'm hardly the worst off person in the world.

And yet even with the world being a fairly random, often cruel place with no compunctions against squashing the little man, many want desperately to believe that one person can make a difference. Even as I write this, countless would-be politicians are running on platforms that basically boil down to "I will make a difference." Perhaps some of them really think they will. There is certainly no shortage of people willing to vote on the promise of change, whether it will come or not.

It's not hard to figure out where this ideal of the individual comes from. Our pop culture is dominated by the idea that a single person, armed with the skill and the will to use it, can change the world. It's of course never that simple, but the complexity of it hasn't stopped video games from adopting it as arguably their driving principle. Throughout most of their history they have been solo experiences, naturally built on surmounting challenges of increasing difficulty. Games have grown a lot since their inception. Where once victory meant simply making it to the next level, winning can now mean anything from stopping a terrorist plot to saving the universe from certain doom. Whatever the danger or goal, there is one commonality. You are at the center of everything that happens.

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Take Dragon Age: Origins for example. The game is built around your typical fantasy story. A great evil has fallen upon the land and an army must be raised to stop it. Pragmatically, this amounts to a cross country trip where you visit potential allies and try to gain their support. Of course, they can't help you unless you solve some problem for them first. Never mind that the world is danger, right?

The elves, waylaid by werewolves, need you to help cure their infected warriors before they succumb. The local chapter of the Hogwarts requires your assistance in pushing back an invasion of demons. The dwarves need to pick a new king. And of course, you're the only one that can help. In a world full of warriors and adventurers, you are seemingly the one that's competent. Even after you've gathered your army, the final battle hinges entirely on you. You are told in no uncertain terms that unless you and you alone are able to kill the big boss baddie, everything will have been for naught. The game does give a reason for this, but it doesn't change the fact that it's intentionally designed to make you feel important as hell.

Dragon Age isn't alone in doing this. Mass Effect, a product of the same developer, is built around an almost identical structure albeit with a sci-fi themed paint job. You jet around the galaxy righting wrongs, punishing evil doers and altering the course of events as you see fit. Sucker Punch's inFamous takes place in a city trapped in the grips of disaster, plague, and crime. Your character, Cole, wakes from a coma newly armed with super powers that you can use to restore order, or drive the city further into despair. Fallout 3, and by extension, Fallout: New Vegas was built almost entirely around other people coming to you with their problems and asking for your help. You are the catalyst of everything that happens or doesn't happen in these games.

In the real world, most of us will never have that much influence or control. That can be a hard pill to swallow, when you look at some the people who do have power. Deep down we all long to matter, albeit in different ways. Some people want to be a straightforward action hero. Some want to be a sports star, and yes, some want to be superheroes. In the real world you may just be a Clark Kent, but with the right game there's no reason you can't be Superman. Video games are by design the ultimate form of wish fulfillment.

It's no mystery to me why some people become addicted to games. The human experience is defined by limitations while videos games comparatively offer unparalleled choice. You can be the hero or the villain. You can be the silent loner, tackling danger with tightlipped stoicism or the suave bachelor (or bachelorette) cockily taking on the world with a wink and a smile. Whatever you choose, you can be sure that the world at the end of the game will be different than it was when you started and that whatever takes place couldn't have happened without you. Most of us will never be anything other than ordinary, and that's fine. Being ordinary has its perks. Even so, every now and then it's still nice to take on something larger than life, to step into a bigger set of shoes, even if the laces aren't real and never will be.

Read more by Stewart Shearer

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