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Game Changer: How embracing the new in videogames can help us adapt to real-world changes by Ian Collen

We’re often told that change is a good thing, whether that’s in videogames or in real life.

New is fresh and exciting, and any kind of break from the same-old should be embraced with enthusiasm. However, change can also be intimidating and stressful, with many of us finding comfort or a sense of control in sticking to those old routines; happier with repetition and familiarity rather than having to adapt to something new and often beyond our control.

In gaming it’s why people will demand new and improved features for a sequel, but then complain when the new game isn’t quite the same as the original. Admittedly, shooting zombies or aliens or whatever your videogame of choice might be doesn’t necessarily compare directly with those issues happening in your everyday life, but there are many similarities that can echo the fact that while change can be difficult, a little patience and perseverance can go a long way.

In some ways, even booting up a new game for the first time is a rather daunting change. Having spent days, weeks or even months learning every last subtle nuance of one title, you’ll now find yourself sitting in a tutorial for a whole new experience. That reassurance of knowing all the right moves, all the tricks, having the best equipment and never really having to worry about doing the wrong thing through anything other than an honest mistake is gone – and in just about any walk of life, that can be a cause for some trepidation or anxiety.

Sure, many of the parameters might be familiar and you hardly need a reminder of where the jump or crouch buttons might be, but there’s still a wealth of information to figure out, such as how your special abilities work, how to combine those magic potions or one of a hundred other little things. Of course, you would have been in a similar position when you started that last game, and that turned out pretty well – so you can at least take comfort in the process and appreciate that the new will soon become the norm.

Of course, life doesn’t always give you a great deal of choice in the matter (or a handy tutorial for that matter) and enforcing change is also a trick videogame developers can employ to keep you on your toes. Many RPGs or action titles will use it early on, letting you start the game fully maxed out with a raft of awesome abilities, only to then strip them away completely and leave you faced with levelling up from scratch – but having caught a glimpse into what you’ll ultimately become over the next 10-20 hours. Conversely this can also happen mid-game, with the likes of The Last of Us delivering an unforgettable (and un-put-downable) twist by suddenly shifting gameplay from the tough gun-toting hero to the preyed upon girl he was protecting.

This could also apply to origins stories, such as the Tomb Raider reboot, where you know the super-heroine she’ll become, and so getting to oversee that transition from powerless to powerful can be rewarding because you have that awareness and anticipation of how things will end up. It’s not always that clear-cut in real life, of course, but focusing on the end game and accepting that there is a certain amount of ‘levelling up’ to be done to get there, one small upgrade at a time, can help.

Videogames also use change as an optional accessory to further broaden their appeal or, more often, their lifespan. Titles such as Borderlands and Destiny will offer multiple characters, each with different abilities and skill trees to explore that effectively require rebuilding from scratch – albeit in a very familiar environment from your previous playthroughs. Again, these changes come with a sense of anticipation because you’ve done it already with a previous character, even if there’s no way of knowing if this new character is going to better or worse than before. However, there is some comfort to be found in the repeatable format – and ideally plenty of fun to be had in seeing how the new hero or heroine compares. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to your original character and appreciate their super-bad-ass prowess even more.

There are some games that could be seen as more direct ways of embracing and appreciating change. The excellent original season of Life is Strange not only deals with a young girl coming to terms with things that have changed in her home town as she returns after several years away, but the core gameplay mechanic also gives you the power to rewind time and make definitive decisions based on how you see events play out in differing ways. Gone Home is another great example that offers more of a ‘hands-off’ storyline as you simply explore your childhood home and piece together various events that have affected the lives of your parents and younger sister since you moved out.

It’s not necessarily that there are vital life lessons on display that we can all learn from, more of an appreciation that change can affect people in many different ways – and there’s not always a right or a wrong way to deal with it. It’s also worth bearing in mind how some of these situations can seem incredibly burdensome at the time but yet eventually become just another acceptable piece of the bigger picture. Some of those decisions in Life is Strange, for example, can be incredibly difficult to make, but ultimately their impact on the final narrative can be far more arbitrary than many of us had twisted ourselves into knots over.

In some ways it could be compared to moving house – one of life’s most demanding changes. Much like getting used to a certain character or style in a videogame, you get comfortable and feel confident in your old home because you know where everything is and how it works; where the fuse box is, how to fix the leaky sink, the best local takeaway and so on. Having to find a new home and learn all-new answers to those same questions can seem like a lot to take in, but eventually you will get there; you’ll track down the fuse box, acquaint yourself with the pipes under the sink and find a new and maybe even better local takeaway!

Change isn’t always a good thing in the same way that sequels aren’t always better than the original, but there will always be a demand for something ‘new and improved’ and sometimes we have to break out of our comfort zones to find out if that plan succeeds. Embracing change isn’t always easy, but being able to move forwards while accepting that there may be a few nervy steps as new skills are learned and old habits brushed aside, can go a long way. After all, every game you’ve ever played was new once, and we don’t doubt that you’ve gotten pretty good at more than a few over the years…


 

Ian Collen is a writer and editor with more than 20 years experience – with well over half of that spent working in videogames. He’s worked on the likes of XBM, 360 Gamer (later known as One Gamer), and the innovative digital publication, Gamer Interactive. He also learned more about drones than he thought possible as editor of the self-explanatory Drone Magazine and is currently working as a freelancer.

 

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Covid 19, News

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