This is a guest post article from my friend and colleague Cian Maher of Literary Gaming.
Cian was kind enough to let me repost some of his work. This article is the first part in a series of articles, I’ll be posting one each week and I implore you to read them. This series is about mental health and how it relates to video games in a positive way. Obviously, it is very well written, Cian’s writing style is easy to digest, while somehow feeding you intelligent, insightful information. This article series, in particular, is very personal in nature and is an amazing read. Below is the article, you can find the original link here, I encourage you to visit his site, as Cian does very good work that I believe deserves copious amounts of recognition. Enjoy everyone!
Written By: Cian Maher Literary Gaming
Disclaimer: this article is of a dissident nature, in that it consists of a more personal tone than usual. This is the first article of the ‘Video Games and Mental Health’ five-part series, which will be posted every second Monday.
“Did you watch ‘Stranger Things 2’?”
“Not yet, but I’ve been meaning to.”
“It’s amazing! I watched the entire season in one night.”
“Oh, wow! Must be good so. I’ve been busy with work. Only had a few hours to spare this week, and I spent those playing ‘Horizon: Zero Dawn’. I managed to play for three hours yesterday!”
“Three hours? On a game? Right…”
“Yeah, three whole hours. I was so happy!”
“Do you not feel as if, maybe, you’re wasting your time?”
Welcome to 2017, where all forms of creative media are rendered useful – apart from the all-encompassing, self-reflexive art form that is the video game. OF COURSE it’s a waste of time to commit to something with proven mental health benefits. Who on earth wants to gain perspective in an interactive way, made interesting by complex narratives and high skill ceilings? Who on earth wants to be made feel something real?
Video games are not passively rendered. Unlike the consumption of television, or film, they require active engagement and direct input to function. One must make decisions, usually quickly and intuitively, in order to be rewarded with narrative progression. The story must be earned.
So, how is this linked to mental health?
In future, I will post several aspects on this topic, as it is very close to my heart. However, to open this dialogue (and I do hope this becomes a dialogue), I will simply tell one story.
‘The Witness’, created by indie game developer Jonathan Blow, is a strange game. Instead of going into why this is so here, I’ll direct you towards Joseph Anderson’s video essay, on why it’s a ‘great game you shouldn’t play’. Anderson does a fantastic job explaining the intricacies of ‘The Witness’.
This mysterious title formed a core part of an interesting time in my life. I would come home from college, or work, and play for hours on end. The puzzles were generally okay, apart from a few nightmarish, seemingly unfair solutions. However, it wasn’t the puzzles, which are ultimately supposed to define the emphatic puzzle game, which deeply affected me.
It was the ambiguity. The mystery. The complete and utter awe. This was a game in which the narrative perpetually evaded me. The further I progressed, the more confused I became. Puzzle after puzzle, I explored and became invested in the beautiful island of ‘The Witness’, and, for a while, I escaped the world.
Blow described his development philosophy as appropriating Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ for the video game format. Personally, I feel that ‘The Witness’ supersedes postmodernist literature, in that it seems to represent an allegory for the seemingly pointless challenges of everyday life, which are failed ten times before they’re solved once – if even once at all. ‘The Witness’ is lonely and complex, yet captivating and fulfilling. It teaches one to be comfortable and unafraid in solitude, which is probably the best lesson that can be learned.
Samuel Beckett once wrote:
This was a quote from literature that I was familiar with prior to ‘The Witness’. However, I never felt its weight until after I immersed myself in Blow’s digital world. It isn’t wrong to fail; it’s simply wrong to stop trying. Success is something that operates in the long run and, usually, nothing worth having comes easy.
Video games are immersive. Video games are escapist. Video games offer new perspectives, and new philosophies, which simply cannot be made tangible otherwise. In this context, they are unique. In this context, they are essential.
If you liked this article and simply can’t wait to read the rest of this series then visit Cian’s website at Literary Gaming, for that and many other well-written pieces of literature. Thanks for reading everyone and have a great day.