A game is more than just a game.
Despite being a hobby that is often associated with laziness or immaturity, there is also a myriad of video games that explore deep themes and thought-provoking concepts. Even as far back as August 1994, the game Earthbound released on the SNES (under the title Mother 2 in Japan) exploring themes of existentialism and powerlessness.
Earthbound uses satire to question how humans interact with one another, with its English title even referencing the immutable fact that humans are bound to one single planet, and the implications of this.
Similarly the titles Undertale and Psychonauts both explore the manifestations of different psychological disorders and mental health conditions. For games that are fun and engaging experiences, they never patronise the players, nor do they trivialise the themes that they portray.
Role-Playing Games (RPGs) are a genre that are renowned for their sense of immersion and escapism: Players of this genre in particular, might spend an incalculable number of hours outside the ‘main quest’, exploring the wilderness at their own pace and finding droves of distractions along the way, such as ‘side quests’ to complete and breathtaking vistas to admire. These sorts of games are able to spirit you away from the real world. For these brief moments of respite, with a controller in your hand, your focus is taken away from the hardships that you cannot ordinarily escape.
Similarly, the oft-unrecognised ‘Immersive Sim’ genre (colloquially referred to as ‘ImSims’) are unique for having a plethora of ways for the player to engage with them. This genre encompasses notable titles such as Dishonored, Deus Ex, and even the recent Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, where a multitude of tools are provided to the player with little direction, so each player can then approach any obstacle (be it a puzzle or a combat encounter) in whatever way they so choose. The open-ended nature of these games often provides a sense of empowerment to players.
Accessibility features also offer a way for neurodivergent and disabled players to better experience the sights and sounds unique to each game, all at their own discretion and in the comfort of their own home.
- Exploring across Hyrule, finding a Sheikah Guardian lost to time and overgrown with moss;
- Walking along the river outside Riverwood, passing fishermen and picking Nirnroot leaves;
- Jumping across the rooftops of Dunwall, scouting a target and evading the overseer guards;
- Driving the roads of Night City, observing the wealth disparity between Westbrook and Pacifica;
In all of these examples and so many more, neurodivergent players can face each encounter without ever leaving their safe space and whilst maintaining the chance to ‘pause’ this at any time, should the content ever become overwhelming.
Likewise, options both in-game and with peripherals (such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller) are allowing disabled players to enjoy games, such as via colourblind filtering, scalable subtitles, text-to-speech, audio cues, lock-on aiming, and so much more!
Games are great at transporting you somewhere (and some time) else, but the networks that spring up around them can also be beneficial. The video game industry is one of the most profitable in the world, the gaming culture is prolific across younger generations, and numerous communities have formed around different gaming franchises.
From clans in Call of Duty, to raiding parties in World of Warcraft and even speedrunning groups for Super Mario 64, the gaming landscape is full of warm and welcoming people.
For introverted folk, you may not necessarily meet many new people in real life, yet the communities built around games are full of like-minded individuals who likely share your enthusiasm. These can therefore be a great way to make new friends and to build meaningful connections.
Last year, I replayed Cyberpunk 2077 shortly after the loss of a family member, only to be surprised in how much the introductory hours helped me deal with this bereavement. In this game, there is a clear and established friendship between two friends, Jackie Welles and V, so when the unavoidable death of Jackie rolls around, there is a heart-wrenching turn in the story.
- Although I had only known Jackie for mere hours, I know that V had just lost a long-time friend.
- Although I had no direct connection to Jackie, I saw first-hand how his girlfriend, Misty Olszewski, was attempting to reconcile this loss through her spirituality.
- Although I had not met her up to this point, I felt duty-bound to support his Mamá Welles in picking up the pieces after the loss of her son.
This was a profound experience, and helped me to recontextualise the loss that my family had experienced.
Colour grading and art styles
For a game as bleak and dystopian as Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the land is so bright and vivid that most people cannot help but feel happier having seen it. The same is true for the neon-soaked skylines of Cyberpunk 2077, the high-fantasy lands of Divinity: Original Sin, and the kabuki-themed Ghost of Tsushima.
Even for the HR Gieger-inspired Scorn, there is a certain beauty in the body horror.
The convenient truth about video games is that they are there for you if ever you need them.Sources:
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