26 OctComputer Games and Imagination
The other morning my nine-year-old son found me eating a bowl of cereal in the kitchen. Instead of grabbing a bowl and eating some cereal too he sat down beside me and started telling me about “Terraria.” “Terraria” is a two dimensional computer game that he and his fourteen-year-old brother have been playing together. They each have their own computer, but they meet each other in the game world. My son’s eyes were bright as he spoke. He told me about the bosses. He told me about the various items he has acquired to help him fight the battles he faces. He described to me the various levels of the game. His enthusiasm was soul-warming.
What interested me so much in what he was saying wasn’t the fact that he was talking about a computer game; it was the kind of computer game he was describing—one that is very old-fashioned. You have to understand that I have been involved in computer games since the beginning of computer games. I played “Pong”, “Space Invaders”, and “Centipede” when they were the newest and hottest thing. These were highly pixelated, two-dimensional games with 8-bit color. And yet they were the rage.
Games changed dramatically as my eight kids grew up. The graphics evolved to three-dimensions and were so beautiful they take your breath away. We played Grim Fandango, Psychonaughts, Bioshock, Journey, Mass Effect, and so many others that swept us away into worlds of remarkable beauty and imagination. My nine-year-old has experienced and enjoyed most of these and yet here he excitedly telling me about a two-dimensional game with pixelated graphics. How can this be?
As I watched him tell me about the game he gave me a clue. He wasn’t telling me about how things looked in the game or the controls he used to manipulate the game; he was telling me about what was happening in the game. What was happening in the game was what was happening in his head. This game required imagination and had successfully tapped into his. He is playing this game for the same reason I still read books when there are movies to watch. Watching a movie is a completely different gratification experience compared to reading a book. Movies, in all their wonders, require no imagination. The pictures are created for you and handed to you on a silver platter. Reading fires up the imagination. The images are inspired by the words, but it is your own mind that creates and colors them. The pleasure in this is as different from watching a movie as salt is to sugar.
So my son went on telling me about a game that was pretty much the same as video games I played as a kid thirty-five years ago. I was happy to listen because I could see the fire of his imagination in his eyes. Later this week we will go to his big brothers house and watch another episode of Mass Effect 3 with the outrageously beautiful graphics. My young son will enjoy it, but the next day he will be playing Terraria again with his other brother and creating his own beautiful graphics in his head. There is still hope for the world.