Game On! (Part 1)

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I wanted to write a post about video gaming and how, not only has it been a source of entertainment to me for over 40 years, but, almost as a by-product, how it has also been a tool for therapy and for education. I then realised it would make for a very long post.  Instead I am going to chop it up into digestible pieces and attempt to write a regular series of thematic posts. It makes sense, sequentially, to make the first one an overview of sorts, and to set the scene. So here it is:

Introduction (or: ‘Coming to think of it, are Generation X the original gamers?’)

I first ‘owned’ a video game console in 1978. I was 8 years old and my parents ran one of the first pubs in the country to have a Space Invaders cabinet standing in the corner of the public bar. It terrified and delighted me in equal measure. After school, I would stand at my dad’s side and delightedly watch him zapping those sideways-creeping, crab-like aliens, the music becoming quicker and more ominous as more were destroyed and their rampaging across the screen became more desperate. This he would do at opening time, so fairly often, before I was sent upstairs and away from the soon-to-be smoke-filled haze of an adults-only environment (and how many hyphens do I need to construct a sentence, eh readers?), the first  customer of the evening would wander in and dad would have to leave the game mid-level, asking me to take over until all three lives were lost (as they were within about 15 seconds. I was seven, had no fine motor skills or coordination and was too scared to do anything other than panic, stand there doing nothing and die immediately), and that’s when the game would terrify me. Five minutes of excitement, 15 seconds of terror, then upstairs quickly for crispy pancakes, Coronation Street, bath and bed.

Via stints in my teenage years with a Commodore 16 and a few lacklustre attempts at playing Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog in my early twenties (which, ultimately, were both games about testing the player’s timing rather than problem solving, and didn’t interest me in the slightest), video gaming had fallen so far off my radar it was now on Mars. It was only when, in my mid-to-late twenties, to silence my console-addicted husband of the time who kept nagging me to ‘just have a go’, that I picked up a joypad, stuck Tomb Raider on his Play Station and my world changed.

I’m 47 now. I own an Xbox 360 and a PS4, and I still play Tomb Raider games, but my tastes have changed. I’m currently playing Elder Scrolls Online (so perhaps should have realised years ago when I was addicted to Fighting Fantasy books that role playing games would become my go-to genre). This year alone I have dedicated what amounts to hundreds of hours of free time to Final Fantasy XV, and a remastered version of Skyrim that I first completed 6 year ago when it was originally released on an older system. Last year it was Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas and Fallout 4. Though thanks to Donald Trump, I can no longer play these without wincing. I’m a sucker for a few hours on Silent Hill too. But I have to play with the lights on.

You might be shaking your head in disgust now. All those hours hunched over a console, staring at a television, when you could be doing something healthier / more sociable / ‘useful’!  Tsk!

Over the next few posts I hope to be able to change your mind or, if you are a fellow gamer, confirm what you have been suspecting for a while. Either way, I’ll be talking about why I think gaming is not the product of a misspent youth, not just for ‘sad people’, and hasn’t, as yet, turned me into a thug or a terrorist. I will also be suggesting that gaming can be used as therapy and looking at why I think console gaming may have value as a teaching and learning tool.

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