“Smash?” One can hear this word posed as a question almost every day at Providence Christian College. Super Smash Bros., a popular Nintendo video game, remains a favorite pastime for many students, both male and female. But is it just a pastime?
Fellow students introduced me to Super Smash Bros. near the end of last semester. The first time I played, I lost all of my lives in the opening thirty seconds. No joke.
As I sauntered into the lounge one evening, senior Bryan Punter asked me, “Korpan, do you want to play?” I remember feeling privileged to be included in a game about which I knew nothing.
Until that point in my life, the only video game I had ever played was Mario Cart, a racetrack game that makes it incredibly easy to veer off the road, colliding with walls and other obstructions. For me, Smash presented an entire new level.
Playing video games with Providence students and observing the amount of time some students spend playing games, I was forced to figure out what I think about these games.
A frequent critique is that they destroy community, cause violence, can become an addictive habit, or waste time. The author of an online article asks: “Do you ever suspect you know more about the characters in the games than the people who share your street or dinner table?” These critiques can apply to almost any time of entertainment media so do we spend an unfair amount of time critiquing them while ignoring the unprofitable extremes of other activities?
Sophomore Luke Walls, one of Providence’s video games connoisseur, enjoys video games because they offer “one of the best forms of storytelling,” keeping the player in the story more than any other kind of media. Jacob Fisher, a senior at Providence, affirms that the element of video games he enjoys the most is “definitely the story.” He only invests in games that he has previously played, and which possess a gripping storyline in addition to “fantastic gameplay.”
Walls points out that video games typify art. Creative individuals design virtual terrain that gamers can explore. In his opinion, a human-built landscape with which one can interact is more impressive than one in a painting. Fisher also notes that video games include “significant aesthetic qualities” that make it “visually and musically beautiful.” Walls agrees: “What makes video games super awesome is that they pull in other forms of entertainment,” he says, like visual art and music.
What role should video games play in our society? “I think they should be used in the same way that literature [or film] is used,” Walls asserts. With single-player games, people share an experience that is similar yet different; the game never occurs for two people in the same way. They can then communicate their experiences to one another by “discussing the storyline just like you would a book or movie.” Fisher also contrasts video games with literature and film: “They’re not blatant [social commentaries] like books or movies are…games are more of an emotional commentary.”
Do Providence students waste time playing video games? Jacob says he plays for “ten hours a week, give or take.” Walls has a one hour-a-day schedule while at home, not preoccupied with homework. At college, he trims the time down to a range of fifteen minutes to three hours. The amount of time they spend playing depends on where they are and what game they are playing, for example, Smash can easily stop after each round, while single-player games are more engaging.
One common critique of video games is that they contain too much violence, but at the same time, movies with the same amount of violence are accepted. Walls opposes this double standard. Fisher introduces an idea first articulated by senior Bryan Punter: God calls Christians to do everything to his glory. Since we apply the principle of stewardship to everything else, we must of necessity apply it to video games. This involves a continual questioning of what we are doing. We should not shut down our minds while reading a book, watching a movie, or playing a game. “’How is it affecting us? What is happening?’ There should be this dialogue occurring,” says Fisher. According to Fisher, the best games center on depravity and redemption. This is a theme Christians can appreciate, and sometimes violence is needed to accurately depict this theme.
Walls believes that video games are conducive to community. There is value to sitting on a couch with other people and getting to know them through the game. That first night I played Smash, I felt a consciousness of belonging. Part of the beauty of being a part of the Providence is the community and one of the ways that I have connected with people has been by playing Smash with them.
Walls echoes this idea, but with an added corollary: “[Video games] should definitely be used as community-building, as well as escape.” The flip-side of community is spending time alone, and perhaps we do not emphasize that enough. “Going on a quest and killing a dragon is a good way to escape for a bit.”