When most people think of Black kids, especially black boys, playing video games they think “Madden”, the most recent 2K or “GTA”, and sometimes a “Halo” or two. Anything else is a “waste” or “weird”, just look at how gamers are treated like a strange minority, and everyone knows you can’t be a double minority (/sarcasm). Contrary to popular belief though, there are plenty of people across racial, sexual, age and ethnic divides who are more invested in Marche Radiuju than Marcus Fenix, Crono than CJ, and who would rather play in the Glitz Pit than the Super Dome. For those people, enduring the weird looks and questions can be infuriating, but the tradeoff is more than worth it. I'm living proof of that.
Like I said last week I struggled with my identity a lot when I was younger. Before I met lifelong friends who would help me to know my worth, I spent my time with books and video games. I became engrossed in these fantastical worlds I read about and they gave me a way to remove myself from reality, so naturally, once I discovered video games I longed for the same feeling of escape. I’ll admit I was spoiled by books, so there was only so many times Mario could save Princess Peach or Link could defeat Ganon without me asking “Why?” I then moved more towards games with definitive storylines and engaging plots that kept you hooked for literally weeks on end. I started playing mostly RPGs (role playing games) to marry the expansive world of a good book with the interactivity of a video game. RPGs are usually where you follow a single (or group of) character(s) as they went on some life changing journey. This journey was usually extremely entertaining and educational, just like the books I read, so I fell in love. I have played countless different RPGs in my life, but I can think of three in particular that show the importance of the genre to my development both as a writer and as a person.
The first of them is Final Fantasy X. FFX came out in 2001 for the PS2, but I got it randomly after I played it with an older cousin in about ‘02. FFX was one of the first full blown console RPGs I played, and it sticks out in my mind for a number of reasons. For one, it gave basically all the power in the game to the women. As a presentation showed, even though Tidus was the player avatar and the one you named and controlled in the overworld, the main character and most powerful one was Yuna, the summoner. Yuna was the one who was called to save the world, the thread that holds them together and the one who really moves forward the plot, giving this female protagonist the starring role. The big thing here though, was the plot and its explicit religious commentary. Quick rundown: there is a giant evil routinely destroying the world called Sin. That’s not just an expression; the main villain is literally called Sin. So predictably, a big part of the characters world view is mankind atoning for their crimes to permanently exorcise Sin. We learn late in the game that there is no getting rid of Sin the way the characters have been taught, and all the higher ups in the religion called Yevon know this. They still let the people believe the lie to give them hope (it’s all shown pretty beautifully here). There’s pretty staunch religious critique there, and playing that game encouraged me to always question the status quo. Just because something is "traditional" or the way things are (*cough white supremacy *cough*) doesn't mean that it must stay that way, for as Yuna said, false traditions should be thrown away.
What can’t be thrown away is a gem of a game like Skies of Arcadia: Legends. I only played the remake for the Gamecube, which for some reason was stupid rare. I didn’t find it until a random trip to Memphis a year after it came out; despite the fact that I looked EVERYWHERE for it. When I did find it though, I was NOT disappointed. The game tells the story of Vyse, a Sky Pirate, and how a series of fortunate events led him to make the choices to save the world. Choices are a major theme of Skies; most of the characters make the choice to stand on the side of the heroes even when the rest of the world (and particularly the people and places they care about) are against them. We see a choice similar to Yuna and her friends’ to go against their upbringing, the choice to leave home and pursue a free life, the choice to not let your circumstances stop your success, and so many other positive and negative choices that drive the plot. At the center of all of this is Vyse, a RIDICULOUSLY charismatic teenager who builds his team of allies through pure charm and inspiring determination. Literally everyone on Vyse’s ship and in his party join because they believe in him, even if they don’t believe in what he’s doing. In contrast with other RPG main characters who people seemed to follow for no reason, you can see exactly why people loved Vyse. He was motivated, courageous, and an all-around good guy. The game itself was one of the more epic storylines I had seen thus far; traversing an entire world and exposing the players to different cultures (even if they were a little stereotypical sometimes). Playing this game was just such a joy and inspiration I felt like I was one of Vyse’s allies; one of the many people who truly believed that one man (teen) could change the world.
If one man can do all that, surely one can do something as simple as say…catching ‘em all. Now I know what you’re thinking…”Marcus how do you go from epic stories about religious and class criticism to freakin’ Pokemon?” Simple actually, without Pokemon I would’ve never even thought to play FFX or Skies. Back in the 90s I spent much of my time watching Pokemon on TV, which led the Gameboy games to be the very first RPGs I ever played. Pokemon introduced me not only to storylines and replay value in video games, but also to geek culture in general. Thanks to the Pokemon craze I learned to play the Pokemon card game, and went to the local mall with my best friend at the time to interact with others who loved the series. I made friends with the same love of the anime and the video games as me, and I first began to see that it was okay that I was interested in this type of stuff. The games themselves also gave me a lesson in leaving home to pursue your dreams, especially when you look at the G/S/C generation where the main character went from his humble town to facing and defeating THE Pokemon master on Mount Silver. Plus, the different elements that the Pokemon used and the various elemental weaknesses helped to shape my life’s work so there’s that too.
The fact that I could have easily switched these three for a number of other games speaks to the effect of a good video game on a child. I could have talked about Paper Mario and how even Mario fails sometimes and has to get back up stronger than ever, or Legend of Dragoon and how the needs of the many outweighed the wants of one, or how in Golden Sun I learned that absolute power corrupts absolutely (as well as more Elemental related stuff). Like a good book or a good TV show, a good video game can be both enjoyable and educational to a developing child; they can have fun with it and still take something away from it that can apply to their life. This is especially true for those who may only have these media forms to turn to, as good use of them can make for a pretty well informed child. So next time someone sneers at you for playing a video game you enjoy that doesn’t have a year in the title or a mass of guns on the cover, just remind them that without your style of game theirs wouldn’t exist. It always works for me.
All my gamers; feel free to leave RPGs or any other video game that had an influence on your life below! Show that gaming is just as influential an art form as anything else, and for everyone else don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!