Jun 07 2012
If there’s one thing video games have always been able to deliver, it’s an escape from the humdrum of daily living. Whether you’re kicking back to Skyrim or the latest Fable, these distractions allow the ever-increasing gamer demographic to literally lose themselves in absurdly immersive worlds.
But while I enjoy playing certain titles from time to time, I’d hardly consider myself a gamer. Video games scare me. Not in the same way that spiders do, of course, but according to Steam, I spent 214 hours playing Fallout: New Vegas a couple years back, and that’s sort of terrifying to me. Besides, have you ever heard of life imitating art? Video games are absolutely an art form, and as it turns out, my life contains all the classic elements of an open-world RPG. Thanks for the refresher, Fallout, but I’m already familiar with…
In New Vegas (along with myriad other role-playing games), your character starts off with a very limited set of skills, weapons, and other physical/mental attributes. As you plow through a few missions and interact with post-apocalyptic America’s [sketchy] populace, however, you gain the experience points needed to intermittently level-up your character.
In our own pre-apocalyptic world, I’m pretty sure leveling up is the whole point of that “American dream” I keep hearing about. Every time you master a new skill or earn a degree, you’re making yourself a more marketable human being. You’re diversifying. But it’s tough to reach adulthood without making any mistakes, which is why it’s handy to have…
Jesus, I can’t even imagine catching up to Benny without losing a few dozen lives along the way. (What can I say? I have an affinity for taunting super-mutants.) Luckily, I had plenty of chances to save my game before making profoundly stupid decisions involving radioactive creatures and a cowboy repeater. But my real-world backup plans don’t end in convenient respawns. An anecdote should illustrate what I’m talking about:
When I moved to the Big Apple five years ago, I didn’t have a job lined up; I came down here with a few ideas, a few more aspirations, and a few thousand dollars. I (thankfully) landed a full-time gig before my initial capital ran out, but that eventuality was far from a sure thing—the entire experience was a calculated risk. Part of my leveling-up process during college, however, involved working as a waiter, and I fully planned on reverting to that vocation if other employment efforts didn’t pan out. Long story long: working for tips, while not ideal in regard to my personal/professional goals, is one of my save points.
OK, let’s talk about drugs. In New Vegas, my laptop screen was inundated with so many chem addiction pop-ups (Jet, Psycho, Buffout, and Turbo come to mind), I may as well have been web-surfing for porn. But real-world power-ups take many forms: NyQuil, Advil, Hydroxycut, Sinex, 5-Hour Energy, multivitamins, Adderall, Rogaine, Xanax—you get the idea. Whether your day-to-day involves illicit vices or not, everybody needs a boost now and then, and our pharmaceutically driven society has an app for that, so to speak.
Me? I like to take my power-ups aurally.
Online video game communities have grown in leaps and bounds over the years, and leaderboards are a great way to separate the Kings of the Mountain from the casual fraggers. But have you ever judged someone based on how many Twitter followers they have? Facebook friends? I’ll get the honesty avalanche rolling by admitting that I sure have, and if those social networks aren’t leaderboards, I don’t know what is. Plus Internet denizens loves lists (myself included), and anyone who happens to know People Magazine’s latest opinion of Bradley Cooper also knows our culture has been quantifying superficial achievements for decades.
Some baddies are badder than others, as evidenced in New Vegas by creatures whose names include words like “deathclaw,” “alpha,” and “male.” But the bosses I usually interact with take the form of particularly challenging life events: the death of a childhood pet; the beginning/ending of a meaningful relationship; the estrangement of a loved one; the injury of an oft-used limb. Sometimes I have to level up a few times before I’m ready to take on certain bosses, and sometimes I can’t even do it by myself. Thank God for…
In New Vegas, you can enlist up to two “companions”—one humanoid and one non—to help you exact revenge on something or another. I’m pretty sure you can beat the game without befriending any of these characters, but they do come in handy from time to time. (Raul the ghoul. I just got that. I’m an idiot.)
You see where I’m going with this, probably. I love my independence, but I’d be totally lost without friends and family who are willing to follow me around sometimes and lend me their Tesla cannon when I get ambushed by killer robots.
From obscure inside jokes to new playable characters, video game Easter eggs take many forms, and they’re a great reminder that humans are still in charge of hiding them. Throughout the last few years, however, I’ve found that my own nostalgia does a pretty good job of leaving Easter eggs in places I’d least expect them. Here’s another story:
I was walking to the subway last week when I passed a small bakery, and the smell of freshly baked pumpernickel bread hit me just as I passed the front door. For about the time it takes to blink, I was five years old again, holding my mom’s hand in our hometown bakery. I was pointing at a chocolate éclair, and she was tugging me gently by the arm. Then the memory was gone—I was a grown-up pedestrian again. And just like a Fallout: New Vegas side quest, I paused for a moment to appreciate the Easter egg, adjust my headphones, and head underground.
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