You know how Ser Jorah Mormont is hopelessly in love with Khaleesi and got friendzoned so hard that it broke your heart? Or maybe that’s just me, because I could relate to that as a former resident of the friendzone… but, ironically, the girl who sent me there relates to Game of Thrones, which relates to gaming and the title of this EarlyGame Talk, but I’m getting ahead of myself here… let’s start at the beginning:
My one-sided love interest had an eerie similarity to Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine, so for the sake of internet anonymity, let’s call her that: Her name was Jasmine. Well, she’s still alive, so she still goes by that name.... except that it’s not really her name, but you get what I mean. Anyway, this Jasmine of mine was the Khaleesi to my Ser Jorah. The princess to my Aladdin. Except that I showed her the world but never got the kiss in the end. Also, by showing her the world I, of course, mean Game of Thrones, which is not only the greatest friendzone story ever, but arguably the greatest show ever (we don’t talk about season 8). Her first reaction to Game of Thrones though was arguably the same reaction she’d have had if I’d suggested us going steady:
“I don’t like fantasy.”
Fortunately for the tales of Westeros though, Jasmine did come around on that particular fantasy and now, some 8 years later, she’s such a big fan of the show that I’d venture she’s thought about Khaleesi as a possible name for her daughter.
Why do I mention this? Because not too long ago, or rather roughly before Game of Thrones hit the mainstream, you’d hear a lot of people say ‘I don’t like fantasy.’ Yes, Lord of the Rings was a huge success, but it was also considered majorly nerdy. Back then people found it odd if you spent all your free time watching movies or TV series. Now though, advertising your Netflix on your Tinder profile is as mandatory as that early 2020 picture of you saving that Koala from the Australian bushfire.
Through Netflix, binge-watching has not only become mainstream, it’s become a way of life. So much so that it has officially become that cool meme that people who don’t even binge-watch post about how they binge-watch. I mean truth be told: It is so mainstream now, that us original bingers are kind of annoyed that our once niche hobby is now everybody’s hobby.
Now, how the hell does any of this have anything to do with gaming? Here’s what: We need that for gaming. We need to netflix video games (see, Netflix is so mainstream it’s even become a verb, like ‘to google’).
In my last relationship - no, not with Jasmine, I’m still roaming that friendzone aimlessly - my ex wanted to try out video games. Being the supportive boyfriend that I was, I got her Rayman Legends on PS4. She tried it. She failed 10 times on the game’s first jump. God bless her.
I got creative and went with the ‘teach a girl how to fish…’ approach, but it got me nowhere. She dropped the game like the first enemy she ran into - rather than jump onto - dropped her. This is when I realized: Games are simply too mechanically challenging for a lot of people.
Now I know us gamers can be a proud bunch. We get real Third Reich with our games. Point in case: Master and race should never be associated in the same sentence. Talking to you, PC nerds. Anyway, here's a list that'll make sense in a second:
God of War
Red Dead Redemption
Three of the most popular single-player titles of the last decade. Toss The Last of Us in there for good measure. All these games deliver cinematic like experiences and do it so well, that my ex even sat down to watch me play Red Dead Redemption for stretches.
Now I’ve been gaming since 1995 and Lion King was my first game, so I know my way around a challenge or two, but when I play games like Red Dead or Uncharted? I wanna feel more like the king of the world than Leo did. Or do you want to watch Indiana Jones and see him get nailed by a gut-shot and die gruesomely five minutes into the movie? No. Do you care that Legolas can shoot 100 orcs with 10 arrows in his quiver? No. Do you care that Vin Diesel is actually like 510’’ but is eye to eye with 6’5” The Rock in Fast & Furious? Actually, yeah… a little bit. I mean there’s levels to this shit…
Here’s how I interpret the health bar or screen-darkening in games like Uncharted: Near misses. When the screen goes all red and I die, my luck ran out. The health bar is really just my luck bar. So yes, I throw Uncharted on easy mode. This is not the time to prove my steady aim. I have Warzone and Valorant for that. Uncharted is me-time. Relax time. Unwind time. I wanna feel like a badass and games make me feel like that more than movies because I am in control. It saddens me that too many people don’t get to experience that because of mechanical barriers. Or, how did my ex put it again:
"Move the right stick while I move the left stick? Are you sure we’re still talking about video games here?"
Yes we have our Dark Souls and other tryhard games, but they offer a very specific experience. An old school challenge. They test your timing & memory, your grit & perseverance. Beating games like that feels like a great accomplishment, and it’s that feeling of conquest which brings joy here. These games though also hardly ever have a story unless you invest yourself as much into finding out the lore as you do into mastering the gameplay.
The Uncharteds of this world though aim to offer a cinematic experience. They have set pieces and quick time events. They want to make you forget your everyday trials & tribulations and feel good about yourself. Thus, they should not be limited to be played by the selected few that have mastered the art of the controller.
I argue that, much like GOT and Netflix did for fantasy and TV-Series in general, opening up the accessibility of games could change the entertainment landscape. Games wouldn't just be games as much as they would be interactive movies… a new way of life. Why watch Khaleesi when you can be Khaleesi?
Enter Virtual Reality.
Today, VR gaming is not just some futuristic idea anymore; it’s here. You put on your VR glasses, you grab two sticks, and it’s the closest we currently have to intuitive gaming and jumping into a different world yet. The problem here: Money and movement. Not everybody has the apartment space for an omni-directional treadmill, much less the money. And even if they did… I’m not fully satisfied with VR because we’re still holding on to something. We still need to move and, I’ll say this: Replacing mechanical difficulties with a requirement to perform physical exercise? Yeah, you’ll lose more people than you win. Not everybody’s keen on their pastime becoming a physical activity. We’re the swipe generation. Even the Tinder click is too much effort. We swipe in any which direction. We want minimal effort. We want to be lazy while still escaping into a different world.
Now, this is where we go full circle - right back to Netflix: They already gave us the solution. Black Mirror, season 5, episode 1 - Striking Vipers. It’s the episode where two male best friends hook up in an online game - an online game that simulates physical sensations and is controlled purely by the mind: A chip is attached to the side of your head and puts your consciousness straight into the game. You are no longer in the real world and your body rests while your mind inhibits the digital world. You are the character. No hassle, no mechanical skill required other than coordinating your in-game avatar with your thoughts. You can be Khaleesi. I can be Khaleesi. We can all be Khaleesi. And we can make out. Of course.
Is this realistic? I don’t know. Does that matter? No. This is a column and I have a dream. Martin Luther King did his speech on a Wednesday, I’m writing mine on a Sunday. Besides, at one point Steve Jobs - another great dreamer - told his engineers:
“I want all these CD’s, these DVD’s, my VHS collection and all my books on this little iThing right here. Get it done!”
All I’m saying is that I want my consciousness in the game.
I have a dream.
Get it done.