I’d just come home after a stint in the county jail. I really only hoped my wife would recognize me, let alone let me back into her life. Something in her eyes, set behind that untrusting invisible veil, knew that when the good Lord came to take me, before vultures made off with my flesh, that down to my essence, I couldn’t change the bones I was born with.
That was a very dark period of my life—one I was only able to overcome by doing something I knew for a long time I had needed to…
I turned off my Xbox.
Yeah, none of that happened to me, but when you spend the better part of a winter holed up in a Victorian Village loft playing Red Dead Redemption, you feel like it did.
In the game, if you’re not familiar, you spend your time traveling the old West as John Marston, vacillating between good-hearted outlaw and straight-up twisted country weirdo depending on your mood that day. In short time, you grow used to saying things to yourself like, “Man, I can’t get a good deal on that horse meat; better ride back to town.” Which, yes, is pretty weird, but hey—that’s gaming. You immerse yourself in this fantasy world, totally. As bizarre as that immersion was, what was actual happening in reality was much stranger.
As pizza boxes piled up faster and faster around me, like some sort of depressing real-life Tetris, I sat for hours, reclining with a 12-pack of High Life, mostly just me and John shooting wild animals with no real in-game goal in sight. The combined bleakness of those dueling worlds made it pretty easy to one day say, Uh, yeah, I’m gonna turn it off and go outside. See, who says gaming can’t teach you lessons about real life?
So this month as we examine gaming not just for its nostalgic qualities but also for its role in teaching, commerce, and medicine, I pay tribute to the lessons handed down to me from console to console.
• NBA Live and NBA2K taught me that I was a much better coach than player. While in reality I was struggling to pump in 2.1 buckets per game on the varsity basketball team, back in my bedroom I was a crucial part of a budding dynasty. I’ll never forget that run we made against the mighty CPU, fake Dallas Mavericks. Not only did I develop essential leadership skills as player/coach, but the 6-foot 9-inch, 215 pound, stretch-four Travis Hoewischer won the MVP, hoisting the trophy next to a smiling (I think) 16-bit version of his childhood hero, Jimmy Jackson.
• NCAA Football taught me that digital blood is not as thick as player ratings. More than a decade ago, my brother Jordan was a walk-on tight end for the OSU football team, and when given the chance to download the roster with him on it, I fed him a steady stream of passes. My other brother, Ross, wasn’t so prone to favoritism, instead making him earn his pixels. And by that, I mean he started All-Big Ten Ben Hartsock and kicked the hell out of me every single time.
• Speaking of losses, there’s plenty of humility to be gleaned from gaming. For starters, nothing ruins a sleepover like a broken controller, and when your friend defeats you in Mortal Kombat with his 87th consecutive sweep kick, you learn to keep your composure. No one’s gonna remember that loss, but they will remember you totally and utterly losing your shit and unreasonably questioning everything—the game’s manufacturer, physics, voodoo, God.
• Ironically, video games taught me lessons in excess. Like most fun things in life, you’ll always gorge yourself on the best stuff if you’re not careful. All it took was a few days of playing Nintendo for 24 hours straight. Sure, maybe you’d beat the game, but at the end of the day/night/day, there’s no real princess in your life (or mushrooms for that matter) and your retinas might be bleeding.
• Gaming sharpens your love for numbers. You might be pretty foggy about the quadratic equation, but I still remember that high score I posted in Super Smash Brothers. (Eat it, Nick).
• Gaming has also taught us the value of caring for our work. Both Paperboy and Grand Theft Auto offered constant (albeit very different) reminders about traffic and customer satisfaction.
Feels good to finally understand the valuable lessons video games were teaching me in my less mature days. Now, let’s hit the barcade.
Travis Hoewischer, Editor-in-Chief