Reminiscing about L.A Noire

Now that I’ve completed Mass Effect 3, I have a new dilemma. What to do now? Although I love Gears of War 3, I’ve become a little tired of it. So what should I play next? Usually my brain will think of a specific game that suits my mood. Sometimes I’ll play it but other times, I’ll decide against it. For example, the customizable weapons and cheap thrills of Call of Duty may sound appealing but then I’ll consider how much time I’ll spend being spawn killed (you die, you come back and die again because somebody is there to kill you instantly) or sitting bored in a corner. So I will put the game back.  Unfortunately this has been how things have been for the last few weeks, with games like Fallout, Left 4 Dead and Enslaved popping in to my head, only to be pushed away minutes later.

But despite this reluctance to give in to nostalgia, there is one game that has remained in my conscience for several months now. L.A Noire. I could be playing through the Mass Effect campaign, listening to some 40’s music (I’m not all about the heavy metal) or I might come across an old film on television and my thoughts will slowly lead me to L.A Noire. Even looking at pictures from my trip to America sparked the temptation to go back on and do some sleuthing. So far I’ve ignored the temptation.

To give some context, L.A Noire is a beautiful, well thought and well detailed story based around your character, a Mr Cole Phelps. A former officer in the war, he becomes a cop in 1940’s L.A, determined to make up for his personal mistakes. The attention to detail is fantastic, re-enacting 40’s Los Angeles with cases based off real events, actual landmarks of that period and a variety of cars that defined the 40’s. As Phelps you rise through the ranks, working on the Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson desks. You interrogate suspects, search for clues and explore the city to discover the truth. Add in the flashbacks to Phelps’s history in the army and an ending that brings everything you’ve learned to a conclusion and you’ve got a very, very impressive game. I absolutely loved it. But, except for my first play through and replaying a few cases, I’ve not returned to it. Until I relented a few days ago.

Bored of sitting around watching television (The football had ended and Sunday night television is woeful), I looked at my vast array of games. Several of them I haven’t even played once, including my second-hand copy of Red Dead Redemption. So I put that in. And it was pretty good. The scenery of old America, set in the time of cowboys and ranches, was impressive. I was almost completely immersed. But as Rockstar, the company behind RDR and the more famous (or infamous) Grand Theft Auto series, also produced L.A Noire, I found myself drawing comparisons. And as soon as I did that, my harking for driving around 40’s Los Angeles was too much. So I switched disks and started it again. The rest of my evening was then spent from the beginning, starting out as a beat cop until I was promoted to Detective. One of the most enjoyable aspects of L.A Noire is your partners. On each desk (or each department) you have a different partner, all with their own, individual personalities. Throughout your time together there’ll be some memorable dialogue (or actions, such as Rusty’s punch…) and as a consequence I ended up forming a connection with most of them. I say most, because Roy Earle (on the Vice Desk) is an utter prick. If you play the game, you’ll find that out for yourself. But he does have a nice car…lets say it was a tough decision.

Not that the game is perfect. It can get a bit slow or repetitive, and I disliked how Phelps’s story panned out. But the point was that he isn’t perfect and I liked that (I’ll leave it at that, no explicit spoilers here). Too often do we see characters that are flawless and everything works out faultlessly for them. There are too many happy endings. I like things to go well but it’s the easy way out. If I get into game writing, I plan to work on these bittersweet endings. Do you not think it means more when you see the hero sacrifice himself, or see things just slip away from him at the last moment? Or is it just me? I’ll probably explore this concept in a blog another time no doubt.

Anyhow, I digress. I’m really excited to be playing L.A Noire again. It isn’t to everyone’s taste, as the story element does take a lot of control out of your hands, but I play it to be entertained. And as a result, I’m not disappointed. Consider it like an interactive film. Furthermore, with the facial recognition technology (completely new to gaming; the actor’s facial movements are transferred into the game) and the focus on investigating (not just shooting baddies) L.A Noire is a unique experience. Certainly makes a change from shooting aliens, anyhow.

Watch the video below to get an idea of what I’m talking about. Even in that short clip, the 40’s feel just emanates, enticing you in. Doesn’t it look amazing? When I watched that, I knew I was going to enjoy the game. In some aspects, for a game to be successful it needs a world that immerses you, makes you wish you were there. And I wish I was in L.A Noire.

But then again, with all the murders, violence, overdoses, controversy and broken marriages, plus the regression in technology (how would I blog?)…maybe I don’t. I’ll have to think about it.


Mass Effect 3 Release Resurgence Pack (Link to Solidus)

When fans reacted angrily to the ending of Mass Effect 3, many waited to see how Bioware would respond to the vicious backlash. Considering how successful the trilogy has been, both with fans and critics, it must be a bitter pill to swallow for the Canadian Developers. But rather than ignoring the complaints while diving in pools of money, the company has tried to make amends…

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The Relationship between Developers and Gamers

Even though Mass Effect 3 is my favourite game of all time, it isn’t the game I play the most. That would be Gears of War 3, which I’ll be on most evenings with my friends. I’ve never been able to get into any other game when it comes to PvP (Player versus player) because Gears is so incredibly satisfying. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my single player games, just they do not have longevity that multiplayers do, as I’ve highlighted before. But I digress.

Now these two games are pretty much different from each other except for the fact they both had the pressure of finishing off a highly acclaimed trilogy. Mass Effect had the demands of concluding a huge, amazing story arc, while Gears needed to improve a multiplayer system plagued by lag and glitches. Epic Games even developed a beta to test out their new game mechanics, such was their desire to avoid the huge issues that followed the Gears of War 2 launch.

But despite both ME3 and GOW3 selling in the millions and recieving positive reviews in the process, they both were dealt criticism by their loyal fans. For Mass Effect, it was the ending they disagreed with. And indeed, my first thoughts weren’t complimentary. There was no big fight scene, no last hurrah that this game deserved. You did some walking, some talking and watched some cut scenes. But when I thought about it, it made more sense. A big boss fight is slightly clichéd to me, and Mass Effect is better than that. It is a story. So I accepted it and I know when I play through it again, I’ll appreciate the story (my thoughts won’t be ‘is this the end? I haven’t fought anyone! It can’t be over! Noooo!’). But it seemed that many fans didn’t come to that conclusion and protested against it. So how did Bioware respond?

They apologised. A statement was released, detailing the company’s thoughts and explaining the ending. But they understood the fan’s reaction and stressed that they were disappointed as a result. It was sincere, almost heartfelt. I commended them because they addressed the issue. But that wasn’t all they did.

A few weeks later they announced that they are working on an extended cut to the ending, which will be released for free sometime in the summer. They won’t alter the ending but they’ll add to it. In doing so Bioware hope that they’ll appease the fans unhappy with how things currently stand.

And that is why I want to work for a company like Bioware. They’ve stood by their decision but they’ve tried to make it up to their fans that weren’t happy.

In comparison to Epic, things are little more difficult. Their second game received a lot of complaints so they really had to make the third one work in multiplayer. They are the only real 3rd person shooter amidst a whirlwind of 1st person multiplayer games. The last game in the trilogy should have been the cherry on the cake, with improvements made to all the issues of the second. But it didn’t go like that. People complain about the guns, the grenades, the connections, the game modes, how easy it has gotten, how bad the maps are. Think of something and I guarantee somebody will not like it. Epic, to their credit, have tried to fix as many as they can. I would say it’s fair to say they did make several errors and underestimated the fan reaction they’d receive. But the way people react doesn’t help. When everything you do upsets somebody and you get a barrage of insults at practically every decision you make, you get defensive and ignore the genuine complaints.

What is so frustrating about this is that both customer and developer are going for the same goal. They both want a great game that is successful. Gears fans want to play this game for years and their thoughts deserve to be heard. But you have to be more subtle about it to get a response.

As a result, I’ve become more aware of how difficult it can be for gaming companies. I’d like to think that, as a gamer, I’ll be able to see both perspectives.  No doubt the guys at Epic thought that too. But there is an importance in understanding what the customer wants and incorporating the best ideas with your own to create the best game possible. It is this communication between gamers and developers that will help evolve gaming into an even greater and more enjoyable experience.

Hopefully more companies will take Bioware’s lead and the industry will improve as a result.

That’s the dream, anyway.

The Joys of Online Gaming

Although I have declared my love for gaming, I’ve not actually specified what console I use. As it happens I’m an Xbox 360 guy. I’ve never got into the Playstation for several reasons. Firstly there is the controller, which is not only ergonomically wrong for my man hands, it is also quite flimsy and can’t take a beating like an Xbox controller can. I also believe that Xbox has the better franchises on it, with exclusive rights to games such as Halo and Gears of War making it the only choice for me. I won’t even consider the Wii because…well it’s a Wii.

However I’m not trying to show why the Xbox is better here. I think both consoles are good for hardcore gaming but they both have their flaws. I just felt it was necessary to mention as my entire experience of online gaming comes from the Xbox and I have no knowledge of how it is on any other platform.

Initially online gaming held no interest for me. I used to play split screen with my friends on the old Xbox and when I got the new 360 my intentions were just to play solo games. And as a result I barely played the Xbox. It took me a year to finish Lara Croft because I barely played it (I’m so sorry Ms Croft) and when I finally did get to the end, it corrupted my hard drive. Awesome.

From then on I did start to play it more as I found there was little else to take up my free time. I moved away from my friends and I became too lazy to play football outside every evening. But my interest in online was still in its infancy. I thought people who used their headsets were sad. I even gave my free headset away. But in my second year of college I thought it would be beneficial to get Xbox Live so I could get all the extras for my game. I remember Dragon Age had a code that got you some fancy armour for that game and the upcoming Mass Effect 2. I thought ‘I must have it’ and got a free month’s trial to Xbox Live.

Things took an interest turn from then. I decided to go on Gears of War 2, a game I’d played quite a lot recently and see how things went. I picked a mode that only involved team play because I was absolutely convinced if I went into player versus player, I would get crushed like the noob I thought I was. But surprisingly I was pretty good and decided to test myself. I started off basic, hiding in one spot and shooting over cover. But once I learnt how the game plays, I became a better player.

For some context, Gears of War 2 is a third person shooter. It is nothing like Call of Duty because there are no ‘one bullet kills’. You have to work for your kills, and play tactically. The importance of cover and learning how to wallbounce (essentially sliding between bits of cover) is crucial in this game. Add in the fact you deal with huge bits of lag, sponging, cheating, glitching and all sorts of broken elements meant this game had a very big learning curve (which is one reason why it is less popular than COD, it requires skill). And yet, I loved playing on it.

And despite all the rage messages I got for doing various things (you’ll come to find on Xbox Live especially, whatever you do will annoy somebody and they will tell you about it using words that could only be described as profane) I couldn’t stop playing. I even got some friends on there, some of whom I still speak to now. I met one last year and another this year. Oh yeah, that’s right. I finally got a headset.

The thing is though; online gaming is what keeps these consoles going. If it wasn’t for Halo, and the multiplayer on it, Microsoft’s Xbox wouldn’t have been the big hitter it is. You play the campaign and you enjoy it, but it is the multiplayer aspects that keep you going. Whether you just rage at everybody or you make friends, it is something to enjoy. Playing with people around the globe is pretty amazing. Even Mass Effect, a game that has been based solely on your mission, adopted multiplayer for the third instalment. I enjoyed it and I know it’ll keep people playing that game even more. It’s important. I loved Mass Effect 2 but I only completed it twice. Yet I can see myself playing the third one 2, 3 times and then going onto multiplayer. So it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Don’t get me wrong. Long, in depth and well thought out campaigns will always be wanted, especially as games try to improve as a medium. But there will always be the aspect of playing with friends, whether they are in the same room or on the other side of the globe. Even the Kinect offers this ability, boasting both family fun and connecting to players worldwide.

I must admit I got caught up in it when I first discovered how amazing it was to play against other people. I played on it most days for hours on end. Even getting all the abuse didn’t faze me. I just loved being able to showcase my skills against others.

So really, you just have to ignore the remarks you can get from sceptics. Online gaming is fun and as I mentioned in my first article, it brings about a lot of benefits. You can build friendships. You can enjoy yourself. And you can make little kids cry by killing their character repeatedly. There is so much you can do and I’m damn glad to be part of it.

But seriously, the next person who calls me a f****t is going to suffer.

My love for Mass Effect: why I want to write for games

Last month was very special for me. It was the month that Mass Effect 3 came out, the last game in a trilogy that has stirred so many emotions in me over the last few years. I picked up the original second-hand and I’ve never looked back. After years of waiting, reading previews and watching the promo videos (one of which I’ve linked below) I was finally able to play out the ending to this momentous story.

It is hard to describe Mass Effect to those who have no knowledge of it. It is like trying to sum up Lord of the Rings in a few paragraphs. It doesn’t do it justice. But I’ll try my best.

Mass Effect is set in the future where the human race has expanded and spread through the Universe. Their success was initiated by the discovery of the Mass Relays, huge structures located throughout all the galaxies allowing for faster than light travel. In spreading colonies through the stars humanity came across several other advanced species. After several bloody wars between humans and the other races, humans were finally accepted. But although most of the species get along generally, power struggles and grudges cause many problems throughout the series. Despite the oncoming threat of extinction, these political battles undermine the galaxies efforts of survival. There is only one man (or woman, you choose) who can save them all.

And that is Commander Shepard, a war hero controlled by the gamer. When the Reapers, these huge sentient machines, begin their attack, he is the best hope of stopping them. In the beginning, they launch an attack on the Citadel (a massive space station home to millions, the hub of galactic travels and the inspiration for my blog name) Shepard leads the defence. But despite the Reaper attack most ignore the threat and it is down to Shepard to stop the Reapers once again in the sequel. Then Mass Effect 3 brings on the final onslaught, an all out attack on Earth and every other civilisation in the Universe. With the fight on his homeland, Shepard has to unite every species together to destroy the Reapers. Will he prevail or will the Reapers destroy everything?

This game is truly an epic. Every single decision you make throughout the series can have consequences later on. You have to pick sides, you have to form relationships and bonds. Not only do you have your own handpicked crew, you also have to earn the support of former enemies. There is so much depth to this game it is almost surreal. You could compare it to Star Wars as in some respects they are similar. But comparing them would be wrong. Because Mass Effect is so much better.

It’s even more than a game. It is a beautiful story that has so many elements that can drive even the most hardened gamer to tears. There is moments of humour, moments of triumph and inspiration and moments where you realise that this affects every character in the galaxy. Every time somebody dies you see the grief hits Shepard hard. Hell, sometimes it even hit me hard.  But you also see how determined he (or she) is to stop it.  By the time I was nearing the end, I was both eager to reach the finale but also sad that it was nearing an end. When you dedicate so much time to saving this world, it is painful to see it finish. There is an urgency felt throughout the entire game, as you know that you have to finish the fight. It ends here.

I’m not going to say what the ending was. But the game, like it’s two predecessors, was a masterpiece. I’ve read some great books, I’ve seen some amazing films but nothing will ever affect me like Mass Effect has. Words cannot describe how fantastic it is. It isn’t perfect but it’s pretty damn close. And playing it has inspired me to work towards creating something that could affect somebody just like Mass Effect affected me. It is the reason I want to go into writing for games.

So I thank you Bioware for creating something so out of the world (in many ways).

Here is the promo video  ME3 to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

I’ll probably gush about it again in the future, but I think this will suffice for now.

The Difficulties in Writing Stories for Games

My ambition in life is to work in the gaming industry, combining my two favourite passions together (writing and gaming, if you hadn’t already realised). I want to be part of the writing team that creates an amazing masterpiece, something that proves games can be on the same level as books and films when it comes to fantastic storytelling. Gaming is an ever-changing, ever improving medium that is deservedly earning widespread attention and to be part of the background staff that makes it all happen…well that would be beyond my wildest dreams.

And so to prepare myself, I decided to write some scenarios and potential plots for games. I didn’t think it would be too difficult. After all I’ve played some mind-blowing games with incredible stories over the last few years. Surely I could take some inspiration from them and brainstorm some of my own original ideas…right?

However it isn’t as straight forward as that.

Coming up with a story for a novel, never mind a game, can be difficult. You want to think of something that is original, thought-provoking and immersive. Unless you are writing a horror book of course, then description, violence and sex take priority.  But in general you want the reader to believe in the characters and to form a connection with them. In trying to come up with a good plot, I usually end up with a load of ideas that I knock on the head for being stupid or flawed. So from my experiences it can be quite difficult to create what you are looking for.

But in theory, formulating an idea for a game should be easier. There isn’t the same extensive character development, plot twists or detail that make a book so enthralling…you are just talking about 10/20 hours worth of story. Maybe even less. And yet I found it a lot harder. My first concept ended up becoming an actual book idea that I’m currently developing. So although I’ve got something working in my brain, it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. So I started wondering. Which is actually harder to create; a story for a book or a story for a game?

Now you can take the plot out of any game, let’s say Call of Duty, and adapt it into a novel. I wouldn’t say COD has the best story but you could take the background information and write a neat little book about it. The developers behind Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Gears of War and Halo have already picked up on this idea. The books they have produced are not mainstream bestsellers but they are popular additions to fans of their respected franchises (like me) and they show that the plot to a game can switch mediums. But how often do you see a book converted to a game? I can’t think of any. So how can games do it?

They can because, despite all the criticism that gaming recieves for focussing on violence and gore, there is still usually a solid background to a good majority of games, or at least, the games I own. Furthermore, any good idea can be written into a novel but not all stories can be applied to the interactive nature of games. Books have a larger freedom to create their stories and develop them. You can have pages of relative inactivity, descriptions and conversations that help to enhance the characters, plot and so on. Games, however, are more restricted as there isn’t the time to explore every detail. The writer has to create a visual environment that engages the player. They have to think about character design, how the game plays and flows. And there always has to be an activity, you need quests and campaigns that are going to interest the gamer. The character has to be fighting or exploring. There are no internal monologues to give scope on what this character is like. In games you have to create an impression in a shorter time scale.

I hadn’t really considered this when I started planning out some ideas. But you have to think in a completely different way. The environment, context and overall scenario that you are going to base your entire story on are more important factors. Is it in the future? Has civilisation crumbled or developed in ways we can only imagine? I feel these decisions can just be as important as the plot or characters. In a book there could be a romance between a man and a woman and the overall story would stay the same, regardless of location. But in a game you need to create this fantastic world that gamers want to be play and be part of. Then you can focus on how you are to design your protagonist and how their life is going to plan out.

After all character development is pretty crucial too. You need to create somebody that the gamer can associate with, or at least care about. In a book characters are vital but you can tell the reader what they are like. But in a game the gamer has to discover this through the actions and decisions the character takes. You have to design somebody who is likeable. When you write about a character, descriptions can be altered by reader’s imagination. However your game character is visual and has to look right as well as act the part. Thankfully that isn’t something I have to worry too much about but for the game companies this is an important aspect. Big butch guys who spew out one liners aren’t as popular now; in the same way they aren’t as favourable in the film industry. So in a linear storyline where everything has been predetermined, making a character that the gamer cares about is a huge step towards success.

In conclusion I’ve realised that it is no simple feat to create a story for a game. There is so much detail and emotion that goes into these worlds you can’t just create some scenario off the top of your head. Or at least I can’t. The writers behind fantastic games such as Mass Effect have a bunch of guys working as a team, all pitching ideas off each other until this superb product was born. But I’m still going to persevere and attempt to create some game stories by myself. I may not be able create everything but I can set the scene, give some context to the situation and create my character’s personality. I can plot out their desires, ambitions and describe how their story will plan out.

Right…I best get cracking. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Mind Games: How Gaming Can Help You

How would you describe your time gaming? Are you a casual player, playing for an hour or two by yourself or with friends? Or do you take it more seriously, aiming for achievements and success? Either way, it is hard to deny that gaming is starting to have more of an influence on our lives. Think about the blockbuster releases last year, with games such as Modern Warfare 3 and Skyrim generating enormous levels of attention. Thousands upon thousands queued up for their midnight launches. Even if you have the patience to wait until your game arrives in the post, it is clear that there is a huge demand for gaming entertainment. And with over three billion hours spent collectively on our consoles each week, the number of active gamers just keeps on rising.

A consequence to this influx of new players is the increased media attention into how gaming affects us as individuals and as a society. Is our behaviour and attitude altered; do we become more aggressive or violent? The media seems to have a negative attitude towards gamers without much consideration into the benefits that playing games can offer. So what are the benefits?

Your immediate answer might be improved reflexes, dexterity or better hand eye coordination. And it is true that your reactions can be enhanced by gaming. The advantages do not stop there. In fact, your mental well-being can see some real life gain too. After all, playing games challenges you mentally, and anything that increases your brain activity can heighten your abilities in a variety of tasks. So, what exactly can gaming do for you?

Firstly, think about how you feel when you play games. Are you able to relax, step back from a hard day’s work and enjoy the thrill of shooting zombies in the face? A study in 2008 asked people why they pick up a controller, with 88% of the gamers doing so to alleviate tension. Gaming alters the biochemistry of the brain. When you play, your brain releases a substance called Dopamine more frequently than usual. Dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure. As a consequence you become less stressed and feel happier.

The science extends further than a quick mental boost however. Gaming can provide us with happiness on a fundamental level. According to psychologists, there are four pillars that make for a happy existence. They are: satisfying work, real hope for success, strong social connections and the opportunity to become part of something bigger than ourselves. These act as the foundations for optimal human experience and there is much evidence to suggest gaming can provide us with all these pillars on a frequent basis.

How do they do this? In general, developers want you to feel productive. Their aim is to motivate you, to encourage you to maximise your potential. If you are involved in a game, you are less likely to get bored and stop playing. In games you have a clear goal to work for and certain objectives to complete in order to get there. You will be faced with a number of obstacles that prevent you from finishing your task. For example, you are stopped by a locked door. How do you get around it? You can’t kick it down and it is the only entrance.  So you need to find a key.

Your search takes you to a tough enemy. You have to kill him to retrieve it. The fight is difficult and you may die a few times. Eventually you overpower him and the key is yours. Now you can open the door.

The path to where you needed to be wasn’t easy. You had to complete a number of different challenges but by doing so, you feel successful. There is a sense of accomplishment as your efforts are rewarded. In this scenario you got through the door. But it could be saving your family from the bad guys or completing a series of complex manoeuvres within a time limit. Remember the last time you got stuck on a game. Did you feel good once you got past it?

This positive feeling is increased when you see the impact of your work on the world around you. You were able to overcome the challenge and open the door. What is on the other side? Perhaps some treasure, or maybe another trial awaits you.

Most games are set in this style. You are confronted with something that tests your abilities. As you improve, the difficulty increases so there is always a challenge. Rewards then keep you motivated. This is why incredibly difficult games and easy games do not offer the same enjoyment. There isn’t the satisfaction when you play. It isn’t as fulfilling. But when a game gets the right balance you have a stronger self belief. And of course you keep playing.

The virtual world is important too. When you immerse yourself in the awe inspiring vistas of games you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself. You are able to engage this environment in a way you couldn’t in reality. You face moral dilemmas and make big decisions. You have the opportunity to save the world.

The characters also contribute to this feeling. Who is the main protagonist in your favourite game? How do you feel about them? Your bond with the people you control or involve yourself with is crucial. You won’t enjoy the game as much if there isn’t an emotional attachment. You won’t feel as good when they succeed or feel saddened when they fall. You see the characters progress, their emotions and flaws exposed. A great game brings these characters to life. Their sacrifices can even move you to tears. Fans of the Gears of War series will know what I’m talking about.  You devote your time to helping them succeed. You are Marcus Fenix. You are the Master Chief. You are Commander Shepard. From this there is a sense of heroic purpose. You want to know how their story ends and you feel happy when you finish.

The creative part of your brain can benefit from these expansive worlds too. Want to visit Renaissance Italy, an underworld Utopia, a nuclear ridden city or a future Earth? Easy. And when you play these games your mind is opened to a whole new area of possibility. The storylines get your creative juices flowing.  The demand for more developed stories has resulted in some incredibly immersive and moving games. Would you kindly cast your mind back to the last game that fully absorbed you? How did it affect you? By pushing the boundaries of games closer to a cinematic experience, you can be truly inspired by what you play. Your interactions give you the chance to set your imagination free. After all you are less restricted than when you read a predetermined story. It’s YOUR adventure.

Furthermore, games can provide you with strong social connections.  When you play, you are more likely to help somebody or act selflessly. Whenever you have feelings of awe you are encouraged to serve a larger cause. Compelling stories or impressive environments; anything that amazes you can work as inspiration. So just think. When you are exploring the beautiful landscape of 15th Century Constantinople in Assassins Creed Revelations, you may feel more inclined to wash the dishes afterwards.

Games make it easier to build stronger social bonds with your friends or family. After playing a game with someone, there is a better chance that you will like and trust them, even if they defeat you. Granted you may not befriend the little kid who spawn camps you but there could be respect between you and the guy who killed you during an epic standoff. How do you feel about the people you play with most? Would you class them as good friends? With the rising popularity of Xbox Live, we are in a position where we create strong social connections much easier…and without even getting off the sofa.

Now listen up! The enemy has flanked your army and defeat is approaching. What are you going to do? Do you order your men to keep attacking or do you call a retreat, saving what remains of your army, but lose the battle?

Games throw you headfirst into scenarios without warning. You face situations you have never experienced before. There are intelligent and deadly enemies that have been programmed to take you down. In order to succeed you need to react quickly and adapt. You have to think fast and line up your options. There is pressure to make the right choice and you have to make it instantly. This decision could impact your progress in the game at a later date. Or you could pick wrong and have to start all over again.

The skills that you need here are important in reality. How often do we encounter problems that require us to make a decision? Every day, whether it is something simple like what you are having for breakfast to deciding what is the next step in your career. Games encourage your mind to think in completely new and different ways, helping you develop these attributes. They improve your ability to process information and solve problems. Researchers have found that gamers perform higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability. We can think more analytically and strategically. In fact, up to 20% better than our non gaming counterparts. Well done, you!

As a result you are capable of approaching and reacting to real life situations better than before. Games increase your short term memory and expand your field of vision. Good for the simplest tasks and more importantly, good for succeeding on Battlefield 3!

Multiplayer plays its part in developing these skills too. They hone your ability to adapt and your situational awareness as you are frequently challenged by others. What if you are being rushed by two players- one with a shotgun and one with a machine gun – how do you react? The more successful you are in these scenarios, the better you can become as a player. Furthermore, when you are fighting against others your brain needs to work in order to determine how they are going to play. You can then take appropriate action. By thinking one step ahead, you can perform better in these situations and in real life.

Finally, your communication skills can improve along with your cooperation. Talking to your team and sharing tactics or locations promotes your chances of winning. If you are less comfortable in social situations, conversing while gaming can help you.

And if you are still doubtful about the benefits, consider how much time you dedicate to the games you enjoy. How many hours do you clock up exploring these huge worlds, completing the campaign and all the side quests? Even if you have no interest in fighting dragons, or piloting spaceships, you still spend a similar amount of time playing multiplayer in Gears of War, Halo or Call of Duty.

Yet there is no real-world advantage to spending this time gaming. You do not make any money. You don’t improve your social status and you don’t achieve any external success. You don’t add ‘completed every Halo game on Legendary’ on your C.V or brag about it to your boss or your girlfriend. But this doesn’t stop you.  We play for ‘intrinsic rewards’, the term given to things that just make us happy. Without any actual reward, we do it purely for enjoyment. This feeling is addictive and this is why more people are converting to gaming. When compared to reality, games are able to offer immediate pleasure more frequently and reliably. Remember the four pillars of happiness. A good game will have all four. Whether you are a hardcore gamer or a casual gamer, there are more than enough reasons to keep playing. So go on, open that door. Find out what is on the other side.

An expression of my love for gaming and writing