Corvus Elrod’s Blogs of the Round Table proposed the following question this month: Do video games teach socially responsible lessons? Thinking about it, I immediately started grinding the gears in my head to try and think of concrete examples of what I’ve learned from video games. The problem became that my childhood was filled with literature, video games, pen and paper roleplaying, and a freedom to explore any curiosities I might have in any art form (the one exception being Marquis de Sade). My mother was directly involved in anything I did: playing the games, reading the books, watching the films, et cetera. She made sure I had a healthy mix of everything and wasn’t too overly reliant on any one.

The problem then is trying to extricate specific lessons that would be hinged solely on games. Instead, there was a miasma of knowledge into which I felt I stepped in and absorbed what was at hand.

As I thought further on the topic, I did realize one starting point, however–one game that still informs my quest for knowledge.

Sierra’s adaptation of Walt Disney’s take on The Black Cauldron.

Playing this game filled me with delicious dread. I was living in Heidelberg and my family had two computers. My brother and I inherited the Tandy and my parents duly bought the more kid-oriented titles alongside their own interests.

What about this game grabbed me?Mortality. The game was ruthless. One had to make sure that Taran was fed, hydrated, and then kept him alive. It was my second introduction to the adventure game genre (Mixed-Up Mother Goose being the first). Given how I never successfully navigated very far into the game’s storyline (oh but I tried!), it’s a wonder I stuck with the genre at all.

However, I saw Taran die in a number of ways. Along with the darker tones of the environment when one neared the castle and the malicious intent of most NPCs I recall encountering, the game caused my seven year old self to confront head on the concept of mortality and what that meant to myself. Thankfully, as I stated, my mother was there when I woke one night crying to her about a nightmare in which I imagined the terrifying and yearning maw of an eternity of senselessness (the nightmare was more concerned with the afterlife than any actual physical harm or the act of dying itself).

My family was not very religious, going through the motions of baptism in order to please my grandparents. After this incident, I requested permission to attend church. Because my intention was to learn and discuss theology and the mortal coil, I was rather disappointed in my experience (it seems most people are not comfortable with children asking pointed questions about mortality and how it concerns faith–I wasn’t satisfied with a mere heaven, purgatory, and hell) and found myself seeking answers in mythology and it was around the time my mother also suggested The Little Prince. It managed to open up a whole other world to sate my questions I had concerning that troubling dream. I also picked up Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain.

Which is the one theme I kept thinking on when considering what games have taught me. Most of all, they taught me aspects of myself. From my gaming style and how it differed among my family members, to what personalities I felt drawn, and what expectations I had of connections with my stories. But the question this particular game drew to my mind still has me questing and searching for the answers.

Coming from a liberal arts background, I can think of very few greater socially responsible lessons than the encouragement to satisfy a basic question that still lingers over humanity.

Please visit the Round Table's <a title="Round Table Main Hall" href="http://blog.pjsattic.com/corvus/round-table/">Main Hall</a> for links to all entries.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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6 Responses to Ewigkeit

  1. Corvus says:

    Great first Round Table post, Denis! I’m pleased to hear that your family was deeply involved with your video gaming and that it was well supplemented by books.I wish I saw more parents involved with their kid’s media exploration.

  2. Denis Farr says:

    Well, my mother was a gamer who refused to give up her habits because she was married with children, so she made sure everyone participated.I cannot say I mind in the least. Especially as we can still play across the ocean these days.

  3. Chris Lepine says:

    That’s a very powerful story denis .. I’ve never thought of the Sierra adventures as serious existential exercises. In retrospect, however, I think they do exactly what traditional fairy tales used to do: present children with worlds that they had only a tacit understanding of, and help to bring that understanding to consciousness.That’s the understanding that I got from reading Bruno Bettelheim’s “The Uses of Enchantment” anyhow.I suppose that sounds overly theoretical, so I should make that a bit more concrete. As a kid, I had a grisly fascination with the kinds of hilarious death sequences depicted in Space Quest. Half of the time I’d save the game, just so I could watch what would happen if Roger Wilco got dumped into the garbage masher, fell from 10 storeys, or got fried by an alien blaster. All of those things can, potentially, offer the kind of experiential fodder for a kid to ask him/herself, ‘Jeez, that’s a whole lot of dying, saving, reloading…. is that what life’s all about?’ Or, ‘What happens to the character after s/he’s gone from the game?’Admittedly, I didn’t have the psychoemotional maturity to ask those kinds of questions at an early age, but Sierra did an amazing job of translating fairy tales into more modern experiences that deal with the same kinds of problems.Personally, and this is just my take on art in general, I don’t think that a *good* game that has one leg in art, such as The Black Cauldron, proposes any direct ‘social rules’, moralisms, etc. Instead, it depicts a world where the problems we face as real human beings are encountered, and the characters have to face them just as we do. What those characters do, and how they think about their own situations, is something that we as readers derive social lessons from. The higher quality the art (or game), the less distinct and deeper the lessons will be. That’s just my take on it, again, culled from Bettelheim.

  4. Denis Farr says:

    Chris, I will have to go to one of Chicago’s many libraries and see if I can find this Buttelheim book. It sounds right up my alley (I have a fascination with the evolution of faery tales and to whom they are addressed, especially growing up in a family where there was no direct concern over my reading the Brothers Grimm or Struwwelpeter).

  5. Corvus says:

    Denis, as someone who cut their teeth on Grimm, I’d be interested in your thoughts on my posts about Jorinda & Joringel.

  6. Denis Farr says:

    Corvus, I shall go back and read them now (leaving comments in the appropriate posts).For anyone else interested, these posts are found here: < HREF="http://blog.pjsattic.com/corvus/tag/jorinda-joringel/" REL="nofollow">Jorinda & Joringel<>/

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