L.A. Youth video game reviews

By Katherine Lam, 17, Ramona Convent
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Katherine would rather be reading a book than playing a video game.

I never play video games.

Surprising? Not really. After all, I am a girly girl who wears pink and red every chance I get in February. And my friends say that I have the attention span of a goldfish (it was a Snapple fact that goldfish have short attention spans). So pressing a couple buttons and playing a game that repeats similar scenarios over and over and over to save a non-existent princess bores me out of my mind.

I didn’t always have an anti-video game gene. In elementary school I fell in love with Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Gameboy when I went to visit my cousins. But my parents refused to buy me the game, so I could play it only when I visited my cousins. I eventually got a similar game, but I hated playing by myself.

In middle school I got addicted to Age of Empires and Dance Dance Revolution, better known as DDR. I spent hours sitting in front of the computer playing Age of Empires. And I became obsessed with DDR. It was such a craze among my friends and I, that some of them even downloaded the DDR songs onto their computers.

But I gave up video games when I reached my teen years, and I thought everyone else would be way too old and mature for video games, too. Wrong. Once Halo came out, I felt like all my friends talked about was how Halo was such a cool game. For me those conversations just went in one ear and out the other. My gamer friends were shocked that I was so uncultured and disgusted by violent games like Halo.

When last summer rolled around, the hype about video games overwhelmed me. Every magazine I picked up, every day I called my friend, every time I flipped on the TV, there had to be someone talking about video games. Magazines like The Economist and Discover had articles saying video games were detrimental to a child’s well-being because of the violence and sexual graphics, but there were also a fair number of articles that regarded video games as helpful to developing kids’ hand-eye coordination. I decided that I could no longer hide in the non-video gaming corner of the world. So I resolved to play a couple video or computer games and evaluate them.

I saw three possible outcomes: I’d become an addict, I would question my friends’ sanity or I’d become a wild violent child, like most of my reading suggested.

Illustration by Sarah Evans, 15, Temple City HS

I couldn’t even drive straight

During July 4th weekend I was with my mom’s family at Lake Tahoe. My younger cousins played video games every chance they had. Seeing that all of my cousins, including the 5-year-olds, knew how to drive a car through the ultra-winding roads of Gran Turismo 3, I vowed that by the end of the trip, I would learn, too.

I got my cousins to stay up with me until 3 a.m. to teach me how to drive. It was so frustrating learning because sometimes I just felt like I had an anti-controller gene. (Most of the time, I ended up driving backwards.) My cousins patiently told me that there was basically just one button I had to press for the gas. Other than that, all I had to do was move left or right on the path.

Somehow, that translated to me as the gray button for go, darker gray button for up, light gray triangle button for backwards, medium-toned gray clicky-thing for going faster. If I had to keep pressing the button for the "gas pedal," then how was I supposed to move left or right!? Since I couldn’t keep track of all of that, I eyed my little 5-year-old cousins with suspicion when they pressed millions of buttons simultaneously, while dipping chips into salsa at the same time. A thought popped up while I was crashing and burning on the side of the road. How had I managed to pass my driver’s test when I couldn’t even drive in a video game? On the final night at Lake Tahoe, I finally learned how to drive without crashing or going in the wrong direction.

After returning to Los Angeles, my friend Thomas lent me two versions of The Sims and a fantasy game called Total Annhilations Kingdoms. I ended up never playing Total Annhilations Kingdoms, though, because I was so excited about The Sims, in which you create a fantasy family and live their lives.

I started off slowly. I tapped my fingers on my desk impatiently as I stared at my computer for what seemed like hours when the "kids" I created were at school and my "mom" and "dad" were at work. I even minimized the game sometimes and let it run so I could go do something more interesting like reading a calculus textbook or counting the number of leaves on my tree outside.

I thought that maybe I had missed some rules, but I found out from Thomas that I was playing the game correctly. I was disappointed. I thought that I would be marrying off couples, cutting the wood for my houses and partying all night. I was wrong. The most interacting my characters did was watch TV together. I was even more upset because I didn’t like how I only got to see the characters from a weird angle. I could never walk into a kitchen directly and see the person up close. However, I did have my "exciting" moments. The girl that I put into bed would never get out of bed. And the highpoint of my Sims life … my house caught on fire!

I complained to Thomas about how I was bored out of my mind. Thomas suggested that he teach me to play some violent video games.

First he taught me the shooting games Battlefield 2 and Farcry. And again, my anti-controller gene came up. Thomas even had to explain "walking" through the battlefield scenarios to me. Somehow, while pressing the button to walk forward I wound up halfway across the battlefield in enemy territory. One of the good things I learned from wandering around aimlessly is that ducking and running away from the enemy does help sometimes. At first, I didn’t even understand the point of the game because why would I play a game just to shoot people? It seemed insane. I got bored so easily, and I complained to Thomas over and over that video games were mindless. However, for about five seconds, I actually had fun. It was the five seconds when I could actually run! Thomas helped me pick up a gun and I ran, ducked and jumped. (Clap for me!) I even used that gun to take down a couple people. After that, everything went downhill.

Besides those shooting games, I tried Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. That turned out even worse. I would poke at the controller to jump onto a motorcycle, but my leg would swing over the bike uselessly. Somehow I just never figured out how to ride. When I did finally get into a car, I vroomed off into the distance and popped on some hip music but would end up crashing into the back of a building two seconds later. Thomas ended up grabbing the controller from me and playing himself while I stared listlessly at the TV.

No more games for me

I would love to say that this was a life-changing experience, but it wasn’t. I had thought that by playing these video games, I would magically revive my love for them or perhaps see the fun side of gaming. I guess that times have changed. After all, half the reason I quit playing Super Mario Brothers was because it was so boring playing alone. During this experiment, I took time from my day to play these games, and one reason why I did not quit was because I enjoyed hanging out with Thomas.

I have learned though that pressing a couple buttons while having my eyes glued to the screen is just not my thing. On the other hand, I guess I can now see why some people are fascinated by video games. If you’re a patient person who has millions of extra hours to waste, then maybe video games are an enjoyable way to spend time. But as for me, I’ll be staying away from the gaming world for a while until I increase my attention span to that of a couple trillion goldfish.