‘It’s Relevant, I Promise’: The Practiced Art of Gaming Excuses

Hannah Dyball 7 February 2018

Ever since that fateful day when we first laid eyes on a keyboard or controller, gamers have been faced with the insurmountable task of justifying our prolific use of the digital arts. Enter Cambridge stage right, and our quest becomes even more arduous. How can we even begin to explain to a seasoned academic that we spend our precious free time blasting pixels into the ether or pretending to be various big men with swords in a series of increasingly outlandish locations?

We know that gaming is more than just a way to murder time and orcs. Unfortunately, the rest of the ‘real’ world hasn’t exactly realised the potential of an hour with Watchdogs 2 and a bold new vision for the downtown San Francisco skyline. Wouldn’t it be great if your friendly neighbourhood lunatic had formulated a few tried and tested excuses (I mean, legitimate and well-reasoned arguments…) to put your supervisor’s mind at ease and maybe get them to stop giving you THAT look from across the desk (pauses for chilly spines everywhere to subside)? Well, this is the column for you! Would you kindly take up a pew and prepare to see the face of God (of War)…

First up, we have the Englings. Masters of procrastination and turtlenecks, the humble Engling gamer is often found enjoying the finest that games have to offer in story-telling adventures. A quick trip around any Uncharted game should provide them with enough character and swash-buckling excitement to make Robert Louis Stevenson’s eyes water. Enter a few clever riddles and deciphering Nathan Drake’s borderline impenetrable travel notes and how could any supervisor argue that games do not enhance your ability to demystify the English language?

For the historians among us, Assassin’s Creed has a wealth of scintillating historical facts and figures (the bloke of some distinction kind not the numbers kind…we’ll get on to the…err…acquired tastes of the Mathmo later). Provided the somewhat dubious premise of the story is whittled out, the events described in the copious notes in the menu are a decent gateway into understanding the key moments of the period, even if the interpretation of those events is either orthodox or somewhat fictitious. The real feather in AC’s cap however (collect it if you wish…it’ll make an old woman – and your supervisor – very happy) has to be the sense of place that it creates. The buildings are always stunning and remarkably accurate; there’s nothing like ascending Notre Dame and getting to see every detail that the developers have managed to squeeze in there. You get the chance to see structures that no longer exist, like Lambeth Asylum in Syndicate or…well…essentially all of AC Origins. No longer can you be accused of being detached from the period without a feel for life at the time: games have solidified your understanding of the socio-cultural experience of being involved and engaged in the period. And you absolutely cannot tell that I’ve been working on this one for a while…

The more creative members of our ensemble may enjoy games in which they are able to hone their craft by constructing a variety of digital abominations that somehow (just about) manage to conform to the laws of physics. I’m thinking about architects here, but to some degree I realise that I must…actually…include…the engineers *passes out from the strain*…*is revived by the scent of a freshly opened copy of The Witcher 3*. Okay, it nearly killed me but we’ve got some scientists in there too…and we’re even calling them creative…God, I’m going soft in my old age. Any who, Minecraft and Little Big Planet are just two of the vast multitude of games in which you can let your creative flag fly (and your Cambridge-induced insanity seem useful) by building these…’structures’. Go forth! Push the boundaries of time, space and gravity! And when your supervisor asks why you are wasting your time concocting these affronts to your scholarship, you need only say that they drove you to it…this is where the crazy goes…they should be grateful that  they don’t have to mark it.

Finally, I have heard tales of creatures that dwell in the north. Lonesome and stoic, they move only in shadow for fear that the rarely-confronted sunlight might burn their malnourished outer flesh. Should you be treated to a sighting, it is a great privilege as they are seldom seen, leaving only small traces of their existence in the slight shuffling of slippered and exhausted feet, the minute crumbs on kitchen surfaces and the occasional tiny, broken skeleton of a devoured calculator cast into the bin. They call them…the Mathmo… Legend has it that these beings are fond of repeatedly bashing their heads against the wall in a sort of ritual to beg the Gods to spare them from solving today’s impossible problem. In training for these moments, I would prescribe a healthy dose of The Witness. Notoriously difficult, eye-wateringly bizarre and it makes you think so far out of the box that you leave it with a teary goodbye and a promise message it everyday to ‘just to check in’? Why, your supervisor would love the idea! No grovelling necessary! Save your excuses for the game!

Then again, we are all Cambridge students…if we didn’t all enjoy a little gruelling torture at our own hands, we wouldn’t be here. The number one reason that gaming is worthy of your time is that (in spite of any cantankerous objections from your supervisors) you enjoy it and it’s getting you through the term. If all else fails, just tell them that. Let there be Dark Souls and repetitive despair for all! For what is bravery without a dash of recklessness?