If learning how to understand video games requires being immersed in the experience of playing them, there is still no finer tool for the job than a first person shooter.
I had played a great many games before Doom, but never had I felt so much like I was in one. All that stood between me and the demon hordes was the barrel of my BFG. I’d never had a game terrify me the way I jumped when I turned a corner and ran headfirst into an Imp, or exhilarate me the way I yelled out in victory when I completed a level with only a handful of shotgun shells and a fraction of my health.
Author Tom Bissell says we have to learn a foreign language to play video games. The Wii has been so successful because it requires no Rosetta Stone; the only language people need is that of their bodies. In the cultures that produce and play video games, the language of the gun is readily understood. We know what one is, and we know more or less how it is used.
Rather than bemoan this state of affairs or attempt to dissect it with evolutionary biology, I embrace any tool I can use to explain to an outsider why I love video games, and to invite them into that culture with me. The first person shooter is perfectly-suited to this task when I am surrounded by people who have been raised on action movies and television shows.
Once I have introduced someone to their inaugural FPS, it’s only a matter of time before they’re noticing aliasing problems and texture-loading issues and complaining about campers and snipers. When they begin speaking the language, that’s when they’re part of the tribe, and I’ve just taught someone else why our culture means so much in the way that only experiencing it directly truly can: because it's fun as hell.
On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I visited a gun range for the very first time in my life and purchased the “World War II package” – a handful of magazines for a Thompson submachine gun, an MP40 machine pistol, a Colt .45 sidearm, and a British Sten SMG. As I stepped up to the firing line and the range master presented me with the weapons, as a Medal of Honor veteran of old I unerringly slapped the appropriate magazines into his palm as he reached for them.
“You really know your guns,” he said, impressed. No, I thought, I’ve just played a lot of first person shooters. Forever may they reign.
Dennis Scimeca is the Editor in Chief of the English website Game Kudos, and a contributor to Gamer Limit.. If you tweet him @DennisScimeca he may get back to you, but is often distracted by the shiny new toy that is his iPhone.