Power: I’m not used to it. My last laptop was not a gaming powerhouse; it struggled to run even modest stuff smoothly. Like Solitaire, say. Or Word.
But like all electronic machines it eventually developed human emotions, and in a desperate act of self-gratification managed to tempt some local thug to steal it from my flat by blinking its red LED in the window like some two-bit, silicon-chip seductress advertising its pathetically slow services. The slag.
Anyway I got over her… er, it, and now a year later I’ve invested some good money into a good laptop. And with this good laptop has come a whole new world of tweak-able settings.
No longer do I settle for just playing with the TV’s contrast and brightness to get my power fix. Now I can dial up resolution and dial down texture quality at will! I can add soft shadows and remove water reflection in a flash; endlessly flicking things on and off , testing the difference, moulding uncanny worlds of half-sense at my leisure. It is compulsive. Hours can slip by as I marvel at light refraction in water pools or abuse the gamma slider like I actually know what gamma is. In other fields of life this crazed amount of fiddling and ogling is frowned upon and, if you’re a teacher, even jail worthy. But these PC game menus practically encourage deviancy, to break out the settings scalpel and peel back the layers of illusion.
And that peelin’ is mighty revealin’; you learn so much. It’s like being some digital Da Vinci, ripping apart the anatomy of graphics and sound to work out how bytes became beauty.
But here’s the really magical thing: as you dig deeper and deeper into virtual world’s strata of effects, you soon start digging back into our own world. It’s like grabbing a spade and digging straight down in Hyde Park: sure you’ll start your journey ploughing through the sediments, the igneous and the metamorphic like some GCSE geography fetishist (or perhaps a materials student). But after getting through the magma in the middle, you start chipping away back to the surface, learning the process backwards and ending up in our world again. Well, Australia.
First, you might go to Specsavers and be amazed that when you wear your new frames, the world doesn’t go all jerky to compensate. Next you might start appreciating the late afternoon shadows stretched languidly across the streets. The near-silent hum of street lamps suddenly becomes significant and the floatiness of snow an even greater thing of wonder. The machinery beneath our world, the clockwork laws we take for granted, suddenly take on a new relevance when made from scratch by game developers. Lighting, physics, texture, animation, feedback, camera, controls – all are crude, megabit mirrors onto our own world. But close enough to fill forums with mouth-foaming fanboys comparing hair-strand-clarity between PS3 and Xbox 360; close enough for critics to wax lyrical about Ico’s Mediterranean lighting or the convincing tarmac in Gran Turismo 5; close enough to get worryingly excited about the realism of rubble weight in Crysis 2 and most of all, close enough to look upon our own world again with some wonder.
Do games not teach you anything? Then you are missing out. With a little thought, games are an education in appreciation.