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Some consider video games to be the safest ways to let life’s beauty pass by.  I beg to disagree. Rather than temporary escapes into meaningless illusions, for me, they’ve been full-on journeys to alternative realities where I often discovered a lot about the meaning of my very own. For starters, Assassin’s Creed Black Flag was an almost literal change of course.

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag: Inspired Me To Work On A Cruise Ship

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag was my Black Pearl and it was time to go claim it in real life.

It was my 5th year living in Glasgow. The 5th year of almost constant rain. The 5th year of being surrounded by gray concrete and skies to match. The 5th year of serious-looking, government buildings where serious-looking members of society went to do grown-up, serious stuff. Glasgow, like every place, had a charm of its own, but if I was ever susceptible to it, 5 years had made me completely immune.

Then one day, I bought Assassin’s Creed Black Flag. I had always liked the franchise mostly because the games are very pretty and relaxing. But this one was more than pretty. Being that this one was set in the age of pirates – the era I’ve always wished I was born in (for some stupid, childish reasons), I just fell head over heels. The first time I put it on, it was as if my very own ray of Caribbean sunlight came through the TV and illuminated my existence. I would just spend hours crossing the Atlantic Ocean as my crew’s melodic chanteys filled the endless blue distance. I visited islands I had only heard of in songs and movies. I explored lush jungles and walked on white sands among swaying coconut palm trees as the sun slowly set behind the horizon under gentle, exotic chirps. I hopped from one charming cabana to the next until a spectacular aerial view of the whole island unfolded within the ocean’s boundless backdrop. I admired the mesmerizing turquoise waters and the sun’s dance on their crystal surface – unreal just like I imagined it was in real life.

I had daydreamed of tropical islands and vast oceans not once or twice while feeling suffocated under the gloomy Glasgow skies and colorless buildings. But it wasn’t just wanderlust that Assassin’s Creed Black Flag brought to the surface. One day, as I was sailing away to no specific destination, Jack Sparrow’s quote from the first Pirates of the Caribbean film popped into my head:

“What the Black Pearl really is… is freedom”

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag was my Black Pearl and it was time to go claim it in real life. I wondered what’s the closest thing to being a pirate in the modern age – the cool kind, not the Somalian. A couple of months later, I was working on a cruise ship, crossing the very same Atlantic Ocean and visiting some of the very same islands.

Ultimately, Assassin’s Creed Black Flag was the needed, much-needed, change of course in my life. But it wasn’t the first time a beautiful alternate reality spilled over into my very own.

Max Payne: Beautiful Noir World

…made me feel like even the darkest of times can feel a little less gloomy if you look at them through the nuanced prism of a noir world.

Max Payne was my first encounter with the beautiful darkness of the noir universe. Until then, I thought the criminal/action genre, be it in games, movies, or any other kinds of stories, was reserved to wild shooting sprees or complicated conspiracies. Sure, Max Payne offered both by the dozens, but they were all interlaced with poignant threads of melancholic poetry and bad-ass inner monologues which made Max a somewhat unlikely role model.

He taught me a man can have class even in the face danger or tragedy, in fact, that’s when it truly counts. He showed me you can find yourself right in the eye of the monster, lose everything, and still come out of the chaos with some sense of humanity intact. Max Payne made me feel like even the darkest of times can feel a little less gloomy if you look at them through the nuanced prism of a noir world.

Even now, watching videos from the games evokes more than just nostalgia. It’s just a timeless piece of storytelling, one which even the most pixelated graphics can’t take away from. And being that most of the narrative unfolds on the imaginary pages of a graphic novel, the rough quality looks almost intentional, as if this is just the dour view from Max Payne’s eyes.

Mafia 1: Honor Among Thieves

…our teacher of the subjects we didn’t learn in school, like values, the complexity of friendship, balance, and most of all – honor among thieves.

I remember a time when the main topic of conversation between all my classmates was Mafia 1. The game came out just on time to become our teacher of the subjects we didn’t learn in school, like values, the complexity of friendship, balance, and most of all – honor among thieves.

Like Angelo, the protagonist who narrates the whole story, says at the very end of the very last video:

“And it ain’t as simple as they tell you in grade school. But it is good to have strong values and to maintain them in marriage, in crime, in war… always and everywhere. “

“You know, I think it’s important to keep a balance in things. Yeah, balance, that’s the right word. Because the guy who wants too much risks losing absolutely everything. Of course, the guy who wants too little might not get anything at all.”

No matter how many years pass, this will always be one of the coolest video game endings ever.

Prince of Persia: Fate And Time

…it sparked the sense of wonder and curiosity to view the big ideas in life as flexible, open questions rather than fixed, narrow concepts.

The Prince of Persia trilogy challenged my understanding of time and fate through extremely imaginative scenarios with a distinctive historical feel. The story explores these themes in great detail and depth which is within both adults’ and adolescents’ reach. Prince of Persia not only expanded my perception of these universal matters, but more importantly, it sparked the sense of wonder and curiosity to view the big ideas in life as flexible, open questions rather than fixed, narrow concepts.

The Prince’s final words in the last video of the trilogy say it all:

“Most people think time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction, but I have seen the face of time, and I can tell you they are wrong. Time is an ocean in a storm. You may wonder who I really am and why I say this. Come, and I will tell you a tale like none you have ever heard.”

Video games for me have been the gateway to art altogether. Their fun nature introduced me to the best kind of stories – those that don’t demand attention, but seamlessly take it over like a dream, one you can be lucid in or just sleep right through. Sure, you can skip the videos and run through the missions not knowing your character’s motivation, just like some people watch movies and their phone simultaneously, but it often says more about the gamer rather than the game.

In my experience, some video games are filled with more truth and quality prose than books. Some look prettier than paintings, some have cinematography too wild even for the most visionary film directors to envision, and some are interlaced with music and effects in a way that presents sound on a whole new dimension.

Dismissing video games as a wasteful leisure is basically like dismissing art altogether. Because video games, at their best, are a beautiful amalgamation of storytelling, cinematography, music, and entertainment which makes for an immersive learning experience and an art form like none other.

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