Can videogames cure cancer?

No, no they can’t. The title I had in mind was too long so I figured, why not? If quacks like homeopaths can claim to, why can’t I at least ask if videogames can?

This post is about videogames and gaming, what it means to me, how it’s helped me throughout my life and with my cancer, the chemotherapy treatment, and all those years afterwards when I was suffering from late effects, fatigue or depression. Games are a big part of my life, not only because they help me cope but because gaming taught me English, amongst other things.

This is a long post, but believe it or not, it is in a compressed format. I’ve divided the parts in to pre- and post-cancer gaming.

When you get depressed, you stop doing the things that you love. I didn’t quite realize it until I started to have issues sleeping – not because of the backpains but because of something else…

Gaming – pre-cancer

We got our first computer when I was about six or seven so the year must have been around ‘95 – it cost 20,000 SEK ($2767) at the time. It had I believe 8MB RAM – that’s 1/1000th of what’s recommended today – ideally you should get 16,000MB (16GB) but 8000MB (8GB) works fine. Sure, you can get by with four, but now you’re pushing it.

On this computer, me and my brother played a game called Red Alert – it’s an RTS, or “real-time strategy”-game, meaning there are no turns like in chess – you can move your units move freely at any time. Yes, we played a wargame when we were seven – we even learned the meaning of the word “civilian”. Other things we did that was age inappropriate was to watch South Park and the X-Files. When I watched some episodes of the X-files, I couldn’t even leave the bed until the presenter’s voice came on and started talking about the next show coming up.

We got a couple of Game Boys when we were around the same age, which at the time were incredibly cheap; cheap enough for me and my brother to each have our own one. For those who remember, they weren’t the best pieces of gaming hardware. A portable console is something you’d likely use on a long car ride, on a plane, a boat, when out camping or you’re on vacation. This meant that we usually couldn’t play the games when we wanted to do, since the screens weren’t backlit.

We had a NES for many years – I mainly remember playing Mario, but we did have some strange monster truck game as well. We had Zelda also, but I never got into that game. We’d play it Mario for hours, though. We got a Sega too, a Sega Mega Drive I believe (Sega Genesis in NA). I can’t remember us playing any other game than Sonic the Hedgehog on that one.

As we grew older, we got more and more into gaming. We got a Nintendo 64 – which year have slipped my mind, but it was probably ’99 or ’00. We played Zelda, the Ocarina of Time, me and my brother. Or rather, he played and I watched – I preferred to enjoy the story, and the music – music which still bring back happy memories. We purchased Goldeneye 007, a James Bond game to our N64 and I played it with some friends frequently – the game was pretty awful though but at the time it was all we had with multiplayer and 60$ for a kid is a lot of money… Mariocart was a good addition however – a great game to play both solo and with friends. I never enjoyed Zelda, Majora’s Mask, not even when it was rebooted on the Nintendo 3DS, although I did get farther before I gave up on the 3DS than I did on N64. I still loved Ocarina of Time on the 3DS, however. I use its music as a ringtone for my phone.

As me and my brother got older still, and we eventually got our own computers – we wanted to have LAN-parties and borrowing my half-brother’s computer every time wasn’t going to work. We did have to pay for half of the computer ourselves though. To have LAN-parties, you need a network, and for a network, you need a switch or a hub. Switches were, at the time, expensive. We went in on a hub together, dividing the cost. I believe it had 20 ports for 400 SEK ($44). The main problem with hubs is that they’re not intelligent – when one computer sends a message to another one, it sends the message to every port, but only the port and computer the message was intended for processed the message. Regardless, what it meant was that as soon as someone copied anything over the network, the entire network crumbled and everyone started yelling because the games froze.

We played a lot of Grand Theft Auto 2 on those parties – then we moved over to CS, then later on we played Command & Conquer. Once we got broadband at my mom’s place, it was CS all around. I still lived with my father every other week though, and we didn’t even have 64k dial-up. We had LAN-parties though, often. They were all offline as well – it’s a special feeling playing with or against

Picture of me in 2003 at a LAN.
Me on LAN, summer of 2003, I believe.

your friends like that. Back then, we usually played for 24+ hours straight until we couldn’t keep ourselves awake. We never used any energy drinks though.

 

This tradition still goes on – though we’re fewer in numbers and we do have access to the internet now – and we’re not doing any 24-hour marathons now. I fear WWF will soon list us as “near extinct” if something doesn’t change.

Gaming post-cancer

When I got cancer, LAN-parties were generally out of the question, although I went to one at school and I might have had one or two myself. Even regular games took too much energy and focus at the hospital – every room had a TV and a PS2 but I was too tired, in too much pain and depressed to use it. I usually watched TV at the hospital – regardless of what you think of videogames, it requires energy to play them – for a healthy person this isn’t an issue but for me, it is. At home, I played Star Kingdoms, a text-based online role-playing gaming. There’s no graphics – you have an interface where you can see the number of units – as numbers, nothing else. You can see resources and other valuable information. That’s one part of the game – building your own kingdom, becoming powerful and dominating, attacking other kingdoms without fear of retaliation. However, there are (or used to be) thousands of opponents doing the same thing. On top of this, you’re thrown in to what’s called a “Sector” with 19 other random kingdoms – that you cannot move away from.

Then there are Alliances – an alliance could take in either 20 or 40 Sectors. This game was a lot about politics – it played out on a forum, or several in fact as alliances tend to have their own forum – remember, 20 kingdoms forced into the same sector; not everyone will want the same thing and voila, you have a spy – or several in the alliance. When doing more targeted attacks we used chatrooms.

There was a high score after each round, showing which kingdom were the most powerful, or the largest, but getting there required skill, patience and allies, lots of allies. Sadly, many cheated their way to the top as well – it’s part of the reason why the game essentially died out. I was highly active in this game though, active in an alliance called Fenris. I acted as an officer, war leader and at one point vice alliance leader. It meant resolving issues between kingdoms (which are players) to avoid war, and to be active when war broke out and organize largescale, focused attacks. It took a lot of reading and a lot of typing, not to mention planning and strategy. This alliance was organized as well – we had backups of the in-game forums in our forums – we simply copy/pasted the thread, used an Excel-macro to remove unnecessary data and backed it up.  I did it all from my computer – I didn’t have a laptop at this time so I couldn’t play when I was hospitalized. I really wish I did have one though because every time I went to the hospital, I fell farther behind. I made many friends, but I only have contact with one of them today, name Sue. Thanks to gaming, I know people in the UK, from Belgium and Canada. The only time I played games at the hospital was when I got the acute pancreatitis – my mom bought me a Game Boy Advanced together with several games, one of which being Pokémon – I played that game all the time that month at the hospital, and it continued for a while after as well.

As the treatment was over and I got better, I moved on to PC-gaming. World of Warcraft had been released and everyone was talking about it – I started playing it after my brother showed me a trailer – the part where the night elf transforms into a feline of some sort, got me hooked. Then I got bored but quickly came back to the game. I still hadn’t adapted socially at this stage though, and finding a guild was hard and my quirks caused some issues. Eventually, the issues were resolved and I played actively for a fairly long time in a guild called Lowar on Draenor, who had an alliance with SoY that we’d raid together with.

I even travelled to Belgium to meet the people I was playing with. I learned a lot from this experience: social skills, how to speak English, and I got even more practice at typing in English as well. I had lots of fun too, that goes without saying. I got close with another player, Psymeric/Rachael. We both had trouble sleeping often so we’d chat on Ventrilo. Sadly, some arguments lead to me leaving the guild, or if I was removed, I can’t recall. All I remember is that I was accused of levying false accusations against another guild member – he was intentionally disrupting raids using his hunter’s pet to start combat with enemies. I wasn’t entirely to blame for the ensuing drama, but I had a big part in it. I should have handled it better. Luckily, both guilds and the alliance survived, as far as I know. Me and those I still was friends with lost contact after we quit the game, but we’re on Facebook together at least.

After I took a break from World of Warcraft, I got a PS3. It was relatively old by this time, which was great because all the best games available had dropped in price significantly – I could buy a couple of dozen games for half their original price. I suppose this is where I stopped learning to type and talk in English, but I still had to listen and read – and I still read news, reviews and guides for games in English. Obviously, I switched back and forth between PS3- and PC-gaming but my passion to learn more English never faded. Apart from this, I also recorded videos of when we played and killed bosses – bosses being difficult enemies. This taught me about encoding videos and codecs and introduced me to Sony VEGAS video editing software. I did some avatars for my forum profile and I had to learn the basics of Photoshop.

I missed ¾ of 9th grade – elementary school provided me with the basic tools to communicate efficiently enough in English. Four years later I got a C in English in high school by doing an examination paper or a special exam – meaning I didn’t attend any classes, I just wrote a few papers and had an oral examination by means of a discussion with another student about certain topics. I never did stop learning though and when I went on to the more advanced English courses a few years later, I finally got my A’s I wanted.

Games require many things of you, depending on genre. What you learn depends on what game you play and how you play it – and if you’re interested in learning.

Picture of a full set of computer parts.
Almost like magic.
Picture of a computer.
Definitely magic.
Picture of my gaming set-up.
My PS4-rig. It’s hooked up to the PC too, though the wiring isn’t done yet.

I like playing “realistic” adventure games to see exotic places; it makes me feel like I’ve been there. I loved Assassin’s Creed because of the historical figures – that’s where I learned about the de’ Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici family in Italy. It’s referenced in the third part of the Hannibal Lecter movies, Red Dragon, 2002 (the first one was The Silence of the lambs, 1991). I loved the Uncharted-series because of the jungles, deserts and cities you travelled through, the treasures you hunted, the references to real, extinct tribes and their fictional treasures and curses. Red Dead Redemption is another game that falls under this same category – a rich story with character development and gorgeous landscapes, played out in the “wild west” in an open world. Obviously, The Last of Us has to mentioned here as well – character driven storytelling at its best without sacrificing gameplay. An honourable mention, to a game that helped me the summer of 2016 when I was too fatigued to do much – I played Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Excellent game, except for the in-game purchases.

 

Other games, such as the Batman-series, Infamous 1 and 2, Grand Theft Auto and countless others simply gives you the freedom to do things you can’t do yourselves without really teaching you anything tangible in terms of intellectual development, at least not more than your average movie would.

However, it does promote other things. Reaction times, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, creativity, planning, strategy and one thing many people continue to underestimate – digital literacy. Playing videogames requires you to learn a new program with new rules, novel ways of doing things and as such requires you to adapt.

There are similarities between games, just like there are similarities between programs. Most of the time, the tab named “View” will allow you to select what’s shown in the program – toolbars, icons, windows and so on. “Options” usually brings you “settings”. A cogwheel usually represents settings, whereas an eye represents view. That’s the basics of it, but digital literacy extends beyond this.

Moreover, videogames manage to teach the player rules, which are sometimes complex, in minutes. You can read What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, by Gee, James Paul. If that doesn’t persuade you that gaming can be beneficial, this really ought to.

Assassin's Creed IV - Black Flag
I’m organisized!
Picture of an index of my 60 PS3-games.
I accrued roughly 60 PS3-games over the years, organizing them was crucial.

I won’t diminish what my teacher’s efforts in teaching me, but when I took the second English course, my teacher told me that he’s got nothing left to teach me, except one thing and it’s incredibly crass and I apologize for that. “When you write, assume your readers are idiots”. I don’t think you are idiots nor do I assume that you are idiots.

What he meant was that you need to be clear who you’re talking about, or what you’re talking about or referring to. If you’re writing about “him” for too long, it might be a good idea to mention his name occasionally – if there’s more than two “him”, you better ought to go by name. If you’re talking about “it” for too long, or you keep changing “it-s”, you have to specify. If you place the subject too far away from the object, by adding a very long description about the subject, the reader will remember the description but forget it was about the subject and what he was doing, forcing the reader to read twice. (Grammar isn’t my strong suite, I go by feel, as such I may have used those two terms in reverse, or incorrectly.) This is why I try to avoid long parenthesis to describe things (they’re usually pointless anyway and could be added using commas in the text directly which is far better for the reader and less distracting and confusing to the reader, or even better, re-write the sentence entirely for a better flow of the text) because they derail the message.

Videogames have always been with me, it has helped me through many ordeals, before, during and after the chemotherapy treatment. I’m uncertain how I’d have dealt with all these things, if videogames didn’t exist. I may never have actually visited all the places I visited in the videogames, but in a way, it feels like I did. I would like to visit many of these places for real, one day – but videogames were good enough for me at the time, and continues to be, at least for now. I reckon I’ll always play games through – the day I’m too old to play games, is the day I’m too old for music, films and books.

Phoho of my game collection.
Front row.
Phoho of my game collection.
The folders where my game resides.
Picture of videogames
Games behind

 

Videogames have been pivotal in my education and life, as have the internet – it has helped me tremendously. It got me interested in IT and it’s what has been driving me to learn new things, programs, to build my own computer, run my own website, learn about SEO and so on. Still, the most important  factor are the experiences from the videogames, the characters you meet, the friends you make (when playing online only, hopefully) the landscapes you can gaze over, the locales you visit – the sun rising in Red Dead Redemption or the abandoned pirate city in Uncharted 4. It makes you forget about things for a while and allow you to be someone else, somewhere else, sometime else – at least for a while.

Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.