A new platform for self-expression

By Priten Vora When people think of mediums for self-expression, video games are unlikely to come to mind. However, as Priten Vora explains, video games are unique in their ability to provide opportunities for both the creator and the audience to express themselves. The act of making a character and guiding it through a series of challenges and choices requires a lot of creativity. Rather than isolating Vora from the real world, video games provided a means for him to connect with other people, relieve social anxiety, and gain a sense of agency over his life. 

Ever since I was a really young kid, I’ve loved video games. I can’t even estimate how many hours I spent trying to beat the stampede level of the Lion King game or trying to perfectly execute certain Super Mario jumps. From a very early age, games to me were the equivalent of films and books: a whole new world to escape into, explore, and create stories in. They’ve been there for me in times when very little else was, and from early on, I knew I wanted to go into the game industry and help create things that would give those experiences to other people.

Games are a really unique medium in that both the creators and the audience are able to express themselves through the same work. You can tell a lot about a person from how they play through a game. What dialog choices do they choose? Do they wait in ambush for a group of enemies to come around the corner, or do they charge in headfirst? Do they hit “Continue” after failing something and try again? These tiny choices can reveal a lot about how a person thinks and feels. From the game developer’s perspective, there’s also a lot of stuff to dissect too. The incredibly dark humor of Portal, the exploration of Ayn Rand’s ideologies in Bioshock, or even the way a Mario level is constructed are all forms of expression by their creators.

Whether I’m playing a game or making one, I always try to put as much of myself into it as possible. When faced with a choice, I choose the option I would likely use if I were actually the in-­game character. When creating a level, my first instinct is to try and make something that would give the player a sense of accomplishment at beating it but also a bit of wonder as to what could be next, because that was what kept me so engaged when I was growing up with games. It has gotten to a point where I relate my playstyle in Super Smash Bros. to things in life that would seem entirely unrelated to any sane human being. Feeling overwhelmed? It’s like being pressured in your shield by a Falco player. Giving it your all, even for long shots? To me, that’s like being a Captain Falcon player and regularly leaping way off the playing field to try to extend a combo or secure a kill in the most stylish way possible. I see my gaming playstyle in how I handle many situations in real life, and my worldview and beliefs reflected in the choices I make in games. I have messed up a dialog choice and cried because it caused a game character to commit suicide, and I take the utmost care to try and make sure none of my Pokémon ever faint in a playthrough. If I owned pets, I’d make sure they were always healthy, too, and trying desperately to keep a depressed, suicidal friend from going overboard is a situation I’ve been in more times than I’d like. So when I play a game, the actions of my character are most often an extension of myself.

It may be hard for some to comprehend how playing and making video games can be forms of self expression, but I honestly believe that doing both of these things has made me into a better person. Games have been there for me as an emotional escape in times when I needed them, made me challenge myself in mind and body, and given me a greater sense of agency over my life in general. I used to be incredibly shy in social situations, but being around fellow Smash players in tournaments and such helped me overcome some of those insecurities and start making friends, many of whom remain great friends to me to this day. Games like Portal have drilled it into me to keep thinking outside the box and try wacky, crazy ideas to see what comes out of it, which probably accounts for some of the more interesting and ridiculous game mechanics I come up with sometimes. In many ways, I learned how to express myself through games before I fully learned how to express myself in everyday life, though I’ve thankfully been able to translate that over since then. It probably seems utterly ridiculous, but looking back, I’m a much healthier and more well rounded person because of it. I’m now able to think through situations more calmly and consider unorthodox options, have a way of relieving stress when necessary, am less nervous and shy in situations where I previously would have frozen up, and have been left wanting to ensure that other people can enjoy the same types of leisures in their lives.