Age of Empires and maturity

"Age of Empires Town Center" | Art by JonasJensenArt. Used with permission.
There are certain types of video games that I would encourage parents to let their young children play. I understand the controversy about whether video games influence children in a positive or negative way, and I openly agree that intensely violent or disturbing games should be off-limits to underage gamers. But I also argue that some genres are beneficial to play, and real-time strategy (or RTS, if you will) is one of them.

Age of Empires is one of the most successful RTS franchises. Playing Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings—recently re-released in 2013 with updated graphics based on the original 1999 version—brings back childhood memories. And what I remember most is being unspeakably terrible at it. When I played a game the other day, however, I won the match in flying colours.

How had I so improved without practice?

Oddly enough, I think it’s because I became a very different person after I moved out of my parents’ house. Making poor, short-term decisions no longer appeals to me, and that seems to have translated into my gameplay. To excel at Age of Empires, you need to master multi-tasking and making smart, long-term decisions for the future of the army and the civilization you are building.

I can still feel proud of those little achievements I succeeded at.

These strategies can easily translate into real life. When I start putting money into a savings account, it grows slowly over the years until it meets a certain goal—perhaps enough money for a car, a down-payment on a house, or… I don’t know… an unopened copy of E.T. for Atari 2600.

This idea of investing is paralleled at the very beginning of playing Age of Empires, where you deploy workers in gold mines, forests, and farms to begin your economy. If you fail to harvest a certain material, your chances of success later on will be incredibly slim. Early investments grow exponentially, just like in the parable of the talents told by Matthew, where several servants please their master by multiplying their talents and one displeases him by burying it in the ground and doing nothing with it (Matthew 25:14-30).

Age of Empires also has other life lessons to teach, like communication and cooperation. Life isn’t a solo activity, and neither are RTS games. In the context of countless LAN parties I attended as a kid, I was continuously encouraged to work alongside and communicate well with my teammates. So if one player’s nation has harvested a large quantity of lumber, and an allied player has instead focused on harvesting stone, they can pool their resources together and be at a much greater combined advantage.

I may not have been able to multi-task as well as my teammates, but I value the lessons they taught me.

Life isn’t a solo activity, and neither are RTS games.

On a grand scale, each individual human being will choose their own personalized way to live their life, and similarly, each RTS player will choose their own way to play each match.

Win or lose, there are small achievements to be proud of in Age of Empires: largest army, most advanced civilization, most resources harvested, etc. Even if, by the end of a match, my strongest heroes have been slain and I sit watching an enemy nation burn my castles to the ground, I can still feel proud of those little achievements I succeeded at.

Winning or losing is a matter of perspective in life. There are no points being tallied for or against me, unlike in Age of Empires. I have the freedom to choose where to focus my attention and mind my joy, and RTS games give me a brief glimpse of the satisfaction that comes from that freedom.

Perhaps I wasn’t ready for the long-term decision making skills that Age of Empires was trying to teach me when I first started playing, but it got me thinking about it, and now when I go back and play I can see how much I’ve grown.

Mark Barron

Mark Barron

Guest Writer at Area of Effect
Mark Barron is a carbon-based humanoid life form recently discovered in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Scientists have confirmed that he responds positively to anime and video games.
Mark Barron

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