I was at the YMCA at swimming lessons sometime before I turned 6. My gaming obsession, at the time, was a gold-boxed N64 game that my mother bought me on its release day: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I hadn’t ever swam before — it was my first week at lessons — at least not in real life. But I’d spent the past three months obsessing over Ocarina of Time and that entailed a lot of swimming in-game. You got this, Griffin, I thought to myself, and to everyone’s abject horror, dove straight into the deep end of the pool.
Luckily I didn’t drown, as evidenced by my typing this. Swimming, as it turned out, was just about as easy as it was in game. My form was weird; I don’t think anyone in real life swims like Young Link does in the 3D Zelda titles, but his method worked. I was, to my instructor’s relief, still alive thanks to Link’s unorthodox methods.
I think most people have had similar — maybe less extreme — experiences in regards to games. For many, Video Games serve as a different reality to interface with. It’s hard to remember that sometimes the skills we utilize in games don’t always cross over with the real world. That is to say if someone were to ask me if I knew how to shoot a bow I’d be lying if I said I didn’t — Videogames have, for the most part, taught me how bows work. I’m not sure I’d be the best shot, or that I wouldn’t give myself a welt from the string’s snap, but I know how bows work because of their function in the various games I’ve played with them. If not for Ocarina of Time I probably would never have taken Archery in high school, or fenced while in University. There were hurdles to cross while learning, but I still, in the back of my mind, feel the Ocarina of Time bow controls while I’m holding a real bow in my hand. It’s a kind of Synesthetic gamefeel, and I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had similar experiences.
In a way, these sorts of experiences serve to validate the time we invest into playing games. I don’t think it’d be honest to tell someone I’ve never killed an elf or gone on an adventure due to this. Sure, the real-world equivalent may not be exactly the same experience as the one I played in the game, but for the most part games tend to channel similar feelings when compared to “the real thing”. I don’t think any of my experiences in games are artificial or knock-offs. Rather, I think of them as practice for real life.
Of course, this ocassionally leads to awkward situations where my synesthetic gamefeel doesn’t match up with the real world circumstances I find myself in. Sometimes, after a long night of playing Tetris or Dance Dance Revolution, I’m caught offguard at the sight of falling blocks when I close my eyes. After a hard day of JRPG grinding and fetch-quest returning, I walk up to someone and feel my finger twitch as if it were pressing the X button to initiate dialogue. Sometimes when I go to scoot back in my chair, I pinch my thumb against my middle finger, miming a wavedash motion from Melee. It always takes me off guard, but I find myself laughing in my own head about the situation after it happens.
Gamefeel is a strange and arcane thing.