I’ve been asked more than once why I choose to write about video games. ‘Surely there are more productive things you could be doing with your life?’ Outside of the gaming community it’s clear that there are still people who see gaming solely as a childish and time-wasting activity and people have something of a disregard for people who invest as much time and energy into entertainment as I do.
My first statement would have to simply be this: So what? We all spend most of our adult lives searching for things that make us feel like children again, to have fun in our leisure time and escape the less glamorous necessities of our lives. In my current position I am fortunate enough to spend an above-average amount of time interacting with these ‘fun’ parts of entertainment for the purpose of writing and journalism – and that’s something I truly enjoy and am (hopefully) somewhat good at. Is this not something most people strive towards?
There have been many times when I’ve asked myself the question: do video games matter? Are they just a frivolous pursuit that is a detriment to a person’s life experience or is there more to them? My resounding answer would of course be that video games matter a hell of a lot. Games are stories, they’re adventures and they’re journeys, both figuratively and literally. From the developers pouring years of their lives into creating interactive experiences to the player consuming the final product, they benefit and enrich the lives of everyone involved.
Personally, I see video games as I’ve always seen books, theatre and movies. The good ones can be unbelievably rewarding and fulfilling experiences. They can teach you about the world and about yourself. They can move you and open you up to new ideas or challenge your skills, inspiring you to seek out new knowledge or to create things yourself. They can also just simply be fun, light-hearted stress relief, which is as important as anything in a world that is inarguably full of stressful situations. In this case games can be seen as something of a waste of time, as that is precisely the point of such games.
Gamers, think of all the unique experiences you’ve been afforded through games. You can do things in games that are impossible in real life, and why wouldn’t you want to?! You can command armies in Ancient Rome or Feudal Japan, explore space and meet alien races or build property empires on present-day earth. You can be a hero or a villain. You can release your anger in non-consequential violence or revel in your happiness with cute and fluffy creatures. You can control super heroes or detectives, animals or everyday people, and in each case see things from a different perspective, learning to empathise with and understand others. You can solve disputes or create them, you can exercise your brain by solving mysteries and puzzles or simply float on the breeze as a bunch of flower petals. And that’s all just the tip of the iceberg.
In fact there is so much creativity within gaming that it’s impossible to ever play and watch everything. This is quite sad on the one hand, but on the other it’s a testament to the freedom, imagination and artistry that can be achieved thanks to what some still unfortunately see as a throwaway ‘kids-or-manchildren-only’ pursuit. Games are capable of storytelling, artwork and music to rival any other creative medium and their versatility is one of their greatest assets. And even beyond this games can create communities, educate and promote solidarity.
Even at my young inexperienced age, I’ve learned that there are so many paths to take through this world, and none is perfect. There’s also so much crap, so much suffering and misery that every human being faces on some level. So if you find something that you enjoy, bloody go for it. In the words of the great Simon Pegg, ‘emote on a childish level’ about stuff you like, whether that’s video games or football. If some close-minded people think you immature for that then those aren’t people worth interacting with.
Remember all of those positive things and don’t let them go. Don’t feel bad about enjoying something because certain people disapprove. How can you not want to engage with those mediums when they engage with you so much? All the stories you’ve encountered. All the lessons you’ve learned. All the heroes and role models you’ve come to know. It doesn’t matter whether they’re fictional: they inspire, they give hope and they provide the drive to go on.
To put it at its simplest, games are interactive stories. Not liking stories is like not liking music or food. These are things that connect to humans on a primal and intrinsically personal level. Of course not every story or piece of music relates to every person; people are different, and going into the factors behind that would require a series of books on biology, psychology, sociology, history, philosophy and all manner of topics. But most people can say they love some food, some music and some stories. To dismiss a medium with a single negative blanket statement is as foolish as can be.
To those haters: if you don’t understand the draw, I can’t make you. You have every right to continue to see gaming as purely childish, immature and frivolous. But at least be honest with yourselves and know that you undoubtedly partake in activities that can equally waste time from certain perspectives, be it going out drinking, playing sports or even walking in the mountains. In each case, there are likely some beneficial, worthwhile aspects whilst many people do each of the above as an escape from day-to-day reality. If you never appreciate the particular hobby of gaming, at least don’t automatically write off a gamer or a person who does understand and appreciate the medium as somehow lesser to you.
Video games matter. They matter simply if you want them to on one hand. And they also matter to wider society: they address, influence and become a part of cultural consciousness and deal with many larger issues that a lot of people would consider more ‘important’ than the games themselves. They are a logical next step for human art and entertainment, and deserve their place and their prominence alongside other mediums.
Playing and writing about video games is a big and enriching part of my life; it doesn’t stop me from having one.
Do video games matter to you? Let us know why in the comments below!