April 4th, 2007

Why I’m A Gamer

I’ve been playing videogames longer than some of you have been alive. While that seems to lend itself to a “and I walked uphill in the snow five miles there and back” narrative, that’s not necessarily what I’m getting at. It’s more to set in your mind the thought that I like to play videogames, enough that I’ve been doing it for a long, long time.While I don’t remember the first game I ever played (my earliest gaming memories are of a Pole Position standup arcade unit at the local Dairy Queen and Pac-Man on a friend’s Atari 2600), I do know that from the outset I heard a refrain from others that would become familiar over the years:

“Why do you play those games?”

More often than not, that’s followed up with

“They’re such a waste of time.”

While I won’t claim the task of speaking for all gamers everywhere, I’d like to set forth my reasons for playing.

* * * * *

Great games tell great stories. Some are heartbreaking, some are intriguing, some are hilarious… and some are dumb. Just like any other storytelling medium, there are ups and downs. While the basic mechanics of a game might be “move this box” and “climb this chain,” there’s a narrative running throughout the actions, a “why” to the actions. I become invested in the characters and want to know how things are going to work out for them and what will happen. It’s like watching a movie, only I have some input as to how the movie turns out, and the movie might be 10-20 hours long. (In fact, some games are even longer – I put at least 83 hours into Final Fantasy VII back in the day.) Games can be sad, scary, and funny, and often the story of the game is more important to me than the playing. There’ve been many times I’ve used a walkthrough (a guide that tells you exactly what to do to advance the game), just so I could see the story and not have to worry about trying to figure out what to do next.


Just as you might watch A Walk to Remember alone but you’d watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail in a group, there are games meant to be played alone and there are games meant to be played with others. Getting a few people together for the express purpose of playing games can be a great time for bonding and getting to know each other. I used to hold 5-player GoldenEye sessions, where the winner of a 4-person round would sit out and let the next player in. Now I occasionally have a few people over to play Guitar Hero. While some are playing, the others are talking, and good old-fashioned friendship ensues. The advent of the newer systems’ abilities to be online means that I can play with or against people from all over the world, or even just talk to them while we’re playing separate games. Even single player games lend themselves to working together – figuring out what to do next can be a lot easier with someone else’s different perspective on the problem. Frankly, that leads right into the next reason…

Life Lessons

It’s common to hear phrases like “mind-numbing” or “rot your brain” when people talk about how bad videogames are for people. I see them differently, and feel there’s a lot people can learn from games:

  1. Persistence – Many times there are puzzles in games that require a certain set of actions to be done in a certain order, and it can be difficult to accomplish the actions on the first try. Sometimes it can be difficult to accomplish these things on the 7th, 13th, or 20th try! Fast mechanical actions are the biggest challenge for me, and sticking with it to get it done is a good reminder to me.
  2. Problem solving – Sure, most things that need to be solved in a videogame don’t have much bearing in real life – I mean, it’s not often that you need to find a red gem from an ancient statue so that you can open a box that has the magic feather you need to open the door to your kitchen, after all. But the idea that problems have solutions is a solid one. Issues can be worked out.
  3. Creativity – as technology has advanced, so has the ability for games to offer multiple solutions to a given problem. “Sandbox games” (defined as “games that let you interact with the whole game world rather than limit you to specific areas at a time”) are very popular, and YouTube is full of videos of
    people doing crazy things in-game that the gamemakers never intended. See that building way off in the distance that looks unreachable? Let’s find a way to get to it! Sure, the creativity is still limited to the confines of the game, but it’s still an important skill to cultivate.
  4. Learning to work in a system – Have a job? There are specific ways you have to do things, right? TPS Reports must have a cover sheet, taxes have to be filed, and procedures must be followed. While “thinking outside the box” is encouraged and better solutions are generally welcome, there will always be rules a person needs to follow. A videogame gives the player specific abilities and a specific world where those abilities can be used, and it’s up to the player to determine how best to use those abilities in the confines of the game world.
  5. Team-building & Organization – As I’ve already mentioned, working on a solution to a presented problem with someone else can make all the difference. I might only see the ledge and a switch, but someone else might notice that the animal carcass is movable and can be placed on the switch. Guild leaders in games like World of Warcraft spend hours organizing people from all over the country to accomplish tasks that sometimes require 40 people – imagine trying to do that! Granted, I’m not interested in doing organization on a scale as grand as that, but making plans of attack for two-player games can still teach planning and organization.
Personal Accomplishment

There is a definite sense of satisfaction I get from beating a game or a level in a game – whether it’s winning the Super Bowl in a football game, clearing a pyramid in Q*Bert, or defeating the ancient mystical being that’s been causing problems the whole game. Finishing a task is a good feeling. The Xbox 360 builds on this aspect, as each game allows a person to earn “gamerpoints.” The points do nothing more than indicate the gamer has accomplished certain in-game feats, but ask anyone who owns a 360 and they’ll tell you: when that “Achievement Unlocked” notification comes up, so does the “Aw right!” in the brain.

Vicarious Living

Videogames let me experience things I would never get to (or, in some cases, never choose to) do. While I could probably ride a snowmobile in real life, I wouldn’t feel safe, and I sure would never get the chance to ride one through an active volcano or jump it over a helicopter. I’d get debilitatingly claustrophobic in a mummy’s tomb. There’s no way in the world I’d jump on alligator heads to cross a stream. If someone gave me the opportunity to drive a Dodge Viper, I’d be too nervous to drive the speed limit, much less crank it all the way up, and I sure wouldn’t smack it into other cars. In videogames, I can do all those things and get to experience a little picture of what it would be like.


There are so many things in life I don’t have control over: how people react to me, how other people drive, what birds flying overhead are going to do – all that. With a game, my onscreen avatar does what I tell it to do, no more, no less. The old computer term “GIGO” still applies: “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” I determine what happens, and when I no longer want to play, I shut the system down. I am the boss of what happens, and that’s nice to feel every once in a while. (Of course, if I’m no good at a particular game, that’s also my fault, so it’s a double-edged sword…)


Last, but not least, videogames are fun. For me, they’re fun for a combination of the reasons I’ve given here. If a game isn’t fun, I don’t keep playing it (unless I’m reviewing it…). My 360 tells me I’ve played 63 games on it, but it also tells me that I haven’t achieved any gamerpoints on 19 of those games, which means I didn’t enjoy those games enough to keep playing them.

* * * * *
Can all of these things be experienced in other avenues? Sure. That’s not my point. I wanted to explain why it is that I play games. And, yes, I also know that playing too much is a bad idea – just like most things that aren’t bad by themselves can be bad when not done in moderation. Eating is good, but eating too much is bad. Sleeping is good, but sleeping too much is bad. There needs to be balance. I do not play videogames to the exclusion of everything else – I read, I spend time with friends, I write, I philosophize, I watch movies – really, I do a lot of things. If I’m not careful, I can let any one of those things get out of hand, and I sometimes do.I know that this manifesto won’t change anyone’s opinions on the matter, and that’s fine. I personally think that spending money to fertilize and water a lawn so that you can spend more money to cut it later is ridiculous, but if that’s what you like to do, go ahead and do it. I might even help you do it once in a great while, but it’s never going to be something I choose to do on my own. Your love of doing it won’t affect me one iota, so it’s easy for me to understand that my love of gaming won’t change your opinions on gaming at all.

We can agree to disagree and still be grand friends. I believe that in all sincerity.

15 Comments on “Why I’m A Gamer”

  1. M. Kate says:

    Idols – pick your own poison. I have a cabinet full and if. And if you think you don't you've just found yours. *sigh*

  2. daniel says:


    Can we publish this on the site? This is awesome.

  3. the obscure says:

    These are the exact same reasons I read ancient philosophy texts. Cool!

  4. kat says:

    Things that occur to me …

    1. How much do I love the obscure!

    2. Storytelling – remember that weird Japanese one with the wispy ghost girl that kept running away and crying?

    3. I'd watch A Walk To Remember with you ANYTIME! You KNOW how I feel about NS!

    4. I wish I had this handy list of life lessons to give you gentle reminders when you were playing Cars.

    5. Vicarious Living … I find this PARTICULARLY interesting since you like to make chick characters for yourself.

    6. Thank you for not outing me, Monkey!

  5. kat says:

    Oh yeah … AND …

    7. There is NO SUCH THING as too much sleep!

  6. M. Kate says:

    In the event readers might wonder on which side of this multi-faceted fance I'm standing…it was my intent upon agreement – we all have things in our lives that can take the place of that which is most important – as the author stated balance is key. Note to self: Let's remove my speck before tackling the neightbors log. Eh?

  7. kat says:

    Honestly, M. Kate, your second comment makes less sense to me than your first one.

  8. G-Knee says:

    "We can agree to disagree and still be grand friends. I believe that in all sincerity."

    I suppose.

  9. M. Kate says:

    Sorry about that Kat. I'd be glad to explain it to you sometime in a form other than "byte vibes." I'm kinda bad about "church speak," I really don't mean to be confusing.

    It doesn't help the "ease of comprehension factor" that I was typing both comments on my blackberry. So please forgive my inability to spell or compose a sentence (well I can't blame those two faults entirely on the blackberry, but I will this time)"fance" should be "fence," along with a variety of other more easily recogonizable errors.

    You coming to the Passion Play this weekend? I hear it's the hottest free ticket in town. :)

  10. Kenthe2 says:

    "They're such a waste of time."

    Why is it that people who say that often spend plenty of time watching TV? Which is the greater waste?

    At least with a video game, my mind can be much more engaged.

  11. Greg says:

    Serious high fives from a "functional" gamer. I always say it that way because I actually attempted to step away from the gaming world during college.

    About that same time, I started working with teens. It is so much easier to level with them when you have a common ground. The common ground which fit me best was gaming. Now I am fully immersed again and it helps me to break the age barrier.

    Oh, and 83 hours in ff7, cannot be bad compared to the no less than 250 that I have put into it in the last 3-5 years!

  12. Josh says:

    The last three reasons aren't compelling to me. They seem neutral at best, wide-open to abuse at worst. Consider:

    1.) Vicarious living allows me to escape from the real life God has given me today, with all its stewardships.

    2.) Control allows ME to be God for a while. We certainly aren't in control of the real world, but God is. He ordains everything that happens. He has already planned "how people react to me, how other people drive, what birds flying overhead are going to do – all that." All things are from him, and we can bring him glory by responding correctly to the good and bad things he graciously gives us.

    3.) Fun allows me to look forward to my latest video game as a refuge, a place to chill at the end of the day; whereas the Lord has promised to be a strong tower and a refuge for me. Sitting down to read the Bible and spend extended time in prayer to God may not sound like fun at the end of a stressful day, but it ends up being something more than fun. He will minister to me in those moments – encourage and rejuvenate and give perspective, correction, and grace.

    I'm not suggesting there isn't a place for gaming – or other forms of entertainment – in the life of a Christian. I'm also not suggesting I don't have a similar potential vice to watch out for – I certainly do. I am saying that we have to pray for wisdom and be constantly allowing the Lord through his word to order our priorities and give us right affections. We were made for fellowship with him. God forgive us for making various forms of entertainment into objects we worship, adore, praise, and convert others to.

  13. kat says:

    **Cue Kat to exit stage left**

  14. SpirituallyStarving says:

    As Commander Taggart of Galaxy Quest says "Never give up, never surrender!"

    I tried to give up gaming, and I would agree with Josh that it could threaten to take control of my life. But it doesn't have to. Finding a balance is key … moderation and all that stuff :-)

    Now in my "old age" I find that I only want to game online with friends that I have known for years, single player games are fun but their lure is quickly fading between the joy I find in my children's lives. Then again I bought a Nintendo Wii and my son and I are now connecting on a totally different level. :)

  15. Gretchen says:

    Hmmmmmmm. . .

    Not sure I have anything to say that has not already been said. I cannot begin to imagine enjoying video games — I'd never choose that form of entertainment, so that might discredit my input. I only ever play games to bond with kids or relatives. And I really rot at all of them, so I'm not usually persuaded to do so much!

    I guess I would agree with you about the balance. That's great if you think that you indeed HAVE found a balance. It may be a bit out of bounds to compare video games with food and sleep, simply because you NEED those things to live. It would be more out of balance to have too LITTLE sleep or food, whereas if you err on the side of too LITTLE video games, you're probably going to be just fine!

    I guess it's a matter of laying your time out before the Lord and telling Him He has sovereign say over all you do . . . and anything He asks you to give up, you do so freely, happily, in fact. Because He is your Light and Salvation. The Glory and the Lifter of your head.

    But there is FREEDOM in Him. Wonderful freedom where you don't have to constantly guilt yourself. But abide in grace, knowing His Holy Spirit will convict your spirit if you remain sensitive.

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