Why I’m A Gamer
“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…
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
We can agree to disagree and still be grand friends. I believe that in all sincerity.