Starting at a new work, a lot of questions come up… “where do you live?”, “what music do you like?”, “what do you do for fun?” and so on. Inevitably, my love of gaming doesn’t take long to crop up, especially when I work for a company that now manages licensed products for video games. Following that though, the questions that often crop up are “why do you game so much?”. I always laugh it off and explain about how I enjoy the challenge, the stories etc however I have never really sat and thought why I was actually drawn to it so much. I was prompted when Kotaku republished an old article Why I Play and it got me thinking about my motivations and how I came into the virtual world…
To begin with, reading the article it raises a lot of great points around stereotypes, the general reception to games from other generations and even the evolution of both the games and the stereotypes. It also read like a mid-life crisis (not that I haven’t written like that before) and the author (Keza MacDonald) seems to have had a different journey with different receptions to their hobby. My parents, although reluctant and ignorant to the games, didn’t particularity hinder my experiences with gaming and even got me some of my consoles like the PS1 and Gameboy Colour (along with my coveted Pokemon Blue). I also remember the times I would visit my dad in Scotland and we would play World of Warcraft (vanilla of course) so there was never the real mockery to the scale other people have had. Ignorance yes, but not mockery really. So for me, I have been playing games a long time and a lot of my fond memories have come from gaming, from play Pandemonium and Croc on my fancy little PS1 to playing the original Pokemon Sapphire on my friends DS. It has always been something I do and have done so it has been ingrained in me from an early age. But as I reflected, I didn’t think this was the only reason.
I can be sociable in my boxers in bed….
I mean all joking aside, nothing beats a long day at work than dressing down to whatever layer you wish and busting out some games online. But for me, gaming has always been a sociable affair. Many of the fond memories I have had have been taking my original Xbox around a mates, literally wiring them up and having 4 v 4 Halo 1 (you know the times you could snipe with the pistol). Sometimes I can be antisocial bastard, but when I am not, it’s great to not play alone. That rings true as much about today as it does now- sometimes yes I should go out now but in my life now of adult responsibilities and lower alcohol tolerance sometimes a 2 hour Overwatch session with my friends is better for me than 2 hours in the pub.
That said, the days of LAN parties aren’t dead yet, at least not to us. The last two years we have done 24 hour gameathons for Charity and raised around £1,600 across both years. It’s great to get friends together, play games and spend time together and do it all for a good cause.
I game, not necessarily to replace social interaction but to enhance it. It is easier to connect with people online in games no matter where they are. My brothers now have a PlayStation each and they are in Australia so now I am able to play Fortnite with them. Traditional interactions with them are a lot harder but now gaming has bridged that gap for me. I want to stress, gaming isn’t my social life, I am still partial to a night out and my belly is testament to that but sometimes a night in is better for the soul and wallet.
I hone my skills as a great warrior….
I jest, I don’t claim to be a great player but I’m good. And I often think that gaming benefits you IRL as well. In my opinion playing lots of RPGs allows you to manage a task list, FPS games helps sharpen your reflexes and reactions and even the most indecisive person has to make decisions on the fly online. There are numerous discussions about the pros and cons of gaming like above however there is one that is key for me. It helps with my stress and mental wellness.
There are times in my job that I feel I have no control and no influence over what I can do and all I can do is get swept along. I can feel powerless and bad at my job which gets my head in a bad place. Sometimes I am stressed and frustrated following a long day/week at work. Gaming has always been a way to escape that. Playing with friends online can really help me relax and rewind and focus my mind on something else. I feel more in control and that I am good at something as I play as I get feedback there and then and can see how well I do. This can be a double edged sword though. When I am playing well I feel all those doubts ebb away but if on these games I lose/get rage/get frustrated it can make my mood worse. But I have learnt what games to play now to avoid that. If I don’t want to risk the untethered rage from getting a loss in Ranked Overwatch, a session on Stardew Valley is a better choice.
Some people have argued that if gaming has this effect on me then it’s bad for me and I shouldn’t do it. I see the point and I disagree. I try to self reflect more and decide what mood I am in and what game is the right response. Because to me, games have that power. Sometimes you want to jump into Skyrim and blast everything with spells, sometimes you want to take on teams on Overwatch and other days you want to relax with a mellow game. Once you understand why you game, how you game and how you respond to it I really think that gaming can become a flexible and rewarding hobby. Mental health is undoubtedly linked to physical well-being and that is an area I am still lacking and looking to improve. However, the gaming aspects of my life help me in a similar way in my opinion.
This said, I also understand the alluring pull of gaming as a complete release and escape. Too many times it can be easy to sink days into a game without a second thought, forgoing social events and people for gaming. This is particularly easy to do when tied to strong emotional reasons for playing, such as sadness or rage. I’ve felt it, I’ve seen it and it would be irresponsible for me to sell gaming as a tool for helping balance your emotions when it can easily overwhelm them.
At this point (Thursday now) I have written and reread this blog 100s of times and there’s so much more I can say and talk about. Maybe I have done the topic or myself justice just yet but ultimately, the conclusion is the same for me. Gaming is a healthy outlet for me to express myself, enjoy immersive storys and take a break from external pressures. Some people use it differently; as a complete escape, as a tool to control emotions and some simply use it to be sociable and play games. Whatever the reasons, take the time to understand why you play games. It’s also too easy to stray into addiction and abuse, much like alcohol, so once you have thought about the why you can think about the when, what and how.
Let me know your thoughts on the matter and I may write on this topic again as I find it’s quite an interesting topic to consider.