As I write my UCAS application I deliberate over what to put in the section about my hobbies. ‘Er…’ I think to myself. (What? You don’t think in phatic utterances?) “I probably enjoy reading more than the average College Student. The universities will probably like that.” I put it down. I also write in my spare time, and not just for this website, they’ll really like that. But then what? I know that there is something I spend a much greater proportion of my time on than both of these things, but I’m embarrassed to put it. Worried that it’ll make the universities think me lazy, anti-social and, worst of all, boring! I end the hobbies section there, neglecting to mention the pursuit that so dominates my free time, the one that, if lost, might leave my life a husk of inescapable boredom and drudgery. Gaming. Why do I shy away from mentioning it? Why hide something so integral to who I am, something that brings me (and many like me) so much joy on a daily basis? I should be standing on a cliff-edge, arms thrust into the air, shouting for all the world to hear. “I AM A GAMER!”. So why don’t I? Stigma.
In the eyes of the Daily Mail Video Games are the new, new, new Hitler, being blamed for every problem with the modern world, be it ADHD, divorce, diabetes, ‘the extinction of man’ and, most chillingly, teen suicide and serial killings. Surprisingly, it seems to be one of the few things they haven’t yet claimed is a cause of cancer. Obviously the Daily Mail is a rag not fit to clean the headcrab goo off of my gravity gun*, but that doesn’t mean hundreds of thousands don’t misguidedly follow its sensationalism. When so many people follow something that perpetuates the stereotypes that all gamers are anti-social, lazy and unfit and compares them to the likes of Anders Breivik and James Eagen Holmes its understandable that I’d be wary of telling people of my lifestyle. **
It’s not fair! Gaming’s great, everyone should do it. There’s so much more to it than shooting men (though those games have their place). The most plain argument for video games, and it’s one that seems to be such a given that it’s often completely ignored in debates, is that it’s fun! My God, is it fun! One would think that goes without saying but alas, it would seem not. What the Daily Mail neglect to mention when they compare teenagers who go on the occasional all-night gaming binge to heroin addicts is that (most of the time) they enjoy it. *** I suppose one could seek to see it as a problem that games are so fun, since, to be frank, most of the games one could play in the real world aren’t so interesting. Why would I want to kick a ball around a muddy field, risking a painful studding, when I could be attaching a jeep to a jetplane, driving said jeep off of a waterfall (onto a man) and skydiving out whilst my friend flies said jetplane into an oilrig in Just Cause 2? (I suppose that’s a little unfair, most activities are preferable to Football. It’s just so simplistic and lacking in all depth) I suppose once one comes to the realisation that in the modern world most every-day, serotonin-releasing activities are tedious affairs one simply has to learn to put up with it, like any another chore.**** I look forward to a future where my brain can be put in a computer once I’m dead and I can live in an entirely virtual world, never having to brush my teeth unless I decide simulating it might be fun.
Games can be more than simply amusing distractions. Video games are the world’s most versatile medium. They can help to develop far more than just your reflexes. I’ve had my brain melt (in a good way) trying to comprehend the delightful time-turning puzzles of Braid. I’ve mourned the loss of the brave tank I foolishly sent over a bridge, failing to notice the explosives strapped to the sides. I’ve rejoiced as my well-timed arrow bombardment saves my retreating cavalry from the enemy Samurai spears. Games can challenge your mind as well as your thumbs. I never knew who Count Emmo of Loon was until I played the superbly-detailed, grand strategy Crusader Kings 2. It’s easy for games to be teaching tools. As a young child I had a number of ‘Edutainment’ games, they were great. They were something I actually wanted to play, not like primary school lessons. These games encourage learning with story, humour and actual fun. They work tremendously and to me it seems almost baffling that educational games, aside from the occasional flash quiz, haven’t yet become a major part of Western Education.
Another truth, which must seem paradoxical for the Mail, is that gaming can actually be a very social experience. Seeing your friend perform a risky strafing laser run in Planetside 2 to save you from the enemy nasties surrounding your position is as good as any drink at the pub*****. Nowadays, with the rise of the Internet, it’s easier than ever to game with friends (or strangers) and when you do hilarity quite often ensues. Just look at this video I made.
Video Games are the ultimate medium, they can offer everything that radio, cinema, theatre, music, art and literature can do but with one vital element, interactivity. Gaming involves the player in a way nothing else can. In Mass Effect you’re not just reading or watching as Shepard decides to punch a journalist, you’re making that decision for yourself. In Skyrim you build the hero from a pleasant selection of cat people, lizard men and yellow folk, they’re not pre-determined. In Bastion you don’t just admire the beautiful art the team have created, you inhabit it. I may never be lucky in love but at least I have Liara T’Soni (Err… Actually, forget I said that!). One can develop an attachment to interactive worlds far greater than that of ‘static’ worlds. Or rather, one would be able to if there were more games that realised the potential of decent storytelling and character writing (Stabby McShootshoot of Modern Boombang 7, I’m looking at you). Games should be the future, and I blooming well hope they will be. Thankfully attitudes seem to be changing and hopefully by the time fully immersive virtual reality has arrived (estimated 2030) I won’t feel so embarrassed to admit to pwning a few noobs now and then******.
*No, that’s not some kind of horrible euphemism
**Of course it’s not just the Daily Mail that does this but they’re the most significant. Besides, I’ll take any opportunity to expose its evil that I can.
***I’m not saying that staying up all night is a good thing, and neither is staying still for prolonged periods of time. They can both have adverse effects on your health, education and work.
****I find that walking everywhere quickly whilst listening to podcasts is a good way to meet the physical activity quota.
*****Probably, I wouldn’t actually know.
******Did I really just say that?