Saturday, November 24, 2012
At times gaming appears to be meaningless. As I set down the controller and switch my TV off for the night, I am overcome by a feeling of emptiness and regret (a sensation also shared by my partners after a 'love' session). It is difficult to feel like I have achieved something significant despite the seemingly immense progress I've made in game.
There is little doubt that gaming is one of the most easily accessible forms of entertainment. No need for military school, you can be there on the front lines (complete with regenerating health - score!). No need to learn to fly or drive or ski or play guitar. Most modern AAA titles pretty much play themselves. I'm unconvinced that something so effortlessly digested (like a Michael Bay movie, or a cookie) is ultimately a benefit to my life and well-being.
The truth is I have a gaming obsession (an acknowledgement that would please my ex-girlfriend) and have always strived to find a way to make peace with it. An hour spent gaming is an hour taken away from a more worthwhile venture. I fear looking back one day and wondering, "What was it all for?" I cannot speak for what is a "good" use of one's time, but as time quickly and surely ebbs away, how can I be comfortable with the years lost to abject escapism?
I recognize that one of the wonderful things about being human is that we can experience pleasure purely for pleasure's sake. In sport, art, games, etc. The notion that I like to play games should be enough to pacify my dark thoughts of its lack of importance. One can only do what makes them happy. But there is so little to show for my success in a video game. A composer has the symphony. A poet has their verse. What does the gamer have?
A tour of my digital trophy exhibit is terrible dinner party entertainment (a lesson hard learned). Nobody is impressed by how many bosses I've defeated in Dark Souls (all of them), or my deity level victory on Civ IV (slow to start but once I hit 'astronomy' my East Indiaman really turned the tables). If someone asks about my hobbies, video games are rarely mentioned. I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed because I know when I indulge in video games I indulge in nothing more than an unimpressive temporal distraction.
Video games mean something different to everyone and I'm not about to argue why one person's attitude is better than another's. But if you, like me, have experienced any disappointment with your own decision to play games, I think it's worth exploring why this is and how it can be re-framed.
I am yet to find definite answers to the questions I ask -- and maybe I never will -- but despite my downtrodden sentiments, I don't fully believe in gaming purely as a distraction (escapism), nor do I believe it to be completely worthless. Is it a waste of time to read fiction? To go to the theater? To gaze upon a painting? It might be, but it might not. And I'm ready to accept that gaming may be just as important, just as valuable, as any of those. Perhaps a thousand times more.
Maybe it's time to stop second-guessing what I love; maybe it's time to embrace it?
You see, if I can accept that art (in the broadest sense) is of value, it might not be the product of my gaming experience that holds said value, rather the gaming experience itself. Participation with a medium is where its magic can be revealed. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If I let games be of importance I can search inside them for hidden treasures. I don't mean this on a literal level; there are in-game secrets that can be a joy to discover. I mean search for something beyond the surface. Be critical. Become inspired.
Unlike myself, it may not be the "search for something meaningful" that makes you want to play video games. You may wish to play them purely for 'fun', to escape the humdrum routine of the modern age. Or to be challenged, and success in this way may be, for some, every bit as sweet as a hard earned promotion at work (you know, a real life triumph). My point is, if games are connecting with you at any level, it should be your duty to find those that give you the most satisfaction. In other words, play as many games as you can. (A resolution I did not expect when I began writing this piece!)
When asked by Herman Blume, "What's the secret?", Max Fisher replies, "The secret, I don't know... I guess you've just gotta find something you love to do and then do it for the rest of your life". Not only do I very much live by this now, but it is only for my penchant for Wes Anderson's quirky comedies that I ever watched Rushmore and was ever stirred by this quote. I don't regret that. I don't regret where my tastes have lead me because my life has been shaped by happy experiences. I don't regret watching Rushmore because it moved me. I don't regret listening to Roddy Woomble's poetic whimsy because it inspires me.
And I certainly don't regret playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on Christmas day, 1998, because it is, and always will be, the fondest of memories.
Still, 500+ hours of Counter Strike: Source is a hard one to rationalize...