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Why Play Games?

Why Play Games?


I play video games. There, I said it.

Sometimes, that statement is met with a smile; laughter shared, and a friendship is born. Other times, we face a different response: a blank look or a condescending expression, perhaps. You may even get the, “I’m sure you’ll grow out of it soon,” reply. But… why does that have to be the goal? What’s wrong with video games?

Video games are just another form of modern media,  just as books and film are media. Why is there such a negative connotation associated with video games? Sure, there are some serious clunkers out there: Grand Theft Auto, Silent Hill, The Monkey King, to name just a few. These games may be fun in their own respect, of course, but from the outside people seem to get really judgey. If my grandma managed to watch an hour-long session of GTA, I think she’f be at risk of exploding from sheer disappointment. Silent Hill is unnecessarily scary. Personally, I can’t play that game without wearing a diaper. The Monkey King just straight up sucks. But, as it happens, nobody’s perfect.

Let’s have some story time, shall we? Let’s say that my imaginary, non-existent friend Mike approaches me and some random social setting. He exclaims, “Hey Andy! I just watched this great movie last night!” That’s my cue to cut him off, jazz hands flailing, and say “Whoa, whoa, whoa. You watch movies? Aren’t you a little old for that? Shouldn’t you be doing your taxes or something more mature?” Doesn’t sound like something we’d ever hear, at least about films, right? But that’s exactly what gamers face, and for a multitude of (mostly silly) reasons. Don’t even get me started on that “Moms Against Gaming” group.

Video games are as much a part of media in our culture as books, movies, TV shows, or whatever might float your boat. Let me hit you with some truthiness, dear reader: there are some seriously artistic, inspired, profound video games in that mass list of all the video games ever made. Rather than associating video games ONLY with games like Grand Theft Auto, why don’t we think of masterpieces like the Mass Effect series? There is such personality, such depth, such great writing in the series as a whole. But instead of sitting idly by as the events unfold in front of you, YOU CONTROL IT. All the events occur because of the buttons that you press and the decisions that you make. It’s actually pretty powerful, and more than a little crazy to consider.

What if my fictional friend Mike liked books too? It would be ludicrous to compare every piece of literature to a Dr. Seuss installment. There are different books just as there are different video games. But people either forget or choose to ignore that, and so the stigma is there. We can’t see past the shoot-em’-up scourges. They blind us to really great games like Chrono Trigger and Portal. These games are meant to be something more than just a cash cow; they were made with every intention of being great.

But still, my grandma gives me that same scoff when I explain (yet again) that I like video games. We gamers don’t let that stop us, though, do we? I still trad on, enjoy the finer things in life – and for me, many of those finer things are video games. It makes all the difference if you just play the right ones.  That’s why I love writing about video games; that’s why I’m here. I get to experience them in a way your typical GTA player or non-gamer would never be able to really digest.

Maybe the modern video game has lost its charm. Maybe all of the recent video games are made for the sole purpose of raking in wads of cash money. Maybe that’s why I focus on the older games; times were simpler back then. Companies weren’t outright competing for the best graphics or the best advertising – they were focused on creating a great game. That’s why we have titles like Earthbound and Final Fantasy VI.

I’ll learn to deal with the condescending looks that my grandma gives me. Video games are often seen as both juvenile and anti-social, and I just don’t get it. How can it be all bad? I’ve made friends whom I’ve never met in real life – I know them as voices and as collections of pixels. I’m playing with people from all around the world, from places I’ll possibly never even visit. People I would likely never have met without gaming. There’s something special about that.

My advice? Do whatever it takes to erase that stigma. Video games may not be the most “adult” thing to do, but society doesn’t make the rules. We do. We decide Shepard’s fate. Err…nevermind. Just a little a Mass Effect joke for y’all (one that my dear grandma will never get – so there!).

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  • Colin Brandt

    Andy, there are two key elements to that stigma that you haven’t mentioned – the first is that demographics win the day, and the second is that some of the people who play games are assholes.

    Demographically, games are winning. From Candy Crush on the bus to Crysis 3 on a tricked-out home PC, the experience of games as art and a consumable product has essentially overwhelmed the market. It’s only going to get more so – and for every lamentable entry in the Call of Duty series there’s going to be moments of genuine art and artistry – which is why the “games as art” is a completely settled issue. There was a time when watching television was considered churlish, when watching films with sound was crass and when listening to rock and roll was considered demonic. Art wins every time, because you can’t really stop it. That’s why we love it.

    Second – and perhaps more importantly, the stigma of gaming has a lot to do with the people who are the most vocal in their playing. In the time I’ve been a video gamer, I’ve seen the culture of gamers stagnate relative to the quality of the product and criticism. We have the opportunity to consume great experiences that we direct, and the rise of multiplayer gaming and the internet allows us to communicate with the people we are playing with. However, the culture that has formed around gaming isn’t inclusive. It isn’t accommodating to disagreement, and it is driven by individuals uniquely unqualified to understand or empathize with others (namely, white males with more free time than common sense).

    The result of that is a hysteria about their place in the world, which is why we get #gamergate, why we get artificial distinctions between people who play Chrono Trigger and people who play GTA. Ultimately it’s irrelevant because the actual adults int he room recognize that the inherently silly and antisocial behavior exhibited by people who hold themselves up as exemplars of gaming culture are ruining it for the rest of us.

    What we need to do is not change the stigma – we need to change ourselves.

  • http://www.d20crit.com/ tristan

    I certainly don’t disagree with Colin, as that *is* a very large aspect of the whys and whathaveyou. I don’t think, though that Andy was saying that people who play GTA are wrong and people who play Chrono Trigger are right – it’s more that the mainstream games are, well, mainstream, and the perception of games by the general public is based on those games, good or bad, artistic or not (and it seems fairly often, not). I don’t think this is a black or white issue at all.

    One thing Wil and I nerdrage about fairly often is in situations where someone commits a violent crime or does something wrong, even – so often it is revealed that that person played x videogame (world of warcraft, whatever) and then everyone starts screaming about video game violence, which creates a kind of cycle and (mostly short-lived, but still present) mania around the topic. This kind of thing is still an aspect of peoples’ perception of games, and it does cause people to react.

    • Colin Brandt

      Agree about the distinction about mainstream vs. indie/games-as-art. I’m the douchenozzle who buys 7″ vinyl off indie record labels for bands, you, like, totally haven’t heard of and smack-talks Nickelback as if they were the worst thing to happen to arts and culture since the Comics Code.

      What I’m saying is that we need to own the culture we’ve created/allowed to be created around gaming. If we are getting lumped into the same group as the GTA-players (which, BTW, I totally am) then we need to accept the fact that the behaviors of our peers influence how we are perceived. I have spent way too many years thinking about and writing on this subject only to see people who fail to understand even the slightest degree of the privilege they retain ruin the experience of what I love over and over again.

      I could go on (and on, and on) but there are people smarter than me that I’ve interviewed about the subject and I’d rather you just listen to what they have to say. I wrote this two years ago and you tell me even one fucking thing has changed about the banner we wrap ourselves in by engaging with this culture: http://www.colinbrandt.ca/the-last-mes-club/

      • Andy Briggs

        Colin. I’m 1000000% with you <—that's one million percent by the way. I'm saying that the perception of video games is ugly. I wish there were an easy way to wipe the condescending-grandma look off of faces. But the only way to do that is to change ourselves. The entire topic is a gray area, and I get that. I went on an article-long rant about how video games have devolved and whatnot, but there are still great games out there. And I still play GTA because IT'S FUN, damn it. Sometimes, I want to watch a slap-stick comedy rather than Lord of the Rings.

        I may have gotten off-track at times, but the point remains: video games are relevant. People play games. People play GTA, and people play Chrono Trigger. But the niche that we've created for ourselves isn't ideal. But that's life, I guess. But if we, if I want anything to change, I have to change my own attitude.

        And who knows. Maybe I've inspired someone to play Chrono Trigger. And to me, that's a win.

        • d20crit
        • Colin Brandt

          Andy, to be entirely clear, I don’t disagree with your contention that gaming is still seen as somehow a niche activity (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary). The deal is that there is no easy way to wipe that look off. We have two options, which is to change how we are perceived through our own action or wait for all the judgy people to die.

          Personally, I’m too impatient for the latter. STUPID GRANDMA AND HER AMAZING LIFE EXPECTANCY.

          • Andy Briggs

            And it’s “immoral” to kill grandparents… Apparently that’s a rule… Lame.

      • http://www.d20crit.com/ tristan

        Um, P.S. Nickleback IS the worst thing to happen to arts and culture since ever. 😉

        • Colin Brandt

          Hey, at least they aren’t from your home province! Wait, you don’t have provinces.

          And you have Prince.