Most gamers have heard it all of their lives.
“Stop wasting your time in front of that screen!”, “Don’t you have something better to do than play games?”, and now years later “Why are you still playing games? You’re an adult! Grow up!”. It’s crushing to hear those around me, even my loved ones putting down me for my choice in hobby or even my work in gaming. The laughter and snide remarks of those who feel themselves “above” gamers comes out whenever the topic arises, causing me to feel like an outcast in certain groups of people.
How easy it is to let their words enter my head. To let them convince me that something I love is useless, immature, a distraction from truly living. So many have let the derogatory remarks of those surrounding them ruin their love of gaming. They put the controller down, and never return to the hobby and community that once meant so much to them. I stopped listening to the negativity. I know that gaming is more than a bright screen in a dark room. It’s more than an escape from reality, even more than just a game. Gaming can be these things, but it can also be so much more. It’s something that most outside of the gaming community miss. It’s a part of who I am. Gaming helped mold me into the man I am today, and I hope to help mold gaming into what it can be tomorrow. I can look myself in the mirror and be OK with who I am even if others aren’t, and I can tell you that despite what you may have heard, it’s OK to be a gamer. In fact, you might just be better off for it.
I’m not here to defend a life of playing games in solitude, wasting away behind a monitor. I’m also not here to condemn those who don’t play games. Instead, I think it’s important to realize the important and positive role that gaming can play in one’s life. Gaming has had such an impact on my life and the lives of many of those around me that calling them games seems almost unfair. We are able to experience things that no one else does. We can interact with incredible worlds that only exist in 1s and 0s. We find friends in strangers from all corners of the world who happen to be put into the same online match as us. We even get to experience one of the most complex art forms in existence.
When I say that being a gamer has helped make me who I am, I’m not speaking in hyperbole. Gaming has had a profound effect on so many aspects of my life. My earliest memories of developing musical taste date back to the soundtracks in the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. Many of my favorite moments of spending time with friends as a child are centered around having a PlayStation controller in my hand. The sports I like, my love of history, even my current obsession with motorcycles can all be traced back in some fashion to a game I played. Sure, maybe NFL Blitz wasn’t the most accurate depiction of football, and maybe I shouldn’t have picked my favorite team for life while playing it in the arcade (please Buccaneers be good again before I die, k thanks), but playing against my dad in that empty mall arcade as player 2 and feeding that machine quarters will always be one of my favorite memories of spending time with him during my childhood.
As an adult, gaming continues to impact my life in big ways. I meet great people from parts of the world I’ll probably never see in person, and learn about their culture and who they are simply because I have a controller in my hands and a headset on. I’m able to interact with and experience very personal stories that give me insight and make me face emotions that could never surface in quite the same way in any other medium. Believe it or not, gaming drives me forward in life. I find inspiration and motivation somewhere in between the 1s and 0s. With each digital adventure I have through an on-screen character, the drive to have my own adventure increases. I’m introduced to new concepts and places. Sometimes I’m even shown things I didn’t want to experience, only to have my point of view change as I’m introduced to new and opposing ideas.
It’s due in part to these experiences, interactions and friendships that I continue to grow and evolve as a person. The gaming community inspired me to write, something I may have not picked up if not for the brilliant gaming writers I followed years ago. Now I’ve written hundreds of articles, about not only what new game came out, but about the deeper issues and topics embedded into gaming culture and even several pieces on affairs outside of the gaming sphere. I’ve somehow managed to meet and develop relationships with people who hold positions that I idolized all because I wanted to write about a game.
Sure, the average gamer doesn’t exactly decide to take to the internet in a linguistic tirade about how terrible that Game of Thrones role-playing game was, but that doesn’t mean that games can’t have positive effects on them that translate to the outside world. Everything we do has the ability to positively or negatively affect us, it simply depends on how we react to the experience. Gaming is no different. We all know playing games can go downhill quick and have serious negative impacts on someone’s life.
As much as I hate to admit it, the stereotypical TV portrayal of an unhealthy, unhygienic guy in a dark room playing games every possible minute of every day is real. It’s certainly not a correct portrayal of the average gamer, but it exists all the same. Gaming can be and often is used to escape from reality into simpler, happier, or simply different worlds. This can be a great tool to combat stress, anxiety and in some cases even cope with emotional trauma, but it can also be used as an unhealthy crutch used to avoid negative emotions and reality altogether. Some players use games as an attempt to escape completely, substituting their reality with a more stable digital reality only to become the stereotype I speak of. This is obviously not OK.
It’s easy to slip into a unhealthy relationship with games. In fact, I think most of us have done just that at some point. For me, there’s really only two ways to get out of it. Either force yourself to completely quit gaming for a period of time and then limit your hours per week or day when returning, or make yourself too busy to constantly play. Like basically everything else in the modern world, gaming can be an addiction and in those cases must be treated like one.
Somehow, though, I’m able to keep a healthy relationship with gaming and allow it to have a positive, rather than negative, influence on my life. This is partly due to the fact that I simply don’t have enough time to let gaming control my life, but I also find that engaging in the community rather than always just playing games can have some great positive effects on my relationship with gaming. Not only does it allow me to do things like write, make friends, gain perspective and learn, but it also makes the time I am able to play so much better. If you’re a gamer, keep tabs on your gaming and try to find ways to allow gaming to make you a better person. If you’re not a gamer, simply recognize that gaming is rarely a waste of time or mindspace.