Video games draw eye rolls and exasperated sighs from many people. Many of those people play more video games than they like to admit. But because Candy Crush, or Clash of Clans, or Pokemon Go doesn’t require them to hold a controller in front of a TV, “it’s different” or “it doesn’t count.” But for someone like me, video games are an integral part of my life.
People have looked at the tattoo on my arm and said to me “why would you get something stupid like that? Tattoos are supposed to mean something to you.” First, tell that to the guy with the barbed wire on his arm, or ask the other dude what “tribe” exactly he is representing with his ink? Second, to respond directly to the people telling me my tattoo doesn’t have meaning: you don’t know me very well. Let me explain.
I grew up with more than a little bit of social awkwardness. I had a hard time making friends, meeting new people. I lacked the confidence to just insert myself into a conversation, or introduce myself to a group of people. But when I saw a kid with a Game Boy, I at least knew I could ask them what game they were playing without drawing a nasty glare or rude response.
But I won’t just talk in broad strokes, let me explain. I remember a single moment in my life, where I put down my “toys” (GI Joe figures, etc…) and thought, “I’ll bet nobody my age is playing with these little kid toys. I guess I should at least do something like play a video game right now.” I remember the exact moment like it was yesterday. Something in my young brain at least associated video games with “older kids” rather than “little kids,” probably thanks to seeing my older neighbors and older cousins still enjoying play video games.
In high school, I attained a certain level of “fame” by participating in online gaming communities. I offered advice to people trying to get their computers to play certain games. Troubleshooting other people’s computers to allow them to unlock their full gaming potential was a hobby for me. Making sure other people enjoyed themselves was rewarding for me. In college, someone even recognized me from the internet work I had done years ago.
If I were upset with something that happened at school, or was dealing with something else in life, such as being very young and trying to process the passing of a loved one, I remember playing games. Like solving a problem by not concentrating it, I learned at a young age if I focused my attention a game, my brain would work through issues in its own way. It wasn’t denial, it wasn’t a refusal to address the issue, it was just another way to process my world. There may have been a modicum of escapism, but is that so different from someone watching a movie or listening to music to get away from their problems for just a little while? I would argue, if anything, it’s more like writing a story, or playing your own instruments – it’s a far more active than passive experience.
Some people firmly believe that people who play games are anti-social, or don’t develop “real” skills. I counter that some people play games BECAUSE they are socially awkward, not that the games MADE them socially awkward. If you want me to say something derogatory about video games, it’s that they can be an introvert’s excuse to remain introverted. But even that is going by the wayside, as online communities of games, video game conventions, and even big money tournaments are showing that gaming isn’t just “a nerd in his bedroom” anymore.
During my college years, I wrote video game reviews for websites which are now defunct. This gave me a little side-income, allowing me to have additional hobbies, go out to dinner with friends, or even just buy more games! But they were still a big part of my life, and later more learning from the reviews I had written would lead to a bigger website which helped me pay rent for a while and literally helped me survive.
After college, I learned that games a video game players like myself could be an instrument of change when we came together. I learned of charities like Extra Life, events like Mario Marathon, and even tried to do the occasional generous thing in the communities I was involved with.
As an adult, I’ve learned that even a community of game-playing young adults is not safe from tragedy, sadness, and struggles.
Now, I know, someone out there is going to read this and assume I’m just like the “It’s still real to me” wrestling fan guy. Hell, I’ll even own up to it and say that may be true to a certain point. But when I see that man, whether the wrestling is real or not, his tears are. The sheer joy it brings him is real. Does he deserve so much mockery because his hobby is different from someone else’s?
Whether it was the good times and charity events, or working in a support group of gamers battling depression and other mental issues, in the end it was video games that brought me to those groups. Whether it was a temporary escape from a bad day, or just wanting to participate in an interactive story, video games gave me that thing to do. Video games have been in my life about as far back as I can remember.
- My love for troubleshooting computers started with video games and has lead me to a full-time career in Information Technology and consulting.
- Video games allowed me to experience narrative in a unique way, leading to my college degree in English, which gave me creative writing as a hobby, and the ability to write long form reviews for publication.
- Video game reviews literally “paid the bills” at multiple times in my life.
- Video games were an escape from reality when dealing with depression.
- Video game communities were a way back on track when overcoming that same depression.
While I can’t stand up and say “it’s still real to me,” I can say: gaming is a lot more than an eye roll and a sigh. When I see memes online saying “memories aren’t made with Dad holding an Xbox Controller,” I can’t help but think to myself: you’re biased, you’re wrong, and there’s proof.