Why I Play Video Games & Why You Should Too
Nearly 1500 words on why gaming means so much to me and why - contrary to what some people think - it's more than just a hobby.
The question “Why Do You Play Games?” gets thrown around a lot. Whether it be on a podcast, videos on YouTube, or a question in an AMA, it’s something that we as a society (by which I mean the people who play video games) are fascinated by, and for good reason. It’s rare to get the same answer twice, at least if you delve in to the question a little deeper. Many people simply say “I like killing things, it helps me relax” or “I play them for the story” or “I like to escape from the real world”, but looking into those statements further can reveal lots of things about a person, or at least the part of them that lives in the world of video games.
So, why do I play games? Truth be told, I’ve drafted the following paragraph numerous times. Each rehash showcasing a different reason, a different answer, a different way of defining why video games have always been a part of my life in some form or another. Honestly, I think the reason that we play games changes constantly. Humans change constantly because the circumstances around them change constantly, sometimes this is in our control; most of the time it isn’t. This means we can have a new reason to play video games each and every day – and that is probably the reason we keep coming back.
It could be that we’ve lost someone, or something so we want to escape to a world where we aren’t held responsible for our actions, and where we can express the sadness, and the anger at what’s happened.
We’ve just finished something stressful, onerous, or particularly challenging and so we want to blow off some steam and congratulate ourselves: time to start a new adventure, go beyond what we’ve done before and make sure that the world (albeit a fake one) is saved once again.
I think what’s key in what I just wrote is in the expression that we humans need to have. I personally find it hard to express myself a lot of the time, a reason why I love writing so much as it lets people look past everything else and just see the words on a page: that simplicity is a key part of why I continue to come back to write on Gamotere every week. Video games themselves might not be simple, but what they help people to do – at least in essence - can be.
In something else I’m drafting right now about changing the minds of the people who don’t believe in video games, something I touch on is the idea of games being just a thing in which gamers kill stuff. I hate that definition as a blanket statement, but there is something to it. Sometimes that simplicity, the idea that “Alright, today I just need to do some damage in a place where there are no repercussions” is something not only very powerful, but almost unique to video games. What other industry can boast an outlet where people can shape the world around them completely and actually see it grow, evolve and build around them and then – if they so wish – just crash and burn?
In what other industry can a story be completely tailored to the person experiencing it, to the extent that an action five hours in can affect something over 30 later? For that matter, where else is such a time commitment demanded by the product?
The power of video games is to do things that TV, movies and books simply can’t. They can’t engross to the level a game can simply because you aren’t directly involved in what’s happening on the screen or page – someone else has decided that beforehand. While the same is true – on some level – in a game, you still have to be directly involved. You still have to press X, push the left-stick forward, keep going no matter how hard things are getting and be cognisant of what’s actually going on around you.
And, in video games – unlike any other form of media – you can be bad. As Irish comedian Dara O’Briain said brilliantly in a stand-up comedy act once, you can’t be bad at reading a book or watching a movie, but you can be bad a shooting bad-guys or upgrading a character properly or completing a quest.
And, more than anything else, that presents a challenge to those who play. While the puzzle game genre is its own, oft-looked-unfavourably upon section of the industry, each video game can be seen as a puzzle of sorts: get from A to B; find the ingredients for potion X; kill bad-guy Y. In each instance a challenge is presented, and you – the player – has to overcome that challenge and get past each hurdle along the way.
This – I think – is a part of why people continually come back to games: everyone loves a challenge. And, of course, as in the games themselves, you can opt for which difficulty you want: something like Ratchet & Clank would be “Easy” or “Normal” and Dark Souls III would be “Expert”. While the difficulty of games may alienate some from a particular franchise – like I’m sure the Souls series has with many – I think having that more hardcore game is essential: there’s nothing quite like the feeling after beating a Dark Souls/Bloodborne boss and getting to the end of a game of that ilk is like candy for some people, and a very necessary candy at that – you need the tough to make the easy seem easy.
But, as I said before, I don’t think the reason for gaming can be defined in one simple paragraph. For me, the need for challenge also pairs with the need to explore new worlds and understand and witness stories within them, I think that’s why something like The Witcher or Skyrim resonated with me to such an extent: because all of the things I’ve listed here were present.
It’s no secret that video games as a medium, and the people that play or work on them are often looked upon in a light different to most other industries. I think this is partially down to the simple fact that people are scared of change. But I bet you that almost 100% of the people that talk crap about games have never played one, or at least not since they’ve progressed to wonderful, new, incredible places.
Of course, there will always be a place for the Pongs and Yar’s Revenges of this world, but things have changed a lot since then and continue to do so. Every day a new game is released that pushes the boundaries just that little bit further, and paves the way for the next Last Of Us, Legend Of Zelda, Grand Theft Auto or game that no-one has heard a single thing about.
In truth, that’s why I play games: the idea that I can be surprised whenever I press play, that I can be astounded after putting a disc into a console or amazed when I see a new trailer. The innovation that is a natural part of the games industry is, I think, why people constantly return to the medium and the ever-evolving exploration, stories, challenges, and adventures that await are an integral part of that and one, I hope, will never go away.
Games are more than just a hobby, they’re a way of life, and one that allows you to live lives you never thought possible. So, do yourself a favour: go play a video game; I promise you won’t regret it.