It’s a simple question. Or is it? When a blog post with this title by Creative Rhino popped up in my feed, I was immediately intrigued, because I like it when folks tackle broad, open-ended questions about gaming. Posts like that tend to be intelligent, tough, and personal, and I know that the writer probably put a lot of thought into its words. Plus, Creative Rhino is an excellent blogger worthy of anyone’s reading time. Please do follow his blog, What Rhino Said, if you aren’t already.
His article does not disappoint. In it he questions gaming “then” and gaming “now,” and explores the way it has changed, which, as many of us know, is not necessarily for the better. He touches on a number of points that resonate with me personally, such as playing what you love versus playing what everyone else is playing and the resultant feelings of either isolation or community. He does a nice job of summing up how the act of gaming has changed over the years, from an individual pursuit to something that seemingly must be done with others. But more importantly, he covered his own gaming motives and what they’ve evolved into, from once playing a single game to death to flitting between big, modern titles; from playing to learn to playing to win. Plainly, gaming ain’t what it used to be. Having played games on and off since the mid eighties, I can testify to that.
But what really stuck with me after reading this article was that initial question: “do you remember why you started playing video games?” And the more I thought about it, the more I wondered about my own gaming motives. I can claim all day that I play games for “fun,” but the real answer is much more complex than that.
I know that I used to play games for fun, and only fun. In fact, for the vast majority of my life, when I gamed, I gamed simply for pleasure, or curiosity. (Early on, without game magazines, gaming friends, or the Internet, I had little to no beforehand knowledge about the titles I was playing.) When we got our Atari, it just came with a bunch of games – I didn’t pick them, and I’m not sure my parents did either. But when my parents played them, I thought the games looked fun and wanted to try them too. I’ve actually very few memories about how video game culture evolved in my household. In family of three siblings, it only latched onto two of us. Sometimes we asked for games, sometimes we didn’t, but at a certain point, somewhere between the ages of eight and ten, I became aware that gaming was an acceptable, and enjoyable, leisure activity.
And I liked playing video games. It was something I could do with other people, yes, but more importantly, it was something I could do on my own. And when I played by myself, there were no rules, no pressure, and no outside influences, and I loved that. Eventually, I started played games because of the freedom away that they provided. They gave me time to learn, time to think, time to screw up, and time to simply be myself – this was all I wanted during my hectic, dreary middle and high school days. My motivation to play became less about just having some silly fun and more about gaming time being my time. This made sense for me, because during this period, my parents grew further and further away from games, leaving them to “the kids.” I grew more self-assured in my likes and dislikes, but I also grew more introverted. I didn’t have many close friends, and if I gamed with anyone at all, it was with my younger brother. We had some good times, but more and more I just wanted to use my personal space to play games alone. Eventually, a single game came to define the freedom I sought in games: Super Metroid. With Samus, I had found my place.
But there was a flip side to that relationship, for I stumbled upon Super Metroid during college. During a time when I wasn’t playing games that much – I was away from home and didn’t have a console. If I played at all, it was during my breaks when I went back home. And while there, I simply played whatever games my brother had accumulated. If I had ever been “in” video game culture (and I never was), I was way out of it now. Sure, I read the occasional issue of Nintendo Power, Game Informer, and Electronic Gaming Monthly (somehow my brother had talked our folks into subscribing to a couple of them), but I literally had no idea of what was going on in gaming outside of my house. However, I also don’t think I cared. We had lots of great games, and I didn’t need anyone telling me about the likes of Earthworm Jim and DOOM; all I needed was a little self-motivation to try something new, which I had also gained from Super Metroid. I still played games for fun and for freedom, but I also developed an urge to use them to escape. (You can read all about that in a personal post I wrote about Wolfenstein 3D.)
At the end of and after college, as my personal life took some heavy turns, gaming became a way for me to stop thinking about life for awhile. I had always been primarily of player of Nintendo games (PC games, secondarily), but I really latched on to them as a young adult. The silliness of Banjo-Kazooie, the craziness of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, the immersiveness of the Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, all helped me escape from the sometime dreadful realities of living on my own. It also helped that I had found a partner who loved games even more than I did. Even if we didn’t play them together, we could still embrace them as part of our collective life.
At the risk of getting too long-winded and nostalgic, I’ll end part one of this post here. Next week, I’ll continue and complete these musings on my gaming motives as they have evolved in the 21st century.