Gaming Motives (Part 1)

Image by Flickr user George Gorgo (CC)
Image by Flickr user George Gorgo (CC)

Do you remember why you started playing video games?

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.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. This was absolutely fantastic, Cary. There’s nothing I love seeing more than when people read the content I produce and it evokes such emotion in them they feel the need to share there own views on the topic. Absolutely brilliant. Very well written too.

    I was in the same boat as you in terms of using games as a way to escape, I went through a patch where I felt the same, I wrote about that a fair few months back… You may enjoy reading it.. thanks again for the love and support, it means a lot and I throughly enjoyed your take on the topic. Thank you… (Now I’m off to read your Wolfenstein blog post) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Thank you for the link; I’ve got it bookmarked at and the top of my to-read list. And also thanks for the support – it means a lot coming from wonderful fellow blogger! 🙂

      Things have been so busy lately, and as such, I’ve fallen behind in keeping up with the blogs I follow. I forget that often the best inspiration can come from the writings of others, so I’m going to make an effort to stay more current.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Don’t forget to tell me what you think. No problem at all 🙂 You definitely should, your posts are always a great read and are always written very well.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hatm0nster says:

    Great post and awesome question, Cary! Also, props to Rhino for the same!

    It’s funny how your motivations can change over time. For me, I started because by brother and Dad liked them, continued (at first) because they were simply fun, in college it changed to a mix of escapism (solo play) and the enjoyment I got from sharing the experiences with my friends. It’s still mostly that, but now with a desire to turn that knowledge and experience into (eventual) paid work mixed in there too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Thanks! Your last point, about somehow turning games into a paying career will play a little into the second part of my post.

      It only makes sense that our personal motivations to play would change and become more complex over time. No matter what, “fun” should always be at the core, but there are interesting questions surrounding the reasons for pursing that fun in the midst of adulthood.


  3. Dina Farmer says:

    Isn’t it interesting how your gaming motives change over time? I believe when I was younger I only played games because they were fun and I needed something to do with my time after homework. Even when I was working I would play for the fun of it. Then slowly I noticed that my gaming took a turn into stress relief rather then for the fun of it anymore.

    I can’t wait to read part 2.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Thank you — I hope part 2 turns out decently! I’ll definitely be talking a bit about using games as stress relief. That was key for me when I started in on my first post-college jobs.

      I’m pretty sure that, as a kid, I used games to procrastinate. But it couldn’t be helped, really, especially when a new game came into the house. Every time we got a new disc of PC games, I had to try them ALL, of course. 🙂


  4. duckofindeed says:

    Great post. It’s always great to read about how people get into games and how their preferences change. I started out needing to play games daily, whether they were fun or not. I think I had this strange fear I’d get bored of them if I didn’t play them each day. Now, I’ve become more picky. My time has become more important, and I will only play what I enjoy. If I don’t enjoy it, I may as well find something else to play. I’ve also become more open to trying out PC games ever since Slender and FNAF become popular. I used to be console-only, but I’ve had a great time lately following a few of the most intriguing PC trends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Thanks! 🙂 One of the best things about gaming is that it can lead to lots of new discoveries, as long as you are occasionally willing to go out on a limb. It’s awesome that Slander and FNaF have provided you with the opportunity to try something new and different. That alone is a strong motive to keep playing. I want to do that more with Steam, try games that fall way outside my comfort zone. Of course, as you say, with limited time, I have to be a little bit picky about choosing what’s worth playing at any given time. It’s tough, but having to choose wisely can also lead to wasting less time with the games that don’t matter. Or, at least, don’t matter yet.


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