I turned 40 this year and I still haven’t stopped playing video games. To the contrary, I reduced my already little TV time once again in favor of gaming and reading. With professional gaming known as esports filling big stations and video game streaming on Twitch as an accepted way to make a living, I thought gaming in 2018 is the new normal. – Within my family and peers at work I still get those pitiful looks when I talk about gaming as a hobby.
How it all started
When my parents moved from the eastern parts of Germany to West Germany in 1990, I was introduced to a whole barrage of previously unknown devices: C64, Amiga 500, NES and Sega Mega Drive. That’s why I started a bit later with gaming than most of my generation, at the age of 12. Until I got my own Gameboy and later my Amiga 500, I always visited friends to play on their devices. I was hooked by the different challenges video games presented. There were side scrolling shooters where you needed to remember where enemies would appear, there were strategy games where you would need to plan multiple steps in advance and there were adventure games full of strange puzzles to solve.
“My kids play video games”
Many times, I tell people that I enjoy playing video games their response is “my kids also play video games”. I am not sure how to take that. Is that a compliment that I stayed agile and mentally young. Or is it just a way to put my hobby into a not-grown-up category. It is quite interesting to see the conversation stop at that point. There is no “what do you play” or “what is the plot of the game”. I mean even if you do not visit plays in theaters, you are aware that plays have a plot and you would ask for it. But with video games people rarely think about the plot. I will not shove my games into people’s faces but I always wonder why people stop caring about that topic once it is categorized as a kid’s hobby.
“How do you find time for that?”
A variation of that conversation from the previous paragraph ends with the question “how do you find time for this?”. I used to be puzzled about that question but I have gotten to the point where it is just an amusement. Prioritizing gaming over all other recreational hobbies means that I don’t spend much time on watching TV. Most people I know will watch TV for at least 2 hours every night and even more on the weekends. That is the time I spend on video games. Even more so, I spend less time on video games that most people spend in front of the TV.
But it is only shooting each other
Most games that get public attention are shooter. Meaning you eliminate gaming avatars with whatever means the video game offers. There is no denying that big blockbusters like Call of Duty, Fortnite or Destiny evolve around shooting other players’ virtual representations or computer-generated enemies. Before I pull out the “there are also non-shooting video games” let me just say that the most successful TV series are also about killing or at least painfully hurting people. In NCIS people have to die to make most of its episodes go. Richard Castle can only make jokes because a dead body kickstarts almost every episode. Finally, think about Game of Thrones where mutilation, rape and gruesome deaths are the glue that keeps the great story together. – Why should video games be any different?
And now let me say: There are so many great non-shooter and even non-violent video games out there. Emotionally touching games like Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch let you discover other people’s lives on your own. And games like Donut County and Gorogoa offer mind-bending and funny puzzles with beautiful music.
There is no need to play a shooter the same way that there is no need to watch a TV series or a movie with violence.
The myth of the lonely gamer
One final thing I would like to address is the myth of the lonely gamer. Even in the 90s – without internet – gaming was never something I did alone. Gaming was a social experience because I visited friends to play with them on their devices. As time went on in the 90s, Gameboy sessions on playgrounds or at friends’ houses were a regular occurrence. And with the dawn of PC gaming I went to many so-called LAN-parties where people would bring their PCs, connect them with cables and spent the following 12 hours with gaming (eating and sleeping under the table). And with the rise of the internet began the rise of multiplayer games where you battled other people or joined forces with other people against digital enemies.
Platforms like reddit and discord make gamers more connected than ever. And staying in touch with other people that have the same passion is the new normal. Games like Warframe or Destiny 2 actively support an active community.
Playing alone is a choice, playing with others is the normal.
When I find a fellow gamer
Sometimes in unexpected places I meet a fellow gamer. After the short phase of disbelief is overcome a very long conversation will usually follow. A conversation filled with lingo most people don’t understand, filled with adventures of the past, filled with “oh, you did that” and “I never went there”, filled with curiosity about game genres never played and appreciation of what my counterpart did. Not every gamer plays the same video game. To the contrary gaming is very fragmented and most gamers stick to one game for a very long time. That makes talking to fellow gamers always interesting. You learn about new games, about new platforms for discussion and new ways to play.
No matter how different the games two gamers play are, gamers will always bond easily by their passion for undertaking virtual adventures.
I won’t stop gaming
Gaming is a great way for recreation. It is more than just passive consumption of content in a format someone else hand cut for you. Gaming is about the experience at your own pace. Gaming is about discovering new worlds with new friends or old acquaintances. Gaming is about staying curious and about challenging your ability to adapt.
Gaming is about fun and never letting go of the inner child that gets lost so easily in the boring treadmill of modern life.