This is another one that's been a long time coming, at least seven months coming, if the date of my initial draft of this is any indication: My relationship to gaming and why I feel like I've fallen from a sort grace that can only be felt through acute fanaticism (the good kind) and years of firsthand experience.
I owe a lot to gaming as a past time, which is why it hurts now to say that I don't care as much about the medium as I used to, for a few reasons. Foremost, I assume, would be underlying depression and occupational crossroading I've been dealing with lately. Secondly is my budget, which wasn't a consideration before (even though it should have been), but times have certainly changed. However, I've realized it goes a little bit further than either of those, though.
This isn't necessarily news. This has been a spiral going down since last year, I guess. A spiral that I attempted to reverse this summer before my Xbox died. Not that I don't have the means of going elsewhere to finish my games, but the motivation isn't there.
Even with the charity of a friend loaning their dusty PS2, I haven't been able look at my equally dusty PS2 library without thinking how much of a waste of time it would be. Something has changed that has turned my favorite form of escapism from fulfilling into farcical. I'd never want to bring the "adults don't play games" cliche into this, because I've been a long time disparager of that bullshit argument. But citing the reasons that come with certain responsibilities or handicaps is a bit more respectable, because you're not putting down Gaming as a whole. At that point, it is either a matter of priorities or willpower. Or both.
I've mentioned elsewhere before that I now feel like an outside observer with old-school principles, rather than an active participant and fan. The fact that I'm not as deeply invested, helps to serve a healthy dose of objectivity - which I think most of us can agree, is needed in this media field like a diabetic needs motherfucking insulin (for certain ass-hatted individuals anyway).
On the one hand, you have all the new issues and possibilities and boundaries that games hardware is pushing to make the industry a legit force to be reckoned with. The fact remains though - like Hollywood - budgets, shiny graphics, and familiarity win out over creativity and unorthodox innovation in AAA titles that get the most advertisements, and the most play time, by the most people. Which even today makes gamers like myself, who simply value variety and outside-the-box creativity more in games, seemingly more nerdy or "hardcore" in the eyes of those who are content with "X" realistic shooter or sports enthusiast or party game they can pick up and put down whenever. "Casual", I suppose is the word suited there.
Which I would be fine with, because there should be genres for everyone (and there literally are) to enjoy. But there is still that underlying stigma associated...
On the other hand, you still have a shitload of people out there that don't see (whether they choose to or not) that progress has been made since Duck Hunt or The Legend of Zelda, other than the fact that you can now shoot people in HD, instead of pixelated ducks. It's still child's play to them, compared to "legit" sources of entertainment like literature, music, museum art, or some other grown-up, financially viable endeavor. Totally oblivious to the fact that gaming can and has
combined all of those creative outlets in unique ways, with the ingenuity of many insanely bright minds. Most of whom whose names will never be written in history books...
This is where I feel torn.
For as much positive influence and impact things have, like Child's Play
, Games Saved My Life
, Extra Credits
, random health articles
, or even this community and others like it, there is still one big obstacle in the face of it all. The Man. The Media. Blissful Ignorance. Whatever you want to call it, it's what is keeping that glass ceiling in place to make Gaming nothing more to the populace than a subculture full of socially awkward penguins.
Or maybe this isn't an issue for you. Maybe you're on your way or already in a fulfilling career in/related to the industry. Maybe you're a reviewer or journalist with a constant finger on the pulse of your most beloved form of entertainment news. Maybe you're an avid fan with a smart, diligent voice. You're in the thick of it with steadfast convictions, striving to incite those positive changes and gear the face of this culture toward a bright future in the media-at-large.
I'm none of these things, though. I felt like all of them were possible at one point, but that was a long-ass time ago. I mean, kudos and good on every one of you who are in any of the former categories. But this feels like your fight (if you wanna call it that) rather than mine. A fight for sharper individuals, with spirits more fiery than mine. I don't know if the prescribed course of action is to invest in something new or be in this funk for who knows how long, before a special game or gamer comes along to truly snap me out of it. To make me feel as impassioned about the medium as I did, before all the upsets and failures and tribulations I went through that actually made me question (and still do) whether having fun ever, without destructive behavior, was an option available to me anymore.
But I will never forget why I loved and owed so much to gaming in the first place. I can't say for sure whether or not they saved my life at certain points, since my depression only seemed to get worse over the years, regardless. But I know they kept me busy during turbulent times, when I would otherwise be elsewhere instigating strife or vandalism, because ANGST. And boredom. But mostly ANGST.
THINGS I OWE TO GAMING:
- An obvious one, and one that started early. Hand/eye coordination and memorization essential to any youngster. From fighters and scrolling shooters in the arcades, to time-based platformers on the NES and Sega. I like to think that, without these, I wouldn't have been as confident in my ability to learn quickly. Other titles later on also built confidence to do real-world things; driving, problem-solving, socializing. The standard parental reaction would be to say that video games only skew how the real world works. That only by doing under adult supervision is the true way to learn.
These adults don't fucking play video games. Also, adults are untrustworthy cock-knockers.
- The reason I use "rivalry" instead of "competition" is because it has become a bit of a dirty word to me over the years. To compete is part of the human condition; bettering one's self through challenges against one's peers. Where I find fault is when it becomes a dick-measuring contest that breeds ire. Belittling and contempt for the sake of ego-boosting, rather than good-natured ribbing and bonding in the spirit of the competition. This goes way beyond gaming, from dating to politics. Just sitting back and watching the way these things play out makes me want nothing to do with them - although getting burned, time and again, by people I've had no ill will against, stranger or no, was the impetus of the view I hold now.
Evo and eSports tournaments are definitely positive influences and movements in the culture, but they too aren't exempt from trivial squabbles between big egos, and people quick to rage over general comments instead of being empathetic and responding intelligently. I mean, none of us are perfect humans, but a lot of bullshit that gets attention is easily avoidable, if people just stop and think about what's about to come out of their damn facehole.
Then again, things would be less interesting if everyone got along. I guess you'd find some demented appreciation in that, if you've ever been a mischief-maker, or practiced the fine arts of trolling with sordid pleasure.
But "rivalry" has a sense of purpose, of belonging. Whether it's beating each others' scores or avatars to a bloody pulp, a good rivalry exudes
solid foundations for a positive relationship. Common ground, motivation, aspiration, etc. But most importantly, shared respect for your Player 2 and their ability to keep you on your toes.
- And I know for a fact that my imagination wouldn't have been so vivid and worth losing myself in, if not for my previous travels through someone else's that was realized electronically. To recognize narrative beats, archetypes, and so on, because of the stories they conveyed through text, sound, and artwork; cleverly marrying them with controller mechanics meant to challenge and excite. And then saying to myself, "Pfff, I could do that. Prolly even better!", inspiring a bevy of half thought-out summaries and gameplay designs that would put my peers in awe. "This kid is going places," they would say. "That's a great idea!"
"Yeah, I know. That's why I wrote it down."
Years later, they're all still just ideas in my head. Some have become more stagnant than others. Some I'm still waiting to be realized by like-minded geniuses that had more breaks cut for them than I did. But none of them would be possible without the escapism video games afforded me. Japanese or Western. RPGs, Beat 'Em-Ups, Shoot 'Em-Ups, Platformers, even weird Puzzle games. Didn't matter the genre or how it was supposed to be played. The more it made me think and use my imagination and inspired awe, the more I wanted to be someone who could do the same for somebody else down the road... And losing that spark is probably what hurts the most.
Where I go from here, I can't begin to fathom. Casual? Hardcore? Neither at all? Who knows. Maybe I'll just play whatever the fuck I want, whenever the fuck I want to - which might entail exactly Nothing and Ever.
Maybe that's as good a place as any to start.