So here's the deal,
Gaming has given me much over the past 12 years, it's taken me to different times, different galaxies and even different realities. It's opened to me parts of myself that I didn't even know were there, and let me experience literally worlds of different situations that I know I'll never have the chance to myself. But I have honestly been wondering recently if it was worth it, if what I gained could possibly outweigh what I missed, what escaped me.
In the last year I went away to university for a degree in journalism, and I was extremely excited because I knew that meant lots of new people and a city that would be relatively fresh, at least from this perspective. It really seemed like the perfect setup because my school, Ryerson, was in Toronto where I grew up, but it was downtown in an area where I had very little previous experience since I moved to Vancouver 4 years ago.
I was excited to meet a lot of like-minded people and make new friends in my residence, and to some extent that happened. I met a couple people I can truly see being friends with for the rest of my life, and let me preface what I'm about to say with the fact that I in no way find this insufficient. These people that I met are some of the most engaging and interesting people I know, and I could not be happier to know them, but one thing that I realize is that I met these people in rez, not in my program.
I'm surprised by this because whenever I meet a person in my journalism program, no matter what we have something to talk about, an instant connection, and they should be the easiest to talk to. But I didn't make friends with any of these people, not really. I took an even easier rout and socialized almost exclusively with the people on my floor. It was the least awkward, and carried the least amount of risk that I'd be disliked. If I had better social skills, I have no doubt I would have had no problem making better friends inside my program; if I'd spent less time with a keyboard or controller in my hand as a kid, I might have made a single good friend outside of my social comfort zone in my eight months in the city.
This all starts back in gradeschool where I like many a gamer experienced a fair share of bullying. I wasn't that well liked by my non-asshole classmates either, and I could never figure out why, maybe I was a bit of a weirdo. But the point is that just like in Uni, I had a core group 2 or 3 really close friends, and I pretty much divided my time between them and video games. I deviated very seldom from these two comfort areas, and while I developed good social skills when dealing with single people, I still to this day find it near impossible to be anything but flustered when dealing with new groups, as well as the opposite sex; I had my first kiss and first girlfriend three months after my 18th birthday, and I think this is due in large if not exclusive part to my dependence on games.
No one in a video game ever found me socially awkward or unlikeable, no grade 3s ever said I couldn't play handball with them, no girls ever ran away. I was safe there, I was popular there, everyone loved me there. I could conquer any foe with enough hard work, and social prowess was often reduced to an unambiguously regulated digit. These fantastical worlds provided me with a place where I was everything I aspired to be. They gave me a place where, for a few precious hours, I could convince myself that I wasn't some kid with more bullies than friends, I was a leader of men, a friend to anyone who needed it, and a hero to the young. This haven most certainly had its positives and they cannot be discounted, but I think in retrospect they were outweighed by the negatives.
Even though at university this year my Xbox went almost completely unused for 4 out of the 8 months I was there, I'm still almost completely inept in social settings that include more than one or two people I'm unfamiliar with. I don't know what to say to them; just like with girls, I completely seize up and do nothing but nod my head and agree on the off chance that they start the conversation themselves.
I think most of this stems from just a lack of common experience. Because I spent almost all my spare time on a computer and later a gamecube as a child, I had very little common experience with the kids around me; I didn't play a lot of sports or musical instruments and I didn't have a lot of hobbies outside of reading. How can you talk to people if you have nothing in common? Gaming for me was so easy, so accessible, that it really robbed me of the chance to experience many of the things that could form the basis of average human interaction, and because of this I had very few "successful" social encounters outside of my two or three main friends.
This lack of "successful" social encounters fueled a massive shortage of self confidence later in life. It means that I have that much less push to get myself out of my comfort zone, to put myself in a situation where I'm inexperienced, because I have no prior indication that I'll do anything fall flat on my face when I do so.
These observations became all the more true for me in grade 11, when my oldest friend spent a third of his school year in the hospital for acute depression. He strongly considered suicide during this time, and because I was on the other side of the country, there was only so much I could do for him. Of course I'll never know what happened to so drastically change his mental state, but my guess is that it was in part due to the massive amount of games he played both as a child and as a young adult. He, like me, spent most if not all of his spare time playing games, and I think still does, and because of this he also developed very limited social skills. I can't say this for sure, but even after I moved away in the summer before grade 10, he didn't really have another best friend until grade 12, and even then to my knowledge they aren't as close as he and I were. My guess is that this limit on deep human contact is what caused him to fall into his depression, and that lack of human contact was massively contributed to by the amount of games that he played.
I was extremely happy to learn however that in late grade 11, my friend made a full recovery from his depression, and now has more of a life than any time that I can remember. I too have recently been slowly developing better social skills. I'm finding it gradually easier to deal with both new people and the opposite sex in general, and I can only attribute these things to an extreme decrease in the amount of video games we both play. I spend literally a fraction of the time I used to with games, and because of this I have become ever-so-slightly less of a dribbling idiot in front of new people.
Don't get me wrong, this hasn't turned into some look-at-me-you-losers-I-used
-to-be-one-of-you preach session. I'm not pretending to be some omniscient prophet with a quick fix answer to more active social and sex lives (the latter of which I lack completely), this is more of a learn-from-me-and-don't-make-my-mistakes deal.
If I could rewind my life, I probably wouldn't change much; if I did I'd probably not end up with the incredible people that are now in my life. I would however tell young Om Nom to get out from in front of the screen once in a while, to experience the world around him, because in many, many respects it is better than the ones we gamers inhabit on a daily basis. I'm not saying video games are evil, that's both wrong and hyperboloic, but I know that like anything in life, it can have very harmful effects if enjoyed in excess.
I think I can sum this up with a pseudo quote from Hamlet. In the scene where Polonius dispatches Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to look for Laertes in France, he tells them to make Laertes' recent wrongdoings look like the flaws of a great man, not the custom of a bad one. Life should not be a negative momentary escape from games, games should be a positive momentary escape from a difficult world, an aid, yet not a crutch, and they should only seldom take the place of meaningful human contact.
~Om nom nom nom...
I realize of course that this is all much easier said than done; hell I've probably not made half the progress I think I have. I never meant this to come off as a preachy post where I told you how to act. Ultimately this was more of a therapeutic and introspective experience for me. I think I admitted to myself a lot of things in this post that I've found hard in the past. If you were
able to gain some insight from what was written without feeling like I'm a pretentious ass, then I am truly humbled. read