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Studakris avatar 5:35 PM on 04.23.2011
A "Gamer" Identity Crisis

So I finally beat Portal.

Not the second one, mind you, but the first. The one that came out over 3 years ago. The one I’d been putting off finishing for over a year now. Even though I owned a copy of the Orange Box, I just never gave it that high of a priority. Did I enjoy the game? Sure. Was it one of the better games I’ve ever played? Of course. But what was it about Portal that got it on my “I’ll finish it later” list along with Okami, Final Fantasy XIII, and a host of others?

And this all got me thinking, have I ever been a “true” gamer?

As I’ve said before in my blogs, I grew up sans a TV in the house. Additionally, my father was an ardent Apple supporter, so I did not have the slate of PC gaming available to other kid. Any gaming I did was either on my Game Boy, on which I got maybe 2 games a year, and my cousin’s house twice a year on their Super Nintendo. However, despite my lack of gaming opportunities, I did my best to keep abreast of the newest games in order to converse with my peers. Akin to my reading the TV Guide just to know what shows were popular, I religiously read Nintendo Power and other gaming magazines in order to be able to fake my way through a discussion on the subject. While I had never played Sonic the Hedgehog or Street Fighter, I could bluff my way through the subject with the best of them. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy gaming, I truly did, but my actual experience was severely limited to 3 days of playing “Donkey Kong Country” at Christmas followed by a year of replaying “Link’s Awakening.” (Which is an incredibly awesome game, I discovered. I could have done a LOT worse for “primary game of my childhood”)

As I grew older into my teens, I started to get the chance to play more games. I discovered I liked JRPGs, but not to the fervor of some of my peers. By the time I got around to playing Final Fantasy VII, for instance, I already knew Aries would die and her death didn’t affect me one iota. Besides, Tifa was a much more appealing match for Cloud. I took my time playing FFVII. An hour here, an hour there. It probably took me most of my junior year of high school to finish the game. But it didn’t bother me, I was having fun. Even Final Fantasy VI, my favorite RPG of all time, took me an entire summer of playing sporadically to complete. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy playing games, I did. It’s just that I liked other things as well. Regardless, I did my best to be knowledgeable of gaming developments, just so I could be in the know.

The closest I ever got to true “gamerdom” was with “World of Warcraft” in college. I’d never played an MMORPG before, and didn’t particularly see its appeal. However, one of my fraternity brothers got a beta key and the whole frat got into it like crazy. So of course, I played. It was fun. I liked the social aspect of it. We would have like 15+ people all in one room with cords all over the place doing Scarlet Monastery or whatever for the billionth time. It’s remarkable that during this time, I was able to keep a 4.0, a girlfriend happy, regular workouts at the gym, and a social life despite playing around 7 hours a day. Sure, I was the guy who went out on Friday nights instead of raiding Lower Black Rock Spire, but I prefer human girls to orcs. However, once summer came and we weren’t all in the same place, I lost interest. This isn’t to say I didn’t have fun by myself on WoW, but it lacked a certain esprit de corps sans the immediate proximity of other players.

As things stand now, I’m lucky to get an hour or two a week to play a game. Getting a Ph D can be busy, let alone work and the other realities of “adult” life. But gaming is still a welcome pastime in my life. Although I’ve never been on Xbox Live or PSN, and don’t really have any plans to do so, I appreciate what they’ve done for gaming. Likewise, I’ve never bought anything on Steam, but I appreciate what it’s done for digital downloads. And unless Square Enix ever gets around to making a sequel to “The World Ends With You,” I can’t see myself ever buying another game on its release date.

I suppose my thoughts on the matter can be best summarized as follows. Gaming has never been my life. It’s a hobby. Granted, it’s a hobby I greatly enjoy and like to be in the loop about, but it’s not a major element of my being. While I play games casually, I don’t consider myself a “casual gamer” and am not comfortable with the connotations of that term. I'm not a gaming novice. I know how to use a controller. I'm not afraid of "deeper" gaming concepts. While I’ll keep playing games for all of my life, I don’t think it will ever become my life. Is anyone else out there like this? You’re a fan of gaming but not a fanatic?

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