I could have spent more time drawing a better header image, but that wouldn't have been as relaxing.
Yup, I completely stole the title from the John Knowles novel. I am unrepentant, because the book is so awesome.
I'm pretty devoted to single-player gaming; my multiplayer experience is mostly limited to playing Tekken Tag Tournament with my brother, and getting destroyed by Yoshimitsu's ten-hit combo every single round, which my little sibling has mysteriously known how to do ever since he emerged from our mother's dark womb. I'm sure there are some multiplayer games that I could be competitive at, but the whole thing has always seemed kind of distant from me-- a foreign realm of gaming in which I have even less interest than skill. Whenever a previewer starts talking about multiplayer options, I have to remind myself that there are other people out there who care, and they aren't just wasting space in my magazine that could be filled by pictures of Solid Snake (and I'm talking young, hot Snake, not grizzled-geriatric Snake-- Not that he isn't lovable in his own way.)
The fact is, I play games not for the adrenaline rush or the thrill of competition: I play them for the opposite of that. I play them to be at peace.
I can almost hear the sounds of many eyebrows raising incredulously: At PEACE? Is my life really so trying, so turbulent, that I need to do something special to feel peaceful? Besides, wouldn't peace by easier to find through other activities, say yoga, or meditating next to a pristine mountain lake, rather than striving to collect every item in a JRPG like an obsessive-compulsive hunter-gatherer? Let me explain.
I recall the first 20 or so years of my life as a crucible of constant stress. No, my parents weren't horrible and didn't beat me with a belt regularly-- they did their best. I was just in a school filled to the brim with over-achievers, and as a bit of a daydreamer who couldn't help drawing unicorns in the margins of my math homework, I was always a little bit behind. By any reasonable standard I did fine academically, but in my school, if you weren't seriously considering applying to Harvard, you were one of the dumb ones. Other kids I knew were able to laugh off the neurosis of the environment and do things their own way, but I couldn't-- I couldn't escape the feeling that I was supposed to be more studious than I was, more committed than I was. I couldn't even return home after school every day like I wanted to, to the sanctuary of my room, because I had to do some extra-curricular activities-- they look good for college, you know. At the risk of entering the Too-Much-Information zone, I also hit puberty about three years earlier than everyone else, which made everything just that much more awkward.
Of course, if I could have known then what I know now, I would have floated by with solid Cs and drew my unicorns on every flat surface, and been one of those kids with a bag of Jolly Ranchers playing games with my calculator in the back of the class. Academic achievement was not worth what I put myself through to get it, and good grades absolutely do not translate to employability, as I've learned the hard way. I swear, potential employers seem to hold my college GPA against me. Apparently having good grades means that you're not a "team player" or something, the logic escapes me.
Anyway, it's because of this background that I tend to be easily stressed. I know that it's better to stay cool and take things as they come, but old habits die hard. That's where games come in; I wasn't allowed to play them as a kid, but when I finally had my own money and bought a Playstation in my late teens, it was like buying a little piece of serenity. Sure games were fun, but that wasn't all they had to offer-- reading is fun, rollerblading is fun. Even academic research can be fun for me since I'm weird that way. But games provided two things that I really needed: absolute escapism, and a proportionate feeling of accomplishment.
The allure of escapism is obvious; sometimes after a bad day I could get a cathartic release from shooting zombies in Resident Evil, or console myself that my day was at least nowhere near as bad as Claire Redfield's was (seriously, no one's day is EVER as bad as Claire Redfield's.) Plus there's the simple fact that just not thinking about your own life for a little while makes it easier to see things in perspective when it's time to come back to reality. But the proportionate feeling of accomplishment is a bit more complicated: in a game, if I put in a certain amount of time, I'll reap certain rewards. Grind a lot? I can reach level 99. Hunt for rare items? If I spend enough time fighting in the right area, eventually I'll get that awesome Super-Assassin Poison Deathblade for my swordsman. Unlike many aspects of life, games are fair-- they may not always succeed at making you feel rewarded, but they always, always try. There's something very comforting about that pure one-to-one relationship between effort and payoff.
Despite my problems, I'm happier now than I've ever been and I've finally learned how to relax. The other night my BF and I played games for hours together while drinking screwdrivers, and I'm pretty sure I would be a happier person today if I'd been doing this sort of thing for my entire life (gaming, not drinking, although drinking helps), but better late than never. Even though I don't need video games to keep me calm as much as I once did, I might not be here today if I hadn't had that refuge of peace in an unfair world. I don't rely on it in quite the same way I used to, but I don't think I'll ever give up gaming and the opportunity to kick back and enjoy that serene, peaceful realm: That world where I can see treasure on the horizon, but there's no rush because it's waiting for me.