Some people really enjoy sports, others have a passion for TV, music or film. My vice is gaming. For all the vilification, health warnings and scandal which have surrounded gaming in the past and still do to this day I don’t think there is much that could change my engagement with them. Pass me a 50 page report on why gaming is actually fracturing the minds of many and creating generation of people whose dependency on the intense levels of stimulation gaming provides will one day bring the fall of society and I’ll probably still not stop playing. For some this may be a compelling case for exactly why I should stop playing games, that my mind is already too far gone. As someone who has played games since I was very little it has become something which is more natural to me than watching a film and reading a book, my engagement with a game occurs on such a deep level it is probably too late to give them up, to go “cold turkey” if we’re going to use the media-cherished addiction metaphors. My reluctance to give up gaming is not linked to any addiction, at least not how I see it, I could give up gaming if it had to happen, but I have no wish to.
In 2010 the simple statement “I like games” means even less than similar claims about other media, games have become something which means far more to many different people. Aside from the traditional genre distinctions between games we are also now very aware of the gulf that has formed between the “hardcore” and the “causal”. Someone who plays Starcraft 2 competitively is going to play games very differently from someone whose only gaming is a dip into Farmville every once and a while. This dialogue of hardcore Vs causal is generally a lopsided affair with life-long gamers refuting the “cheap” and “mindless” experiences offered up by casual games. This is often an extremely eloquent and well rehearsed affair built on a the vocabulary developed over years of interaction with the gaming genre. A casual user of Farmville or Bejeweled is less likely to monologue passionately as to why they are some how defined by the games, they might not even see themselves as “gamers” because of the bastardised nature of the casual sphere. The crumbling stigma which is attached to gaming is still enough to ensure that many who aren’t open about their gaming are not going to proclaiming their status from the nearest rooftop, it simply isn’t going to happen.
As gaming is still wrestling with the other totems of media hedonism for the recognition that is really long over due, those new to interactive media are slowly, and perhaps unconsciously finally beginning to see why it is becoming the behemoth it is. Gaming means as many different things to gamers and non-gamers as there are stars in the sky, like all things we appropriate it for our own means whether they are known to us or not. Whilst there are those who are well versed in thinking about games in a critical, concious manor, sometimes it becomes clear that such a dialogue is still unable to really exemplify what gaming is and what it does. I don’t believe what it does should be quantified in a biological fashion, brain chemistry may ultimately be the simplest option when explaining the gratification delivered by gaming, yet for me it is ultimately a hollow and unsatisfying outcome. Many have (and still are) outlining what it means to game, how it affects people, and these contributions are as charged as the hardcore/casual debate. But whilst we stumble around the subject looking for ways to approximate the appeal of gaming it becomes glaringly clear that either there isn’t the established vocabulary to do so, or it simply cannot be done.
When I describe LIMBO and how it makes me feel as a gamer I’ll say that the boy’s death is harrowing, that I suffer a kind of grief whilst playing the game and throughout I can plot a very clear mental journey I go through which is parallel to you progression through the game. Saying that it is harrowing and feeling the first violent jolt you receive when he stumbles upon a bear trap are a million miles away, in fact comparing the two seems ridiculous. Imagine your most affecting moment within gaming and try and describe it, try and put into words what you felt, how it effected you, how you may have changed from it. Write it down and leave it for a few moments, hours, a days even. When you read it again you will find that no matter how well it’s written or even how accurate it may seem it is not going to do justice to that moment when it happened. Silent Hill Shattered memories has one of the most moving conclusions to a game that I’ve played in a long time and hardly anyone else played it. If I made a passionate speech about why it was such a moving experience I’d be relying on the reader/listener’s ability to emphasise with what I was saying rather than truly feel what I’d felt.
When we begin to talk about gaming as an experience of feeling first, thinking second there are many clichés inherent from other debates and media which undoubtedly undermine what I’m trying to say. But really is that not the point that I’m making? If I could really put into words what gaming (good or bad) was to me I wouldn’t have written this, I’d still be gushing about LIMBO or something else. If this was the case I would probably not have written here at all, my fingers would be tapping away at what would be the most compelling novel ever written for I’d be about to write something that no one else could. Alas no, I persist that I or anyone else can only really ever create a crude resemblance of what you feel when gaming. This in itself is not a bad thing, the writing itself whilst ultimately failing at it’s goal may still be fantastic none the less. It may still succeed in convincing people to place themselves in a situation where they may also feel what the author did. I will proceed to chase the goal of documenting why games are so affecting, I still believe I’ll fail, yet I am compelled to try.
Chr15 6r33n (Follow me on Twitter at chrisgreen87 and for Chronoludic updates click here)