Why I Don’t Play Video Games Anymore

I used to play them obsessively. As a child, they were my reason for getting up in the morning and what I thought about as I went to bed that night. When I got angry at them, my parents told me to do something else. As if it were that simple. The next time your mother or father complains about their job, tell them to find a new one and see how that goes over. To children, our hobbies are our jobs. We don’t really have much else to live for. That’s why it’s never helpful to tell a young person that what is consuming their life is petty. To you, it might look that way. To them, it’s their whole world.

Whenever I hear gamers talk about the state of gaming, there is a weariness in their tone. It sounds like gaming has regressed as they’ve grown older. Still, the women in games are sexualized to the point of offensiveness, and like Hollywood, the gaming industry seems to have internalized the prejudice that every protagonist (or at least, the vast majority) must be a square-jawed, straight white man. There are games that have pushed the envelope of what can be done in their medium. Bioshock, in addition to being a fun shooter, was a critique of objectivism. Then again, is that really necessary? I stopped playing about halfway through. It wasn’t bad; it just didn’t grab me the way that, say, Zelda did. I’ll probably return to it someday. All I know is that modern games, to my ancient twentysomething eyes, all look the same. I haven’t played that many, but based on the screenshots, I couldn’t possibly tell them apart. And if all of the complaints I’ve heard about DRM are true, it’s getting harder and harder to feel like you actually own the game. Why go through that much trouble to play something that you fucking paid for? I’d play the classics, except that they don’t run on this computer. I’m really up shit creek.

Video games find themselves straddling a widening gap. On one hand, they have to work harder to please the people who think the medium should be “art”. I do not view games as an art form. To me, they are a hybrid of sports and entertainment that do occasionally contain elements (good music, a well-written cutscene) that can be considered art. Did Super Mario 3 concern itself with deep, immersive storytelling? It was bright, fun, and addictive. Nobody wanted to know more about Mario’s backstory. He never even spoke. Yet there are people who insist that games should be evaluated the same way as books, films, and the like, and who get very defensive when somebody implies otherwise. I really can’t say that I understand their feelings. Their arguments seem almost self-defeating. David Wong, a writer I respect (and whose novel John Dies at the End is a breezy horror-comedy that I heartily recommend), complains that games, despite being around for 40 years, still haven’t progressed to the level of storytelling that movies had by this point in their development. Could the problem be that games aren’t meant to be a storytelling medium? A game without a story is still a game. But a game with only cutscenes is a movie. There is nothing demeaning about saying that games are not art. Chess is not art, but it is still beautiful. I greatly enjoy gymnastics, yet I doubt any of the athletes I admire (and, if I’m completely honest, masturbate to) would call themselves artists. I love games, yet I genuinely do not understand why gamers are so angered at hearing that games are not art.

Maybe the problem is the stigmatization that comes with game-playing. Growing up, I got picked on a lot. I liked Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons and made no effort whatsoever to hide it. Even though nerdiness is becoming mainstream, what with the current superhero movie craze and everything, it’s still a rare thing to find a kindred spirit. I bitch and moan a lot about how fans of the new Doctor Who series have no appreciation for or curiosity about the classic series, and while that’s true, it’s only a symptom of a much more pervasive illness. We all know Captain Kirk. Most of us know Captain Picard. What can any of you tell me about Sisko? Some of you probably have watched Deep Space Nine. That’s great. If you haven’t, that’s fine too. My beef is with people who just want to feel like they’re a part of something. Games used to be more of a specialty interest. Now, they’ve gone mainstream. Call me a prick, but if you only play games because you like shooting at stuff, maybe you should go outside. You’ll leave more room for me, Jaheira, and Khalid.

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