The upside of video gaming

Monday, July 3, 2017

Growing up, I obsessively played the video game The Sims.

And by ‘growing up’ I mean I played it a great deal from the age of about 8 all the way through until yesterday, when I played it for four hours before I became really, really frustrated with the lag (it’s all those damn expansion packs) and annoyed by my own lack of productivity. ‘You should be accomplishing something, Steph! You have so little time on this earth! Whatever happened to carpe diem?’ is on constant replay in my head (my internal guilt trip narrator would never use the word ‘yolo’, even ironically).

People idealise childhood as this magical time in their lives, when they didn’t have a care in the world. I think the further you move away from being a kid, the easier being a kid seems. I feel like I am still just young enough to remember things as they were. Sure, you don’t have to worry about finding a career and earning money and eating properly when you’re a kid – you’ve got your parents to look out for you. And there are lots of fun times (before you get all weird and self-conscious and emo).

But, gosh, being a kid can be downright terrifying. You’re pretty much powerless. You’re at the mercy of parents and teachers and older siblings. As you get a little older you gradually realise there’s so much terrible stuff in the world – people starving and wars going on – that you can do nothing about. It’s depressing.

Personally, I found being a kid really frustrating, largely because people treated me like a kid, and I was aware of lots of stuff I could do nothing about. Which was why I loved video games so much. I’ve never really understood action games, or those first person shooters – why on earth would I want to run over someone? Or shoot anybody? (To this day I am baffled by Grand Theft Auto.)

But the world-building ones, and the family-creating ones? I loved them. I created narratives for my characters. I lost hours and hours and hours to The Sims. It seems like a huge timewaster now, but back then, it helped me. It gave me a sense of control over a reality, even a tiny little pixel-driven one. The satisfaction of achieving something, that sense of success, was what kept me playing; it’s very hard to stop once you’re involved. There is always something else to achieve.

People claim kids being to addicted to video games is a sign of the coming apocalypse. Well, maybe they don’t use terms as dramatic as that. But still, violence has always been a problem. Apathy has always been a problem. Poor health has always been a problem – only the causes and distractions differ from decade to decade.

Video games aren’t the root of all evil, like television isn’t, like rock and roll isn’t.

I don’t think devoting years of your life to video games is a good idea, but I don’t think losing years to reading is a good idea either – I think having balance in your life and not reaching the point of addiction is important. Trying to escape into other worlds shouldn’t be what motivates you on a daily basis (perhaps that’s a bit hypocritical, as someone who, as a novelist, is pretty much a full-time escapist).

Despite all this, my video game obsession has helped me as a writer. Even though I was channelling all this imagination and creativity into a very unproductive virtual world, I was still using that imagination and creativity. I was still thinking in narratives and making up stories in my head. Eventually the limitations of video games started to frustrate me, and more of my attention was put into writing stories down. The obsession was transferred to something slightly more productive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Mario Kart tournament play. Very important stuff.

Originally published on Birdee Mag.
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