This isn’t a review, or a rant. It’s not topical, it’s not news, and it’s not a reaction to a trailer or press release. It’s not an interview with a big name in gaming, and it’s not advice on how to be a better gamer.
This is me attempting to tell you in the span of a few paragraphs how I came to be a gamer, why I continue to be one and why I think I always will. I’m not sure what, if anything, you’ll take away from this, but I hope that if it strikes a chord in you you’ll pass it along. Share it with friends.
A few months after graduation, I find myself feeling a little nostalgic. I can’t wait to open the next chapter of my life, but as with any sequel it doesn’t seem fair to judge the content until you’ve looked at the source material.
The source, I guess, would be me, and the material would be a lifetime spent in front of a screen of some sort or another. The fact of the matter is that I never had a chance. I was essentially a gamer since I was old enough to absorb stimuli. It was my father’s fault, really. He used to come home after work, light up some Winstons and blaze through such classics as Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem, Shadow Warrior, the Lemmings, and all kinds of old pre-cursor RTS stuff I can’t seem to remember the names of. He did it to unwind, but if I was really quiet and sat somewhere out of the way he wasn’t guaranteed to banish me from the room. Somewhere in that haze of smoke a deep desire to swim in a world of pretty colors and deadly weapons was awakened in me. It would take me until college to develop dad’s nicotine addiction, but the love of gaming grew much faster.
My mother, fearing I’d spend life as a couch-bound misfit, tried to curb the spread with cautionary tales about the life wasted. But she’d never spent entire days grinding levels in a room full of friends. She’d never cobbled together a LAN center in a basement and spent countless caffeine-wired hours blasting aliens to curb pre-finals stress, and I know for a fact she never piled into a tiny car, racing across the countryside looking for the perfect bargain bin game to co-op for her birthday. An aside: we settled on Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows and while under any other circumstances I’d denounce this game as the worst piece of trash ever made, something about the quest to find and beat this insult to gaming with best friends on a special night transformed it into something of a spiritual experience. I’ve gotten drunk countless times at countless parties with countless friends, but my mementos of the night I played Gauntlet with three other people are some of the ones I’ve kept closest; the most memorable of the lot.
I guess the only question left is…why? Why devote the majority of my life to a universe of isolation spread out in my lap? I know I’ve made it out to be the thesis, the central question, and as much as I’d love to help you out, I’m afraid I can’t answer it. My social life has always been in places like this, places not by strictest definition “real.” For me, giving hours a day over to gaming has never been a sacrifice. I have plenty of friends, and not just the “online” variety you claim to be close to but have never really met in real life.
And I’ve kept a lot of them, too. We all went off to college and went our separate ways, but we were able to stay connected in Azeroth or the EVE universe or whatever had attracted our attention at the time. When we came back to town it was like we’d never left, and even now with the prospects of new lives in exciting places unfolding before us we’re able to shelve it all for a few days whenever our busy schedules allow and just sit down and play a few games. Sure, we’re not completely closed off. We care what each other is doing and we talk about the future and our plans, but being together in those rare moments is what really matters.
I guess if there’s one thing I want you all to take away from this, one bit of insight into the lives of the Men Who Stare at Screens, it’s that we’re not quite so bad off as you might think. Sure, every once in a while I’ll see someone in a dining hall or classroom approach a table of strangers with a confident smile and an introduction and wish I had that gumption in me too, but by and large I have no regrets. I would change nothing.