In a deeply personal examination, I explain why I play games, why I find it hard to play games, and why others may be the same.
So I recently turned 22, a ripe young age I know, but I feel a lot older. Significantly older as it happens, and I find myself wondering why. It’s because I’m tired.
I am incredibly tired. Not physically, but mentally: Exhausted. I find myself playing games a lot, it’s what I do, but why I do it, and why it has exhausted me, are related.
So a lot of people play games for fun, a hobby, or a job. For me, and many others, it is escapism. It always has been.
I started playing games with the Mega Drive and PlayStation, specifically Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot 2/3, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I would have been 2/3 years old at the time. Yes I did start very early in my life, and not with the easiest games to begin with either!
Video games were a sanctuary for me. I wasn’t very sporty (I can play sports quite competently though), nor was I one for going outside. The latter is simple – Around the time I found my interest in games and technology, was the time I started school: The time the bullying started.
So what happened? Well until the end of my GCSEs (Age 16 for you not-British folks!) I was bullied in some form near daily. Sometimes physically, most often verbally. So I became sheltered. Not anti-social, lord knows I wouldn’t be here if I was, but someone who simply doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about parties, drinking, going out. I’m a desk sitter.
So games were my past-time. Something to do when I wasn’t out playing with other children. Losing myself in fantasy worlds, being heroes, beating bosses, getting 100%, those years on the PS2 were magical. But then I turned 10.
Suddenly all the games I played weren’t cool: Yes, it was the time all the kids my age jumped onto Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty despite…being horribly underage, and there I am, just being introduced to Pokemon via Pokemon Ruby for the first time on my first Nintendo system and falling in love, playing the latest Jak and Ratchet games on PS2 and PSP. When I brought these things up, I was bullied for playing kids games…despite being a kid. Child logic is weird.
I was chastised for playing these lighter games that were not only age appropriate, but held my interest, and for playing on kiddy systems instead of the Xbox at the time. This would have been 2004 to 2006 I believe, and of course the Xbox 360 came out, and I had a Wii. Well, everyone did, but I never used my 360. So that became a thing I was bullied for too.
Then I got a DS, continued playing Pokemon through my teens, got introduced to Mario and Smash Bros and all these other franchises, continued with Sonic and Ratchet on PS3 when I got one in 2010. What few friends I were able to make, and who are still around today to my surprise, had the same interests. But to the hundreds of other students at that school? It was a huge target on your back to play games like these openly.
This is when the bullying was at its worst. There is nothing more vindictive than a hormonal teenager looking to let off steam, and as the designated “Bullied kid”, every school had one, that was on me, for who I am and the games I play.
I see similar stories, and I heard it from others while I was at university. The same thing happened to loads of people, bullied for playing certain games. Why? This confused me but upon discovering the wider internet as I started university, I saw what it was.
So all of the above things, bullied for certain games, talked down to, it may all seem familiar.
Go to any message board, look up the PC Master Race, as it is called, or even some “Professionals” in the games media. The air of elitism, “I’m better than you”, it seeps out in comments sections but the motives and methods are the same to this day: Demean someone else’s gaming habits and feel better in doing so.
It’s bullying. It’s the same bullying. Yet I sit and wonder why I simply sigh at comments like that, the inevitable comments, from every side, be it Xbox, PC, Sony, Nintendo, Mobile, the list goes on, across many mediums in fact. It all fills me with the same disgust: Why would I get involved? What does it get me? Nothing, but it sure does remind me of my time at school, as it will to many.
For the longest time I used games as a way to forget about my bullying, to learn about technology, something I was deeply immersed in and still am. But over time it became something used by the bullying, and that’s when the depression sprang up like a bad weed.
There are days, weeks even, where I don’t want to play games. It’s usually after seeing comments, unavoidable comments, or people, or mind-sets, that just bum me out.
There is something to be said for thick skin, but even rocks on the coast are worn down by tides with enough frequency. You can only do some much before needing a break, some reprieve.
The internet and this modern age of gaming has largely proven itself to just be a horrifying extension of my and many other’s time at school.
The console wars are bullying, though no one on either side would admit it, but they know for sure they feel it.
But to conclude this analysis of why many play games and just what happens if you dare go online these days, I want to end by looping back to my time at university, at least briefly.
For all of a train wreck as that was, with teammates not working or bluntly dropping out 4 weeks before a deadline, terrible teaching for what was meant to be “Game Design”, there was this elitism lingering around the place.
In January 2017 I was invited by Nintendo to London to try the Nintendo Switch out, something that *anyone* would jump at. Early on I remember the university said they wanted us at the forefront of new tech, which is an amazing concept. We even had PSVR dev kits and had interns making VR software, it was great.
But they didn’t want me going to try the Switch. In fact there was this feeling that Nintendo…wasn’t a thing. It was very much a PS4/PSVR thing. Xbox got mentioned due to similar architecture, but was similarly dismissed. We learned nothing in the way of coding or optimisation either, but we sure did learn how to aggressively monetize games.
I was being given opportunities and striving forward on my own, something any institution would be happy for, but they didn’t want me doing that. I was even excluded from what were “Mandatory” events, and I wish I knew why. All I can assume is that just like with the bullies in my schools, or the people online engaging in never-ending flame wars…I fell outside of what they wanted.
And that’s just the thing. You can’t please everyone. But you can do your best to be nice. For nearly two decades now, being it from tutors, peers, random people online, I have had the same experience day in and day out. The games I play aren’t good enough for them, and they feel like they should shout it at me.
Personally, I will always be this way. I will have times where it does get me down. There are reasons I walk that fine line of “You do you”. If someone wants to play games of their choosing how they choose, then fine. That’s them. They have the right to, and I can’t stop them, nor is it my place to tell them how that makes me feel.
But that has been a rare stance I notice. It’s okay to be a fan of something, lord knows everyone is, but fanboyism, tribalism, this bullying, it is something I want to see stop. Sadly I don’t think it ever can.
I grew up telling myself I wasn’t going to be the people at school. I wouldn’t treat people like that. All I can do is laugh, and sigh, and move on at each instance like I always have.
But I know for some that isn’t so simple. Some people take it way too far, and it’s those instance that make me write things like this. We all love games. Why do there need to be lines between us?