written by Flocci
“Kids these days! They’re always looking at their screens, tuning out the people around them. Why don’t they put down their silly computer games and be a part of the real world?”
Most people are familiar with the common complaints about video games. It’s not a rare occasion for parents to be confused, frustrated, or downright angry with their child’s apparent obsession with the digital wonders behind their screens. It can seem irrational for someone to be so invested in something that isn’t even real. So why do we spend so much of our time on video games?
Welcome to An Adult’s Guide to Gaming, a series in which we will explore the various sides of video games, from mechanics to philosophy. What purpose can video games serve? Is it reasonable to invest real time and money into them? How do games even work? Why are they only associated with certain types of people?
In these articles, we will attempt to answer these questions and more. This insider’s look into the world of gaming may teach you something you didn’t know, or maybe even change your stance entirely.
A young boy sits in the dark, illuminated only by the flashing lights of his screen. He mashes the buttons of his controller furiously, occasionally exclaiming in excitement or anger in response to the game he’s playing. He saved three weeks’ worth of allowance to buy this game after waiting in anticipation for months, and he plays it all the time.
A teenager sits on her bed, swiping and tapping at her phone. A variety of noises come from her device, chimes and pops and words of encouragement. She’s on level 213 after playing this game for weeks – it’s her go-to activity whenever she’s bored.
A 22-year-old man sits at a desk in front of three monitors and a high-quality mechanical keyboard. His left hand taps deftly at the keys; his right hand grasps his expensive gaming mouse, making precise movements around his enormous mouse pad. A constant stream of information comes from his mouth as he communicates with his teammates through a voice channel. They practice twice a week, religiously sticking to the schedule that they agreed upon.
The realm of gaming is diverse and eclectic. There are all sorts of games, and a huge variety of people who play them. Some people play just for fun, while others play competitively. From first-person shooters to atmospheric exploration simulators, from strategic defense games to simple point-and-click puzzles, video games are a widely used form of entertainment. What is it about video games that make them so popular?
Ralph Baer, known as the “Father of Video Games,” provided an answer to this question: “People love video games because they do things they obviously can’t do in real life.” Whether they’re stepping into the role of a powerful hero on an alien planet, a sports superstar in a high-stakes match, or a terrified victim of supernatural evil, people who play video games are able to temporarily step out of their lives into a situation that they would otherwise be unable to experience. Like reading books or watching movies, playing video games gives people the chance to enter a reality other than their own.
The definition of gaming varies depending on who you ask. Those who consider themselves “serious gamers” tend to be biased in favor of what they consider “real” games, often excluding mobile games, flash games, and games that require less skill (even though they are still fun). Within this set, some are even more exclusionary, denouncing console games in favor of PC, or vice versa. Some are even derogatory to all but a few games, claiming that the rest are not worthwhile or legitimate. However, the vast majority of the people who consider themselves gamers are open to all forms of the activity and the people who enjoy them.
There are three main ways that people play video games – PC, console, and mobile. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.
PC: Short for personal computer, this refers to a machine that can be used for multiple activities, not just gaming. Many people build their own PC’s to have control over the quality of their gaming experience. While PC’s can be fairly pricey, they are one of the most common platforms for playing video games.
Console: This is the main competitor to the PC. Consoles such as the Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch are specialized units for playing video games. Whereas PC users typically buy their games online to download, console users tend to buy physical copies that are compatible with their device. Consoles tend to be cheaper and last longer, though their graphics quality is generally worse than that of PC.
Mobile: In recent years, mobile devices have become a more common way to indulge in video games. Mobile games are typically played on the phone or tablet, and they tend to appeal to a more widespread audience. These games tend to be simpler and shorter than PC or console games, but they are typically much cheaper while still providing players with a fun and engaging experience.
Between these three platforms, there is a wide assortment of games that can appeal to all sorts of people. Perhaps that is why gaming is so popular: it’s one of the few activities that can truly be said to have something for everyone. It is a highly customizable experience that allows users to be in charge of their own story, if just for a little while. Gaming takes us to another reality, one where we can be a hero, a villain, a mastermind, an agent of chaos, a star. That is the heart of video games; beyond the flashing lights, the mashing of buttons, and the intense competition lies a means for people to experience what it’s like to be something more than they ever could be in reality.
The realm of gaming is immense, and there are many aspects to explore. Tune in next week as we look at the idea of online identity in Part 2: What’s In A Name?