I’m tired of being judged for being a gamer.

I’m sick of people that look at me with a hint of disappointment when I express my passion for games and ask when was the last time I got off the couch and went outside (apparently Pokemon Go is the wrong response to this question). I get sad whenever those around me make no effort to understand why I like games when I try and tell them about the positive aspects of gaming (educational experiences, improved mental health, bettered cognitive skills). I’m still told to my face that something I enjoy is worthless.

 

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I hear the whole “when I was a kid, we played outside until the streetlights turned on and it was dinner time, and we walked uphill both ways in the snow to get to school, we didn’t have time for games!” What these people don’t consider is the how the way that we live has changed. Houses are getting closer together and backyards are shrinking. That sense of wide open spaces and summertime freedom no longer exists the way it used to. Open fields have turned into housing communities and what used to be suburbs are now bustling extensions of cities. The space we once had to play in outside is shrinking due to the expansion of humanity as a species. According to the Population Reference Bureau,“the world has experienced unprecedented urban growth in recent decades. In 2008, for the first time, the world’s population was evenly split between urban and rural areas”.The World Health Organization predicts that “by 2017, even in less developed countries, a majority of people will be living in urban areas.”, and the International Monetary Fund states that “more than half the world’s population now lives in urban areas, up from 30 percent in 1950”. When I was a kid, the city I lived in was mostly agricultural, with produce fields lining the freeway. Now, those fields are gone and high-end condo communities have taken their place. Traffic is horrendous and we can all feel the urban lifestyle of Los Angeles (it’s an hour away) creeping our way. Very rarely do you see kids left to roam until the streetlights go out. Especially with the rise of things like shootings, AMBER alerts, and other terrible things that happen that feel out of our control, we tend to keep the ones we love close to us. With no place left to go, what’s wrong with using your brain to solve puzzles, see the result of another’s creativity, and challenge yourself using a mobile device, PC, or console? According to some people, there’s a lot wrong.

I’m confused as to when using your imagination and fostering a love of exploring new things was deemed a bad thing? I know that for me, games have played a meaningful part in my life. They’ve helped me overcome anxiety and depression by providing a healthy outlet. I knew that the things games asked me to do: quests, missions, or tackling obstacles, were never impossible.  Even when I was mentally at my worst and felt like I was good for nothing, solving a particularly tough puzzle or beating a boss battle felt like a huge victory. Each small win helped me feel a little less useless and a little more empowered, which gave me the confidence to tackle real world obstacles with purpose and a clearer mind. I experienced things that took me far away from the dungeon of my depression and anxiety and actually made me feel like a capable human again.

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Part of the problem is the stigma towards anything “digital” these days. One theory I have is because technology new and rapidly taking over at such a pace that people can’t keep up and therefore deem the unknown as bad. Development moves so quickly that if you don’t keep up, you’re left behind. I believe that just because something exists in a virtual space, that doesn’t make it any less valuable. I see games as an art where the medium is pixels, not water colors or pastels. For work, I’m a social media manager for bands. My own grandpa calls my job “a scam” and my gaming hobbies “a waste of time”. He once saw me playing The Sims 4 and told me to try playing this game called real life. Note to self: don’t play the Sims 4 where Grandpa can see. He is extremely suspicious about The Cloud, like it’s going to come down and smother him in his sleep one night. Grandpa has also expressed how he feels like everything online is trying to sell him something or take advantage of him, which is why he thinks I’m a scam artist for work. What he has a hard time seeing is how the digital sphere has the capacity to do amazing things for good. It’s not just my grandpa who’s cracked jokes about my love of gaming either. Co-workers, other friends and family, and acquaintances on Facebook have all said things too. Just last week at a meeting we were having a conversation about Pokemon Go, and two of the people in attendance went on about how the game was a huge waste of time, good for nothing, and a distraction to people who already can’t do basic things like cross the street safely. My attempts to defend the game and bring up how it’s actually been quite beneficial for mental health, community building, and exercise went ignored. Again.

Games are changing the world. You might not see it yet, but it’s happening. I’ve experienced it myself in something I’ve built. In college, I did a university funded research project that involved creating a game using GPS based mobile technology to teach university students about crisis management in public relations. Partly because I wanted to answer the personal question I had inside: are games good for things other than entertainment? In the game, students were put in the role of Public Relations Officer of a university. In the game, a crisis occurred at the university (a chemical spill) and students had to actually walk around our real life campus to talk to characters on their maps, make choices, and complete quests to handle the crisis. I saw my peers play test something I made and take away ideas that would help them in their careers. It was something I thought I couldn’t do at the start. I’m not an artist or a developer, and felt completely in over my head, but I wanted to take a shot at creating a game that could teach someone something.

It was frustrating to encounter bugs and glitches and have my playtesters complain about it when we did focus groups. However, it was awesome to hear them talk about the lessons they learned from my game, concepts that were staples from a textbook chapter they hadn’t even read yet. At first, my friends thought it was odd the school would fund academic research about video games, even going as far as to say I wouldn’t even be doing any work, just playing games and slapping an “ALL FOR RESEARCH” sticker on top of a stack of new titles from Gamestop. Yet, after a few of them play-tested the game and could tell me what they learned about crisis management (even as majors other than the one the game was geared towards) they were pleasantly surprised. I don’t think that’s a waste of time, and because of that experience I’m confident that games can be used to teach anybody anything.

1979 Revolution: Black Friday teaches about the Iranian Revolution using historical facts paired with in-game content. Fragments of Him guides us through the grieving process with the story told by three different main characters. Mass Effect forced us to make tough decisions where people got hurt as a result and where those choices affected the way we played every Mass Effect game thereafter. Short form games like Cibele and Emily is Away illustrate the grey areas of relationships and how not all endings are happy ones. Overwatch encourages teamwork and positive play by not showing player death/kill ratios and instead focusing on how each player succeeded in any given match. The Uncharted series takes us to places we’ve never been and empowers us be the ultimate hero we’ve always wished we could be.

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Something like Pokemon Go has been helpful in introducing a game to people who’ve never played before by using a familiar topic (Pokemon) and pairing it with a technologically current way to make non-gamers feel at home. You don’t have to know anything about guilds, crafting, or other stereotypical “nerdy gamer” things. All you have to know how to do is work your phone and follow a map. Most people are already familiar with that map scheme, making the adoption rate of Pokemon Go higher than if everything was new and unfamiliar. I think that many people would be more open to the idea of gaming and it’s possibilities if it were integrated into more areas of life where they could see the positives first hand. I’m a firm believer that education would definitely benefit from gaming. It’s socially acceptable for people to sit on the couch and watch professional sports, read a book or binge watch Stranger Things on Netflix, but unacceptable to sit on that same couch and solve puzzles to proceed to the next level or strategize a battle plan by communicating with your team. Maybe I’m missing something here. I just feel it’s unfortunate that so many people brush off the game industry and turn a blind eye to all the awesome things it creates.

 

  • “Shootings, AMBER alerts” are a media phenomenon. Statistically these things are dramatically down since days past; probably all around the world.

    When we were kids we did both. Urban areas have community places to do things, and even the densest suburban area is completely amenable to kids playing outside.

    When it’s hot outside, and or raining, then the kids have plenty of time to play with video games. They are almost wastes of time. On par with most of the things cited in the last paragraph. All of these things should be done in moderation, so not to lose sight of other possibilities on the horizon, and there must always be a private and public dialectic about if what we are doing is or isn’t promoting healthy outcomes.

    Generally speaking, if the games or books are not cultivating an improved sense of self, then there is a problem there. Like junk food, junk media also exists, and it’s all relative to established diets and baselines and generational trends.

    • Very true @Stormbringer! There’s DEFINITELY a bunch of junk media out there, thats for sure! Moderation in gaming is also a great topic to think/write on. This comment is great, it brings up a lot of awesome points. Thanks!!

  • I think games can be very good for people who, whether temporarily or permanently, can never experience certain aspects of our real world due to financial, time, or health reasons. I know for me, I love photo-realistic historical games and open world games because they give me the feeling of exploring worlds I could never experience in real life. For example, I would never want to live in the dark ages for a plethora of reasons, but I feel like Skyrim lets me experience the more positive aspects of medieval nostalgia without ever having to live with the negatives (rampant poverty and disease) and I felt like I was exploring a complete world outside of my own. Similarly, people can explore almost any aspect of humanity, history, geography, or fantasy through the thousands of major label and indie games out there without needing the money or good health they’d need to experience those things in the physical world.

  • Great article Kate, thanks for writing about your experiences and feelings about gaming. I have been told the same thing about video games being a waste of time. I am thankful that I never got into drugs, drinking, smoking, etc. and I am grateful first to God and then my mother for that. If I were to add a third, it might be video games because I was so engrossed with my NES, SNES, Genesis, etc. that I would never have had the time to do those things! I was too busy conquering digital worlds…..and am glad I did. I would rather have been playing a game or watching anime than doing any of that.

    It’s always good to look at the positive and how gaming can be beneficial.