With the Easter weekend coming up and my family poised to descend upon me in an inexorable tornado of baked goods and idle gossip, I realise with a heavy heart that I won’t have much time for games in the next few days. That’s okay, though, because I know I’ll make time soon. I’m also comfortable in the knowledge that I live a relatively charmed existence, blessed with leisure time and technology, always poised to flip open an electronic hatch and escape into something pixellated.
Looking back, I realise that I’ve dedicated the best part of a life to precisely that. And it is a strange joy.
Actually making time for games has to be one of the best things about being a gamer. To see a run of hours in which you can indulge opening out in front of you, and to know you can pour it into mastering some game system, honing a skill, or just languidly exploring a game world, is an exquisite thing. And in our busy lives it can be one of the toughest things to orchestrate.
With businesses to run and a family to care for, I’m no stranger to the demands on my time. Even with a duty to play some games for money, it’s the case that now more than ever I peer wistfully back to the long days of my youthful unemployment that were sacrificed to Quake III, or the idle years before RPS, when I barely scraped a living and spent my days lost in Eve’s nebulae. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to be able to give so much time to gaming, and even now, in the responsible depths of my Thirties, I am still making time for regular long hours at the screen.
I also familiar with the claim – the anxiety – that games are a waste of time. A distraction for slackers, and a sort of placebo for meaning. There’s always the idea that the time spent playing games could be given to more worthy activities, and I suffer the discomfort of that concern from time to time: perhaps I should be reading more philosophy, or catching up on emails, spending time mowing the lawn. Why am I slacking when there’s real, hard work to be done? But I’ve already addressed this problem in the past. To paraphrase my younger, even more idle self, there’s an extent to which there is something sacred in allowing ourselves to make time for escape. We’re taking advantage of incredible privilege: to spend time with our imagination, and with the imagination of others.
Hell, there’s more to it than that. My experience tells me that contemporary humans often need to mentally escape in order to get anything done. Apparently idle gamers are actually some of the most productive people I have ever met. It’s with that in mind that I keep returning to this quote by British satirist Will Self:
“[W]hat I most want to convey to you is that slacking is really quite different from other forms of inactivity. Your true and authentic slacker is not like a dosser, or a shirker, or a truant of any description. Indeed slackers are often surprisingly productive people. The reason for this is that the ‘slack’ itself, the actual head of inertia that the slacker builds up whilst doing nothing, is to the psyche as they stretched rubber of a bungee is to the bungee jumper. When the slacker reaches the very bottom of this descent into inactivity, he finds himself with an unconscionable amount of energy which has to be dispersed as quickly as possible. This is the only explanation I can come up with of how I have managed to do anything at all in my life.”
I’m certain that’s true, in some degree, of gamers. You could practically swap out “slack” or “slacker” for “game” and “gamer” in that paragraph. By making time for games we are not simply dossing – at least not all the time – we are instead doing something analogous to self-medicating. Applying a powerful dose of escapism to a mind stretched thin by a world which promises much and does not always deliver. Resetting psychological levers with mental acrobatics. Gamers have discovered that they are people who occasionally need a sideways mental step into the electronic if they are going to get anything done, and if they are to be the people they need to be.
So, if that’s identifiably you – and I suspect it is – make some time for games. Don’t let the thought that you really should be painting the spare bedroom gnaw at you too much, because there’ll be time for that too. Go find the game that is really precious to you, and open it up, and bask in the glow. It’s worth savouring.