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5 Reasons Why I Play Games

A 36 year old man writes

1) Passivity makes me fidgety. Even in a film, TV show, gig or novel I'm hugely enjoying, my mind will at some point drift to the clock, wondering how soon until it ends, how soon until I can stand up or talk or check something or eat something or go somewhere. Awful, I know. Games, broadly, need me to be doing something most of the time, and that is the greatest weapon I have against a propensity to boredom that I am not at all proud of. This is also why I start to go spare in something like StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, as it spends so much of its duration pummelling me with particularly low-grade passive storytelling, and my frustration that I have to watch this nonsense instead of do things for myself goes through the roof.

2) Games have been a calming retreat for me since almost the earliest years of my life. I'm never entirely sure where I fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. I'll often yearn for company, but just as often feel it's the last thing I want. I don't want to be alone, but I do want to be on my own. Not sure I'll ever figure that one out, although the slow entropy of friendships that affects many of us in our 30s and 40s is pretty much making the decision for me. Games always scratched the itch though: alone but in company of a sort, part-conjured by the screen and part by my imagination. I get to be somewhere where I'm in control, where I can choose the activity and who I spend time with. In theory, anyway.

3) The possibilities of a digital space never cease to amaze. Granted, so many games are so locked into genre that possibilities are wiped away entirely, but I play something which offers a novel idea or a playful means of interaction often enough that I remain entirely convinced this medium will never stop showing me new things. Particularly, I can close my eyes and conjure up game spaces - Proteus' pastel islands, Dishonored's forlon city, STALKER's lightning-flecked wilderness, Dear Esther's Hebridean purgatory, X-COM's menacing corn fields - in a way that I never could a scene from a film. In a way that I can about real places I have visited and had pleasant or heartbreaking experiences in.

4) And here's a less impressive truth: I also play games because I have some compulsive tendencies. I'm not going to go around putting a label on anything I haven't sought to have diagnosed, but let's just say I'm the kind of man who spent a large chunk of last weekend meticulously renaming all the hundreds of video files that I will never, ever watch again in order that the correct names and thumbnails would show up in my media server application. This mentality also had a hold of me during Fallout 4, in which I suspect I've spent far more time collecting all the parts for minor armour upgrades than I have exploring or fighting.

Because that's the thing: give me a digital place in which things can be maximised, collected or simply tidied up and I can't resist. I'll hoard ammo in any first-person shooter, I'll be laden with potions and herbs I'll never use in RPGs, I'll try to scrub an Assassin's Creed map clear of every icon long after the point I'd prayed for release. I'll keep going, whether or not I'm enjoying it, because I'm unsettled if something is left unobtained or inefficient. Had I a surfeit of disposable income, I fear I'd have fallen prey to audophilia for similar reasons: restlessly pursuing the best and failing to enjoy what I already have because of it. (This is also why something like Proteus, Gone Home or Dear Esther tends to have a big effect on me: games that shovel all compulsive aspects out of the way leave me free to enjoy their worlds, because that hungry lizard part of my brain stays asleep.)

5) I also play games because real life is increasingly full of extremely tedious chores, and if I'm wrapped up in some colourful pretend-space on my screen for a short time I mercifully stop seeing all the things that need mending, appointments which need arranging and bills that need paying. This, most of all, is why I suspect I shall never grow out of games.

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Dear Esther

PS4, Xbox One, PC

Fallout 4

PS4, Xbox One, PC

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About the Author
Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.