Note: This was intended to be more lighthearted, but it became more introspective and whiny as I wrote it. I plan for this blog to be more humorous with some hints of scholarly value, this is merely a blip.
I’ve been thinking lately about why I play video games. The simple answer is I play them because I love them. I love them enough that I started a blog so I could share my poorly written thoughts about them, among other things. I love video games because, along with sports, when I recall my happiest memories almost all of them involve video games or sports. These aren’t lonely memories of me in my basement beating my favorite game. Like sports are a social activity, so are video games for me. To play a team sport, like basketball or football, you have to have other people around. For a video game to be truly memorable to me, I have to share the experience with someone. I do not know why exactly. Maybe it’s because the only way I can relate to other people is through those shared experiences. All my friends I made with sports or video games. Each time I play a game, whether of the video or sporting variety, I am hoping to capture those moments from my youth when I was able to overcome my innate awkwardness and connect with another person.
My awkwardness is not to be exaggerated. I am frequently abrasive and weird. I can never shake the feeling that all my friends hate me but are too polite to tell me to get the fuck out. I gained one of my best friends because I was being a mean-spirited shit and provoked him to fight with me. It was 5th grade and the teacher made us stay in during recess for fighting. We put aside our differences while playing “educational” computer games and have been friends ever since. But we sat next to each other for most of the school year before that, we could have talked about our mutual interest in video games and football at any time. It was not until we were forced to play games together did we become friends. Sports overcome my social deficiencies in another way. There is something inherently honest about sports. One cannot play a team sport with forming some sort of rapport with the other players on the team. Sports give a group a common goal and, unless you have a uselessly dysfunctional team, teammates grow to know, if not like, each other. Video games are a less inherently social activity, but my experiences with them make them one for me.
My sports memories are all pretty straightforward. Angry with the outcome of a Chiefs game, my dad and I would go out in the yard and play catch, though in my mind we were fixing the Chiefs mistake and making a loss a victory. Playing basketball one-on-one with my dad, or more often my older brother is another. He was a fraction of an inch shorter than I was, but he was undoubtedly better. He could spot me 7 points going to ten, with a broken arm, and still beat me. The handicap, meaning the spotted points not the arm, did not matter. I knew that if I could manage to beat him the heavens would open up and rain confetti down upon me to recognize my victory. Unfortunately my brother got his driver’s license and drove to find real competition before I could ever win. But video games are if anything more personal and more socially involved. If I close my eyes and thy to think of my happiest memories one is sitting in my best friends game room playing Final Fantasy 3 together. When we first started, my friend, who had already played the game, left me to get familiar with it while he got a snack. Before long his older brother leaned in like the serpent in the Garden of Eden and tempted me to do what I knew was wrong. The game told me not to hit Whelk’s shell, but he told me it was a fake-out. My friend returned a moment too late to save restart. For weeks I went over to his house to play that game. A feature of it that I hardly ever hear praised is what made it the most memorable: the ability to assign party members to controller two, making the JRPG a two-player game. We, or at least I, agonized over what to name the characters as we got them. The epic adventure unfolded before our 12 year old eyes. Together we experienced it. Another is playing the other great SNES RPG Chrono Trigger with my bothers closest in age to me. We sat glued to the TV for a couple weeks, me and my younger brother were completely enthralled by one of gaming’s masterpieces while my older brother seemed to edge out of the room. Despite his waning interest, I do not think my brothers and I have ever been closer.
Most of my cherished memories are from when I was younger. Because eventually even the equalizing frankness of games could not hold my quirks. I fashioned a persona for myself to insulate me from the honesty that games bring. I became jaded and cynical. But I still play games often, because somewhere there is are games that can cut through the cynicism and the jaded irony to the sincere joy that was my childhood and occasionally I find them. That is why I play video games.