Is Gaming Worth It?

As you may remember if you are one of my favorite people in the world (someone that reads this blog weekly), our team now has an artist! This is very exciting for many reasons, especially because we get to see this game come to life visually. It also means that we have a much more official logo now – no more of my Paint.net nonsense.

This also means that I can focus more on promoting our game and engaging with the indie development community. Our team has been sharing our experiences about our development experience so far. This is important, but it needs to go further.

So, beyond sharing our feelings, we also need to find ways to learn from the community at large. I don’t know if it’s the dry British humor or the vaguely hyperbolic name, but for me, the natural starting point in this quest for wisdom is PC gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun. After diligently clicking through to the “About Us” section, I discovered RPS founder Jim Rossignol’s autobiographical book This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities. Personally, I’m a big fan of biographies – I love seeing life from another person’s perspective and trying to understand his or her motivations and fears. Now, technically this is not a full autobiography (Jim Rossignol is not in fact dead yet), but nonetheless I was inspired by the title and decided to give it a shot. The bulk of the book is divided into sections based on significant cities that have shaped his experience with gaming: London, Seoul, and Reykjavik. Being slightly compulsive, I’ve decided to write 3 blog posts over the next few months in which I reflect on what I learn from each section.

Part I: London Calling

First off, picking up this book is one of the best decisions I’ve made so far in my experience with indie development. Rossignol writes very authentically, which I really admire. But beyond that, even after reading just the London section, I have found that his writing addresses a question that has haunted me from time to time: Is gaming really a valuable pursuit?

Very early in the book, Rossignol makes his purpose clear: “I am going to try to persuade you here that games are worth paying attention to. They are worth taking seriously and thinking and talking about in some detail. They might even be a very good thing for our culture as a whole.”

I really appreciate that he is addressing this question because it is something that I worry about. Don’t get me wrong, gaming has had a very important impact on my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Nonetheless, so many people deride gaming as a waste of time or “anti-social” or “nerdy” behavior that it’s hard to shut this question out entirely.

Rossignol presents several arguments for the value of gaming. But before looking at those, it’s important to understand that he looks at gaming through a very personal lens. Much of the London section is devoted to his description of how becoming an expert in Quake liberated him and helped him make a career in gaming. By liberate, I mean that he got fired from his job as a London based financial journalist. But, he got fired from a job in which he was not at all fulfilled. Fortunately, he’d spent so much time reading forums and coaching online teams that he was eventually able to translate this experience into a career as a gaming journalist. Things don’t work out so well for everybody, but they did for him and the industry is better for it.

However, despite his experience of personal transformation, Rossignol does not rely on this to argue that games have worth. He presents substantial evidence about how gaming can potentially improve reaction time, motor skills, and information processing capabilities. Yet, neither does he use this evidence as the centerpiece of his argument. At the end of the day, he argues simply that games are important mostly because they combat boredom by offering entertainment and the opportunity for intentional leisure time.

I found this argument very gratifying because essentially, what it does is it implicitly sets gamers on equal footing with everyone else and pushes back against the “nerd as inferior” vibe that is often present in American culture. I think that too often, people that are into gaming are on the defensive, trying to justify doing what they enjoy by pointing to greater social benefits. But, at the end of the day, why should gamers have to justify how they want to spend their leisure time? If it’s okay to spend a Saturday watching college football, why isn’t it okay to spend a Saturday conquering new worlds online with your friends? Obviously, gaming, like anything else can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. However, just because something can potentially be abused doesn’t mean the thing itself is bad.

This all got me thinking about where I fall on the gamer spectrum. I personally don’t actually consider myself to be a huge gamer. Between working on a game and keeping up my day job, I have ironically little time to play games. That said, gaming has had a truly important impact on my life. When I rushed home in grade school to play Age of Empires, secretly happy that baseball practice had been cancelled on account of rain, gaming taught me what it felt like to be myself. When I got drunk with Austin on cheap rum and hot chocolate (terrible combo btw) and played Alien vs. Predator, gaming became a bonding experience in one of my most important friendships.

My point is – gaming is wonderful because it’s one of the few activities in the world that can meet you wherever you’re at in life. If you just need to escape for a few hours, gaming offers an intellectually stimulating option. If you need war stories to bond over with a friend, gaming is there. Or, if you find yourself unfulfilled in life and you need to find meaning, you can dedicate yourself to a game and become the master of that universe. Last but not least, gaming also offers a creative, generative option. Thanks to all of the work that has been done in the indie industry, creating a new game is now really an option for everyday people that are willing to dedicate themselves. I believe that the opportunities for personal growth in such a venture are vast, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to face any of these challenges if a vibrant indie gaming community did not already exist.

So, I guess I want to end this post by saying thank you to Jim Rossignol. Thank you for inspiring me, and thank you for helping me find meaning in what I’m doing right now. I can’t wait to read the rest of the book.

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