The Meaning of Games

A story about you

Little did I know at that time that picking up that highly squared and uncomfortable Nintendo joystick would be the start of a never-ending adventure and passion for video games. I remember playing Super Mario when I was five — that was most likely my first real gaming experience. I also fondly remember how excited I was to finally be able to buy a PS2 with money I had saved, and every laptop and console I’ve owned since.

Playing games became a big part of my life in a way that very few activities ever could. Just like reading an interesting book or listening to a deep song, playing a good game can be extraordinary. Some of my fondest memories are from playing games: late nights on Heroes of Might and Magic with my cousin, intense Left 4 Dead missions with my friends, and immersive single player experiences that left long-lasting impressions on me.

I’ve had this passion for as long as I can remember and with the passing of years it seems to only get stronger even if the time I have to dedicate to this hobby has decreased. And just as I have grown up and matured, so have games and the gaming landscape as a whole.

Because of more media coverage, in part due to Esports but also because more and more famous people have been revealing their love for video-games, this once-frowned-upon hobby has been getting more attention and has been rapidly gaining social acceptance. The previous cultural image of an over-sized, over-sweaty and over-timid boy locked in his parents’ basement playing games all day has now changed to something that’s discussed openly in public between all sort of people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. Whereas before those that enjoyed this sort of past-time would be coined as “nerds” and “geeks”, today wearing a gamer tag is something that is actually cool.

At a social level, humans have been playing games for a very long time, perhaps dating to the very first time a lie was told, some seventy thousand years ago. It might be really hard to grasp that the first humans could not lie or imagine things that were not true and that being able to tell a story, especially one that featured things that were not real, was a big first step towards human evolution.

In his book Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind, Yuval Harari explains how this moment — coined the Cognitive Revolution — was a huge step forward because all of the sudden humans were able to tell much better stories. Not just stories that were factual, but made-up stories that would come to enhance the way we live and what we believe in, ultimately serving in creating larger and larger communities and paving the way for a fast-paced human expansion and continuous evolution.

So us humans have always loved stories as they seem to be a pillar of human evolution. Games have become a powerful medium for story-telling and the entertainment industry has certainly taken notice as more and more money is being invested and spent creating large-budget video games. At the same time there are more indie developers and more gaming-oriented start-ups than ever before, VR seems to finally be getting the traction it deserves, there are more movies based on video games in production and this year GTA V apparently made over 6 billion dollars, making it the most successful entertainment title ever.

Photo by Miguel Melo on Instagram.

Certainly, this year has been huge for gaming, for better or worse. Game addiction has recently been declared a mental illness — which certainly doesn’t sit right with the millions of gamers worldwide — but on the bright side, some scientists argue that games can actually help to fight mental illness and provide users with a stronger, healthier brain.

Clearly, the gaming industry is picking up more speed and traction, and the reasons that people play video-games for have also become a lot more varied. From being a hobby to becoming a career choice for many. However, for those of us that have grown up gaming, we know that a game can be more than just a really good story. For those of us that have always felt connected to the virtual world it gets to be a lot more personal.

Gaming can be something powerful. It can be a way to escape the real world and become something you are not. A way to cope with pain and difficult times, a way to be someone else just for a moment. Becoming more than a hobby or a job, it can be something through which relationships are forged and wordless bonds are made.

I recently came upon this reddit post that relates the story of how the God of War series was the way through which a father and son bonded, getting them through some truly difficult times, culminating into one of reddit’s most honest and heartfelt posts. When asked about what games meant to him, kratosfanuts — the OP (original poster) had this to say:

I grew up in the last push of the threshold between spending time outdoors in nature or at the playground, or indoors on the TV. My Parents, as with many of the time, preferred me to be outside. And frankly so did I, but there was *always* that feeling of pure bliss at the opportunities I did have to play games. Whether it was at a friend’s house on their GameCube playing Mario Party, or at school on those extra special days in the ‘lab’ on the computers. It wasn’t until 2007 when my Dad bought our first console, and with it introduced me to the wonderful world of gaming. The PlayStation 2 was revolutionary in our house. It allowed me, a mere 8 year old kid, to explore dungeons in the deepest pits of other realms. It allowed me, a mere 8 year old kid, to become a superhero and vanquish the forces of bad. Or to become an adventurer in the farthest corners of the world. It was a new medium for me explore my greatest fantasies. And not only that, it allowed me to actually access them in a tangible way. Games mean so much more to me than just something to distract me from a bad day at work.

I know many people that have a deep passion for games. It is no surprise that such a post was appreciated and deeply understood because many of us know that games can occupy a very important place in our lives.

Games can make us feel powerful when in reality we mostly feel powerless. They can make us feel understood and part of something, when we feel alone. A good game can be a friend, a workplace, a challenge and an adventure all rolled into one. It can turn us into warriors, explorers, pilots, or just your average plumber jumping over hills and breaking bricks in order to save his princess. Games can teach us about beauty, honor, truth, but also about hate, consequences and shame. They can build real friendships and even end some. People have made international teams, crossed countries and continents to meet people in real life and even married individuals that they met in games — people that were once only pixels on a screen, nicknames in a database.

Photo by Wells Baum on Unsplash

I’ve played games for fun, for the challenge, for the immersion and for the company. I’ve made real friends and can honestly say that playing games changed my life in more than one way. But how about you?

Why do you play games?

Cover photo Rebecca Oliver on Unsplash.