When I was seven years old, my brother was born. Suddenly my sister and I were forced into a world of toy pirate ships and fire engines. As my brother grew older, those interests waned and were replaced with a standard male pastime: video games. Our home became a collection of plastic boxes, wires and controllers of varying appearances. But I was about as eager to play with his video games as I was with the old wooden pirate ship. Why was that?
Looking back, I think my lack of interest in video games came down to two things: relevance and enjoyment.
The context of most video games seemed completely irrelevant to me.
As far as I could see, I was never going to be in a situation where I had to race a car against ten other people, battle weird creatures in order to save the human race, or run around collecting coins to stop myself from dropping dead at any given moment. Why would I want to put myself in a virtual context that reality would never reproduce?
I wanted to immerse myself in an extension of the real world, a sort of idealised version of my own life
The basis of most video games just seemed completely absurd to me, abstract to the point that I was unable to connect with them. I felt there was no relevance to real life, nothing in them that was relatable.
I imagine that’s where the appeal comes from for people who do enjoy them. Such games are an escape from reality, a chance to experience an imaginary situation. But I didn’t want that sort of escape – I wanted to immerse myself in an extension of the real world, a sort of idealised version of my own life. I definitely wasn’t going to find that battling monsters.
I also felt like a lot of video games were designed with game mechanics that were not enjoyable for me.
The basis of the games I saw seemed to be a struggle of some kind: survival in a dangerous world, or an almost impossible rescue mission. With real life involving so many struggles of its own, I would have preferred to escape to a place where these struggles weren’t important anymore, not where they become the foundation for everything else.
To me, an escape from real struggles into virtual struggles isn’t really an escape at all
I suppose that raises a slight paradox. Why should I want the context of a game be realistic, but for the mechanics of the game to avoid the struggles of this reality?
The simple answer is that without this combination, I don’t believe I could really achieve escapism. The definition of escapism is “to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasies”. How could I find “relief from unpleasant realities” by transposing myself into another set of “unpleasant realities” (bearing in mind that within the context of a game, these challenges are “reality”)? Surely relief would be found in a situation without struggle. To me, an escape from real struggles into virtual struggles isn’t really an escape at all.
Games vs other media
Games fall into a unique category. Unlike films or TV programmes, they require you to be actively involved and not a mere spectator.
That isn’t to say that one shouldn’t be emotionally involved in a film/programme (indeed the widely accepted hallmark of a good piece of filming is its ability to establish an emotional response), but ultimately the film will carry on running if you leave it to do so.
With a game, I have to control the outcome, so I want my efforts to go into something that actually means something to me
With a game, the minute you choose to set down the controller and have a tea break, everything stops. The player is crucial for the game to function. I think that’s why I need games to have a level of relevance that I don’t demand of the films I watch.
I’ve always enjoyed fantasy and adventure films, but I don’t enjoy games in these genre contexts. With a game, I have to control the outcome, so I want my efforts to go into something that actually means something to me – something I feel is relevant. With a film, however, the outcome is pre-determined and I don’t have any involvement in that – I just need to decide whether or not I like that outcome.
With a game, I control the story, so I want to be able to put myself in it. But with a film, I am not a part of the story, so it really doesn’t matter if I feel it’s relevant or not.
Despite my brother’s commendable efforts, I never warmed to the idea of video games. I felt they were pointless and silly, and I couldn’t see the appeal.
Growing up, I’ve gained a better understanding of why people like games, but that never made me a convert.
I don’t see games as pointless and silly anymore, because they entertain, and in doing so achieve a purpose. However, I can’t help but think of them as irrelevant and unenjoyable.
Regardless of how strongly others try to convince me, I don’t think I’ll ever be a gamer.