Why I play games

“Aren’t you too old for all that stuff?”

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Sorry, I’m too busy being an elf in a crown

It’s not a question I get asked daily, but it is a frequent one.

Videogames (my XBox Series X is one of my most heavily-used possessions), tabletop role-playing games, and boardgames.

It’s fair to say a large chunk of my non-creative free time is spent fiddling with controls, rulebooks and little bits of plastic.

So, what’s my answer? Why do I spend so much time playing games? Why am I not old enough to know “better”?

Let me tell you …

For the stories

Once upon a time …

Ever since people sat down in front of a campfire, stories have been interwoven with human existence. A way of collectively sharing the imagination, or safely being able to picture how we might cope if fantastic situations happened to us.

A way to be moved, to be frightened, to be uplifted, to be excited. Whether a tale of dastardly deeds happening just over the next hill, or a story of galaxy-spanning conflict beyond the reaches of the farthest stars, it matters not. Stories have power: whether spoken, written, or shared.

And when it comes to shared tales, tabletop role-playing games provide the most collaborative form of storytelling there is. Stories where the beginning, middle and end are unknowns, mere sketchy lines of a journey at best. Stories that a group of people define, add colour to, and co-create as they play.

And videogames aren’t exempt from this collaborative form of sharing stories. Developers are the unseen storytellers, whether a linear adventure or a vast sprawling sandbox, they give us — the players — a set of tools to experience our own stories.

Stories that we share.

For the escape

Top of the world, ma

What other hobby allows me to don so many roles and guises, and to suspend my disbelief so much?

Whether I’m zipping round a gothic Gotham as a caped crusader, reliving the Cold War in some action-flick version of Berlin in the 1980s, or travelling a fabled land on the back of a flame-enshrouded tiger, it matters not.

Games take my imagination by the ankles and dangle it upside down, shaking it until a huge variety of experiences fall out its pockets. And whilst I may be able to get some of the same imagination highs from reading a book or a comic, or watching a movie, none of those come close to the immersive enjoyment of taking a role in a game and getting as close to living it as current technology (and time travel) allow.

At the risk of getting all XBox advert on you, I have been a Viking, a Yakuza, a knight, a samurai, a wizard, a space smuggler, a giant robot … and a goat.

And I am still not satisfied, and very happy that I doubt I ever will be.

For the fulfilment

Achievement unlocked

In general, I’m pretty happy with my life and grateful for it.

Sometimes though, the daily routine and everyday happenings of the real world can make it hard to work out how well things are going.

Not so with games. Electronic or analog, they’re nearly all built with the same dopamine-rewarding structure. No matter how short or how long you play, you get something out of it. A few experience points. Unlocking a branch of a skill tree. Some shiny new equipment, or a few credits to exchange for same at a later date.

New outfits. New weapons. A rare mount, an armour set. A wider repertoire of spells, or a few special moves that you couldn’t pull off before.

Drip, drip, drip goes the mighty Tap of Reward, and it’s addictive.

And rewarding.

And – when faced with the prospect of another long day at the desk job – the kind of fulfilment and progress that can help motivate me to do the things that might well matter, but aren’t exactly the most fun.

Gaming. It helps me live.

For the love of it

Here be dragons (and space dragons)

At the end of the day, if there’s something you love and indulging in it doesn’t cause anyone or anything any harm, then that’s fine.

And I love gaming, in all its forms (fortunately excluding gambling: my bank balance suffers enough as it is thanks to my need to feed my gaming hobby).

And I’m old enough to know that I always will.

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