I’m not much of a gamer. I’ve played various versions of Civ since about 1994, but not much else… the gunfire sounds in first-person shooters make me tense, and when I’m playing it’s not my desire to end up more tense.
Still, seems to me it’s as good a way of spending time as any other. I’ve noticed there are more and more positive stories about gaming and about online pursuits generally, and (with the exception of pedophilia-related scare stories) fewer “D&D killed my dog!” stories. I liked this piece by Clive Thompson today:
Yet, just like a crossword addict, when the game is over, we’re left with — what? A sense of completion? Sure, except what we’ve completed could be regarded as a supremely arbitrary, nonproductive task. The elation I feel when I finish is always slightly tinged with a worrisome sense of hollowness. Wouldn’t I have been better off doing something that was difficult and challenging and productive?
Except, wait a minute. That’s just stupid, Puritan thinking. Videogames, like crosswords, are a form of play — and play is a key element of a healthy adult existence. As game theorist Raph Koster has always pointed out, our playful brains love to seek out patterns, to solve problems — and there’s something existentially joyful about doing this in an environment that doesn’t have any stakes if you screw it up.
Or here’s a more radical way of putting it: Wasting time is one of the central reasons we play. If play were productive, it wouldn’t be … play. Monday Night Football doesn’t achieve anything either.
The BBC talks positively about gaming as a way of assessing the character of potential offline relationships:
You can easily gauge some of the slipperiest aspects of human nature by observing someone’s tactics. Are they a risk-taker? Do they panic under pressure? Do they respond to failure with frustration or creativity? Are they a gracious winner or a griping loser? A loner or a team-player? Perfectionist or bodger? Is winning all that matters, or will they risk death to pull a prank or tell a joke?
And Doonesbury made me snort (click for the full-size version — originally here):