the artistry and psychology of gaming

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Why Do We Never Grow Out of Gaming?

Why Do We Never Grow Out of Gaming?

When I was a kid, my hobbies included things like collecting stamps, trying to cultivate my ant farm (I accidentally left them on a windowsill and the sun killed them. I was devastated and felt guilty for weeks) and knitting. I can now confirm that many years on, none of those hobbies still stand, even though my grandfather still sends me stamps; I don’t have the heart to tell him I’ve given it up. However, something that has always been constant in my life and will always be so, is gaming. It has stood the test of time, made it through my childhood undeterred and joins me happily in adulthood as ones of my favourite hobbies. This seems to be the case for many of us, but the reasons why have never really been explored. What is it that keeps us hooked from the day that controller is placed in our hands? Why when so many other hobbies last for a day, a month, a year and then fall to the wayside, does gaming remain as a constant in our lives? I’m here to give that issue a little thought.

First off; nostalgia. Sadly, I’m too young to have grown up in that truly innovative period in gaming history, where people, children in particular, were introduced to entertainment they’d never experienced before like the SNES, the Sega Genesis or the Atari. I never had to blow onto the cartridges to get them to work or load up my games from a cassette or copy in the 64 digit code that worked as a pseudo save point. But those children who did grew up with that incredible feeling of wonderment at these diverse and exciting forms of entertainment that they’d never seen before and that feeling stayed with them throughout their adult life. Even though I’m still too young to have experienced that gaming golden age, I still remember the first time I ever played a video game (Spyro on the Playstation 1) and how utterly fascinated I was. I remember how exhilarating I found it to fly over these incredibly verdant and (what were at the time) detailed landscapes. Flying was my favourite bit, in fact, I utterly infuriated my brother because I would never actually play the missions properly, I’d just soar around the sky; it felt utterly magical. And I still to this day remember that feeling, something I’d never felt before and I still feel the same way about games today. From the games we played as children, we graduated to the newer gaming offerings and embraced what this generation had to offer; you don’t grow out of that sense of excitement you had as a child. Gaming offers nostalgia, in addition to its intrinsic entertainment value, and nostalgia is a powerful and enticing thing. The word ‘adult’ conjures up the idea of commitment and responsibility but everyone deserves respite and leisure time, and gaming can offer you a moment to re-live those great times when you didn’t have any worries and when the very act of picking up a controller was to immerse yourself in something you found so fascinating.

To that end, however, there is a tragic misconception that video games are solely the realm of children and I struggle to understand the pervasive nature of this particular stereotype. It’s incredibly damaging because it leads some adults to feel judged and embarrassed by what they enjoy when they really have no reason to. Sure, children play video games but why is it that children and adults are considered so fundamentally different that they can’t even share the same hobbies? Children love reading and so do adults but that doesn’t make reading a child’s venture because we all know that there are books written for children; ones that are light hearted, easy to read and comical and that there are books written for adults which are darker, deeper and more mature in the issues they tackle. I find it hard to understand how people can’t seem to transpose this analogy onto video games. There are games for children and there are games for adults and the presence of games for children does not invalidate the presence of games for adults. Why should anyone be expected to ‘grow out’ of something when it isn’t even made for children in the first place? People’s tastes mature as they get older and just as we grow from reading The Gruffalo to reading Nineteen Eighty-Four, so too do we grow from playing Lego Harry Potter to playing Heavy Rain. But in fact, the benefits of being an adult mean you can do what you want; if you want to read The Gruffalo, go for it. If you think Lego Harry Potter is a really fun game, why shouldn’t you play it? Mindless entertainment counts for a lot in this hectic world and it’s the same as non-gamer adults having fun with ‘children’s’ pursuits’ like watching old Disney films or building stuff out of Lego, which never get old for the reasons of nostalgia I previously mentioned. We don’t have to act like adults all the time, part of being an adult is knowing when it’s time to mess around and have fun and when it’s time to act a little more soberly and vote at the polling stations or fill out your income revenue form. In short, no-one should be judged for what hobbies they pursue in their free time, be that gaming, reading comics, or building scale models of major landmarks out of toothpicks.

The key point of my argument is that ‘growing out’ of something implies that you moved on from a particular hobby or activity because it is no longer ‘fits you’, because it is no longer relatable, due to your norms, values and ideals morphing as you age and are indoctrinated into the subtleties, intricacies and downright oddities of being an adult. When you’re a child, you can watch endless re-runs of frivolous cartoons because they’re something you can relate to; they’re bright, colourful and friendly, involving simple concepts that appeal to a child and that a child can understand. You soon grow out of this, however, because these things no longer become relevant to you and are not stimulating enough for your now awesome brain (I consider the child brain to basically consist of mush and rainbows.) The main reason you can never grow out of gaming is because video games change as you do. When you’re a kid, there are games to cater to that stage of your development but there is no cut off point where they suddenly become outdated because there is such a huge range of titles that deal with a variety of issues. As an adult, you still find so many things that you can relate to within a game so they remain relevant to your life and give you no cause to ‘grow out of them’. Video games often deal with mature issues, or portray protagonists in difficult situations that feel very real to life so that adults can relate to them in the same way they could once relate to the simplicity of cartoons. You can’t grow out of something that always fits.

But overall, let’s not forget the main reason that video games remain so popular throughout peoples’ life; they’re just bloody good fun, challenging and incredibly entertaining. They’re immersive and exciting, and for a few hours at a time they transport you to a magical place, a window into another world. It’s just good fun to battle in dungeons or march through forests with your diverse party of fantastic characters who, like in a novel, you have come to love. Gaming, in some ways, offers more than a novel can, because the characters seem that much more real to you, they’re moving beside you, fighting next to you; games offer more than movies can, because you’re actively involved in the story and the battles, feeling the adrenaline rush when you enter a building and are faced with a gargantuan beast you know you’re going to struggle to fight. You don’t just see the beautiful vistas like in a movie, but you actively move through them, exploring every nook and cranny, seeing every leaf, tree and shrub. Video games are, by their very definition, interactive and this extra control over the customization, the characters and the story heightens the enjoyment and makes the whole experience incredibly immersive and often emotionally consuming. The artistry that goes into games means that loving them is even easier. When you think about the incredible technology and voice acting and level of design that goes into a single video game, you can’t help but respect every aspect of it.

There will always be ignorant people who choose to mar others with their uninformed stereotypes but overall, I do think that the rise in popularity of gaming in recent years is validating it in the eyes of the non-gaming population. I know we don’t need anyone’s approval but it will certainly make it easier for those who are still embarrassed at being gamers to not worry so much. Gaming is becoming thoroughly mainstream and has come on in leaps and bounds in the world in recent years; we’ll soon reach a point when no-one will even think we should grow out of it. Thankfully, we never would anyway.

5 Comments

  1. As I briefly mentioned before, I’m from even before that era and oh how I hated those really long passwords because I did not want to keep up with them ^^’ I was still in elementary school so keeping up with them just to play a game felt a bit too daunting at that young age =P Even the 10-digit codes for game genie felt daunting at first when you’re that young =P

    So many people I’ve noticed that started in the PS-X era started with that Spyro game. I think they did everything right and with how many he brought in by himself, it’s a shame not to see him everywhere like Master Chief.

    That is a good point. Luckily the “child’s entertainment” has faded much over the years (I think Sony can lay the greatest claim for helping pull gaming from “children” to “every age” in terms of societal perception). However I do agree with your point, especially when it comes to a hobby. Hobby is about personal enjoyment and when you think about it, “adult entertainment” outside of dating/relationships ends up being relatively a very limited pool of options if we were to take out things that children enjoy (which even takes out even reading as you mentioned). Even many of the “children video games” have the depth or perspective or mental challenge for adults to enjoy (such as Pokémon or Sims).

    You also brought out the most important part of what makes games “hooked for life”…the interactivity. Books and movies can’t even compete with such an experience when you’re actually interacting with the player/viewer/reader. As you described in great detail, when you’re part of and in control of the experience, other forms of entertainment just don’t have as strong of a hook for you anymore. Sure we can and still do enjoy movies/books/TV but there is still that magic hook when you’re a part of it that they can’t provide (and for those who try to be witty and claim “well if you use your imagination…” end up failing because that is like saying you can’t for video games).

    Yeah, and while you may not have experienced the earliest days first-hand, you have still witnessed enough of a growth just over 2 generations. Even your Spyro example and how you loved that (for it’s time) detailed scenery would be something you would look at now and feel so vacant and blocky with. I remember back when they were limited on the different number of colours they were even able to display on screen at one time and all of the weird, quirky, innovative ways of working around such limitations. Some succeeded with magical tricks of pixels while others…well, they tried for being confined in such limitations. Just wait until the days where it will be “What? You don’t have a gaming console/gaming computer? You might as well not have a TV then” =P

    • Haha, those codes are such an alien concept to me, when I learnt about them from a friend, it just hadn’t occured to me that there wasn’t any other way to save! I thought every game had save points! But yeah, it’s not an easy method for the little ‘uns!

      It was Spyro: Year of the Dragon and it was a quality title :D Oh the hours I spent on that flying around. I think it could be a successful triple A title on one of the newer consoles because I always loved the concept.

      Yes exactly, what exactly is an adult expected to do? How can anyone expect an adult not to enjoy the things they picked up as a child? That’s how growing up works, consolidating all your experiences and likes to form your personality etc :D Even the words ‘adult entertainment’ are associated with sex so they’re not giving us many options.

      I love novels but exactly, I think video games are on a plain of their own, there really is nothing that can compare to the level of interactivity and it draws you in every time. I’m playing Bioshock at the moment and it is a seriously unnerving game. When one of the Big Daddies lumbers past, the screen shakes and hearing his footsteps just sends your heart straight to your mouth. You really don’t want to move in case you run into him and it’s such an incredible feeling, scary movies can’t possibly have the same level of fear. Bascically, anything movies can do, games can do better, that’s just the nature of being so involved. How can you ever get bored of that?

      As I’ve mentioned in the reply below, the growth is truly astounding, the sheer level of artistry and detail, in terms of visuals and story as well, that we’ve managed to achieve in such a short amount of time is unprecedented. Like I said below, we’ve really had no time to grow out of it! It was just unrelenting! All gamers of the this generation and the one before have seen some incredible improvements and innovation, it’s amazing to think about :D

      Thank you once again, you always brighten up my articles ;)

      • Yeah…back in those days, they didn’t have the memory to store your progress onto the cartridge or they would have to sacrifice part of the game itself. The Pokémon series being limited to one save file is just an example that, instead of working around to provide more than one, would rather build towards keeping that the same. Playstation changed that detail by the Memory Card so you could save without taking up resources (especially since they were on a disc anyways =P ).

        Yeah…Spyro could be but I guess the company considers other projects as a priority. It’s a shame since who doesn’t want to run around as a dragon?

        Yeah…and I have no problem admitting “hey, just because I’m a male adult doesn’t mean I can only think about sex.” In fact, that concept seems even more childish and immature to me than an adult enjoying a good Pokémon battle or running around in the world of Mario. Even going to a library and seeing “adult section” is like “here is where to go if you want to be a pervert and read some sex story” sometimes.

        Yeah…as the graphics finally begin catching up (something like Bioshock just wouldn’t work on Playstation or earlier without a lot of effort to forcibly immerse oneself with the much more limited polygon count and Alone In The Dark tried and proved it just wouldn’t work), scary themes can finally shine correctly. ESPECIALLY with things like a rumble feature and surround sound, it really can bring you into the world. Now, when they fail to immerse you, that is when they begin failing.

        Yeah…and thinking of how we went from “WOW! Four colours on a screen!” to well most of the current AAA games’ visuals is something that other forms of entertainment just could not compete with. The closest examples I can think of going from printing press to type writer within 2 years for books or TV going from black/white and 2 – 5 channels to HD and cable within 4 years. Books took centuries to get where they are…movies I’ll say about a century, and TV half a century and gaming…Atari was something that came out around the time I was born =P

        You’re welcome. I always enjoy reading them :D

  2. Really interesting read as usual.

    When I think all the way back to when I first became hooked into gaming (commodore 64 I hold you responsible) it was very much a niche pursuit that really was the sole domain of bedroom nerds and geeks. Twenty years later it’s a multi million dollar business and some of those nerds and geeks are now driving Ferraris as studio heads.

    The rate at which video games have improved in every area, while to be expected in the technology industry is no less astounding In my opinion. From Pong to Assassins Creed is some kind of evolution, which I think may be a large reason gamers seem to be gamers for life. As we grow the technology grows, we demand more from our games and it is delivered in spades, generation to generation.

    with regards to the old stigma of games being for children, I think as you suggest it’s largely been erased. As younger generations of gamers can’t remember a time before video games it will eventually become a non issue. And as unfashionable as the “games are an art form” discussion seems to be these days, I think it’s difficult to look at something like a red dead redemption sunrise and not even be slightly convinced.

    • Thank you very much, I’m very glad you liked it. I do think it’s quite a universal topic too; important to all of us :)

      Actually, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there with regards to evolution. We just simply haven’t had time to grow out of them. Their progress has been unreleting from the day they arrived on the scene. Their technological growth is truly astounding and we’ve all just been throughly caught up in it’s awesome progression! Like you said, 20 years is all it has taken to go from something as simple as pong to something as detailed and expansive as Assassin’s Creed.

      That child stigma has been largely erased from the thinking masses but there are a surprising amount of people who just don’t bother to look at what’s out there before proclaiming your a lame immature kid who lives in their mother’s basement :P But yes, as you say, it is definitely diminshing. How can it not? There are so many games that are obviously not for children, the majority in fact.

      Red Dead Redemption was beautiful but games being an art form is more than their visuals, even though those are so often worthy of being called art too. It’s about their story and the characters and Red Dead is definitely art. The themes of salvation and revenge and all the dramatic devices at work are the same as you would find with a novel, except that I feel it has even greater impact in a game because you’re so emotionally involved. Well, as you can probably gather from this website, we’re thoroughly in the ‘games are art’ camp ;) Thank you so much for commenting.

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