There are many different reasons that people play video games. Personally, I play mostly to experience amazing stories. Games like Life is Strange, Firewatch and The Witcher 3 feature fantastic, well written characters that I became attached to and wanted to follow and learn more about and see where they ended up. I also love to play games for the pure, childlike joy that I feel when I kick a Koopa shell into a row of Goombas or find the last piece of a fossil for that Stegosaurus in the museum in Animal Crossing.
Another reason that I love to play video games is that they can serve as a brief escape from the harshness and difficulties of reality. When times have been tough over the years, sitting down for an hour and escaping into Tamriel, San Andreas or the Mushroom Kingdom has been an invaluable coping mechanism. It takes me away to another place or time where I can briefly set aside whatever problems are nagging me out there in the real world. While escaping into a fantasy world certainly won’t get rid of those problems, there is great value in taking a little bit of time and forgetting about them.
For years we’ve have fought the perception of video games as a waste of time that’s only for slackers and social outcasts. We’re quick to point out games that we consider to be high art (such as Journey or Inside) as a justification of our hobby. And while I think it’s obvious to most of us now that games are capable of reaching incredible heights in storytelling, I also don’t think that we should underscore the value of pure escapism in games.
Sometimes I have a really awful day at work. Everybody is driving me nuts and I’m not being productive and an eight hour day feels like twelve. The cure for that just might be stealing a van, filling it with us many firearms as possible and going on an epic reign of terror across the city (just to be clear, I’m talking about GTA V). Or maybe my kids have been fighting all day and I have an amazing headache and the house is a mess. Playing Flower and just floating through the sky on a gust of wind might be exactly what I need to decompress.
The past week has been really difficult for a lot of people. I personally have been through a whirlwind of emotions from fear and sadness to rage and grief. And the truth of the matter is that I am part of a group of people who will probably be the least effected by recent events. It’s hard for me to fathom what other people from marginalized groups must be feeling right now. Many of them are in danger of having their entire way of life threatened. And if for them, escaping into a game for an evening will ease that pain even for a little while, then that’s an incredibly valuable thing.
Life can be overwhelming sometimes. In the age of 24 hour cable news and social media it can be hard to get away from the seemingly never ending barrage of negativity. So while there is undoubtedly much work to be done in the coming months and years, we also need to take care of ourselves. And if shutting yourself away from the rest of world to collect Riddler trophies for 3 hours will help you to get through all this then that’s exactly what you need to do. The world will still be here when you’re ready to face it.