Life, The Universe And Gaming: There’s More To Life Than Videogames
Don’t worry, there is a point to be made.
Hi, my name is Caveshen Rajman and I’m here today to tell you all that I know a lot less than I think I do.
If you’re confused or wondering why I felt a need to start my column in this way then just hold on for a bit, because I have a story to tell. If you guys would humour me for a few hundred (thousand) words.
I’ve always considered myself to be knowledgeable about most things. Certainly, nobody has ever really challenged me whom I couldn’t wave off as either fanatical or superfluous to my existence. That was until recently, about a month ago now, when someone close to me (take a shot, podcast listeners) opened my eyes to just how ignorant I was. I didn’t know everything, in fact I barely knew anything that I could substantiate with verifiable facts, and a lot of what I did know was centered on some aspect of gaming. In other words, if it wasn’t gaming-related, I knew a lot less than I thought I did. More than enough to ‘sound’ intellectual, sure, but not nearly enough to hold an actual intellectual conversation.
Honestly this revelation kind of broke me, because it shattered a reality that had not previously been challenged in my life. In a way my eyes were opened. Anyway to cut a long story short, the realisation dawned on me that for all my passion and knowledge of this gaming industry, as much as I can talk at length about Peter Molyneux, BioWare’s storytelling or Bungie’s inexplicably loving fanbase, once gaming is stripped away then I don’t really have a lot to fall back on. I sure thought I did but the moment someone with the intellectual capability challenged me, that thought was quickly and brutally put to bed. And so came the inspiration for this column…
In fairness to my point, I’ve had the idea to write this column ever since then and I’ve only been putting it off because I wanted more time to do the research and be absolutely sure of everything I say here, because I felt I needed to deftly word every single statement to prevent from losing everyone to hateful comments. Then last week happened and the whole Rise of the Tomb Raider saga caused me to come to the realisation that those who actually want to have a fruitful discussion will read what I have to say, and those who don’t will simply skip ahead to the comments and flame. To those of you who stick around and read every word, I cannot ever fully express the gratitude and appreciation I feel, but I will at least say thank you for sticking with me. I sincerely mean that with every fibre of my being. Now, shall we?
In the postmortem of that discussion about how I really know nothing Jon Snow, I decided to start watching some documentaries and reading some non-fiction. Something that stuck with me was that I had spent so many years burying myself in fiction that my personal growth had all but stagnated. Oh, I saw what I thought was growth. I certainly see it now in myself. But it was almost as if gaming had provided me the wrong kind of growth, a sort of stunted progression along what should have been a gradual incline but instead was awkward and skewed. And it got me wondering how many others are so into gaming, so passionately vehemently into gaming, that they would forgo personal growth and any sort of self-efficacy in favour of the next great game.
It’s so easy for us on the internet to have opinions, and especially in gaming we tend to throw them out more and more by the day. I’ve realised that I’m tired of it. At the start of this year I wrote about arguing the same old tired things year in and year out and just like that, we’ve been doing so. Resolution, graphics, DLC, dodgy business practices and so on. Last year I wrote about how much I hate exclusives and yet last week I found myself defending one just on principle. And why? What point and purpose did any of it serve? Was there some form of active discussion to be had, or was I just being defensive because of what I saw as a double standard between two pieces of plastic and their relevant supporters? When did Sony and Microsoft achieve religious status, to the point that their supporters would be fanatically defensive of them? They’re just gaming consoles. So insignificant in the bigger picture of things. Why did they upset me that much?
Then I got to thinking of another thing I’ve talked about before, which is a latin concept known as panem et circenses, something that I had also talked about in a previous column, albeit briefly. The idea is that we are distracted by food and entertainment as a means of keeping us in line. Arguing over otherwise pointless things so that the powers that be can be left to their own devices is an easy off-shoot of this concept. Put in a gaming-related sense: Console manufacturers promote commercialism and pit us against each other and we fight and argue and attack each other but their brand is effectively what’s promoted, and they are left to simply exploit us and reap the profits. I think this to be true of both companies, Microsoft and Sony, as well as Nintendo and every game publisher. Even the good ones. It’s not so much conspiracy theory as it is a decided lack of evidence to the contrary, and a now two thousand year old concept that still has relevance. Think of the alternate version of George Orwell’s 1984, or: a book called A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
Arguably, in terms of personal growth, gaming is pointless in the grander scheme of things. Yes it gives us entertainment and helps us to develop some skills — you might say that it could make you rich but playing football could make you rich and do you spend as many hours on that? — and can even provide us with comfort and a place to belong; I’ve never felt happier in my life (well, there was that one time) than when I was at rAge amongst people I could call my equals, at least in terms of gaming. But that was obviously just because I fed that gaming passion so much. But now it’s obviously different. Now I look at a whole bunch of games and think, “This is going to keep me so damn unproductive while I play all of it. Maybe I just shouldn’t.” And then I go off and do other things instead.
It was a very drastic and shocking revelation to the eGamer WhatsApp group when I admitted that I see the pointlessness of achievements and GamerScore now. To clarify this point, I will stand and defend them as a means of helping one to prioritise, and they certainly got me to stop playing Dota as much as I once did. But now I realise that the type of prioritisation is not the correct one. And this could apply to every aspect of gaming as well.
See, just like how a person who knows big words isn’t necessarily actually smart, it’s possible to be the wrong kind of productive. At least, as far as I’m concerned it is. Sure you might consider building a bookshelf to be constructive and it is, but if you have no intention of putting books on that shelf then why bother when you could have used that time to create a keyholder for yourself, since you keep losing your keys for example. Likewise achievements and gaming in general convey a sense of false reward and instant gratification, where we are led to believe that our good deeds will result in rewards for us as people, and that if we want something then it is immediately attainable once we complete a certain checklist.
In real life it is obviously not so. That girl you like might not necessarily like you back and there’s nothing you can do about that, no matter how many ‘wear her down’ stories you’ve heard. Likewise you might never be able to afford an expensive car (Porsche for me), or work in a very high-paying job. And this isn’t me crushing dreams so much as it’s encouraging realistic thought. By all means aspire to these things but don’t expect them to magically happen. Gaming has a habit of making us think that with minimal work anything is possible. True for a videogame where you can sit on your ass and save the galaxy; not so for real life where you really need to get up and do something about what you want (Disclaimer: legal). Trust me on this one.
Some of you might consider this entire column to be unnecessary. I’m hoping that it’s because you guys already know how to ration your gaming such that it doesn’t get in the way of your living (and by extension, personal growth). Likely a lot of you will think I’m just spouting off a whole lot of bullshit that I should save for a blog somewhere, and stop presuming to preach to you about your gaming habits because how dare I and fuck me. And that’s okay. I’m not really here to change anyone’s mind so much as I’m just here to get everyone thinking about their own gaming habits (and by extension, personal growth). Nothing in our gaming industry should be so important — no matter how many billions of dollars this industry is worth — that we would be willing to lose friends (and (worthy) readers) over it.
Nothing should make you so passionate without doing as much to help you grow as a person.
So by all means, take a break from gaming every now and then and pick up a book or watch a documentary or visit a museum or just read articles on the internet even; do something to educate yourself and grow as a person. It’s often said by creationists that atheism is a path to depression and meaninglessness because without god how can anyone find purpose to their lives, but that’s just one way of looking at it. As I type this (Friday morning in a computer lab at my university) I’m quite relaxed and sated. I’m looking forward to my next meal while craving pork ribs and perhaps a mocha. I’m also thinking of the amazing sleep I’m going to have later this evening. I’m wondering when aforementioned person above (take a shot, podcast listeners) will be done with her lecture. There are other thoughts which I won’t share. But my point is, life is not devoid of meaning and certainly not depressing once you remove that thing that you’re passionate about. It ideally should not be devoid of meaning, anyway, and I speak as someone who in the last few months has played just a handful of anything.
Now ask yourself: If gaming in its entirety was removed from the world, would you survive?
If the answer is yes then awesome, hopefully you’re not just saying that and you can pick up a book or watch something for entertainment, or occupy your time otherwise. There’s always something to do — to the point that I often feel as if I’m in a rush to do as much as possible before I inevitably die — so there’s no reason to constantly fall back on one particular thing. But if the answer is no, and you truly cannot think of yourself existing in a world without a simple means of entertainment that sure, could make you rich one day, but ultimately does little for personal growth… perhaps we have a problem here.
Or maybe this entire column is me talking out of my ass and gaming is actually the best thing ever and how lost have I become in the past year? You can let me know your thoughts in the comments, because I’d truly love to read them.