Not too long ago I watched a quasi-documentary called “Why We Fight”, which detailed the story of the American War Machine, with the soldiers, politicians, generals and such all detailing why they think the military is essential in day to day life. It then got me thinking, not about war or the military, but about gaming. Why do we game? Not only that, but why do we, the hardcore gamers, feel such a strong bond to gaming, including the industry, the community, the developers and, most importantly, the hardware creators themselves.
It’s not too difficult to find people defending something relating to gaming. Almost any forum will have pages upon pages of dialogue arguing as to why Sephiroth is the most amazing villain to grace a CD-ROM, while another thread could chalk up hundreds of pages debating the qualities of one particular system over another. The “Fanboy” is not specifically exclusive to gaming, but the advent of mainstream gaming has definitely filled its ranks somewhat. But the idea is fascinating, why do people feel the need to defend a “side” that does not know, or embrace them?
We gamers are a strange breed. Unlike most large niche subcultures, we weren’t produced by rebellion, social exclusion or any major negative impact. We were the first generation of kids who played video games as a regular pasttime. And unlike any other influence, other then our parents, those games shaped our desires, our nostalgic memories and our passions. It’s hard to find anyone who grew up as a child in the late eighties to mid ninties who didn’t own a console.
But something strange happened. Unlike traditional toys or old style games, gaming grew up with us. We didn’t move on from it, it evolved too. For the first time, something we enjoyed as children grew up and embraced us as adults. And just like sport is for some, gaming became not only something we played, but watched, read about, wrote about, anticipated and followed with an intense passion.
It’s hard for those outside the sphere to understand why. To many, games are still the domain of the child. But this is changing, as gaming becomes more mainstream, hardcore gamers become increasingly marginalized. People found out about our dirty little secret and how ridiculously fun it can be to spend 4 hours gunning down zombies or fighting your way through dungeons filled with creatures only a crazy Japanese developer could come up with. They wanted in.
The fanboy is simply a creation of our industry. Just like the soccer hoodlum, a fanboy is simply someone who takes the idea of gaming too far. While the hoodlum fights on behalf of his team, the fanboy fights on behalf of his developer. With media, hype and developers creating extraordinary amounts of community and loyalty, its no surprise that people can get excited. And thanks to our childhood, its also no surprise that amazing experiences found in games can generate the same amount of devotion.
Not only that, but the industry pushes it along. It drip feeds the fanboy, dropping firmware updates and blog posts into their inboxes, providing them with more ammunition to take to the forums and expand the brand. You cannot pay for that kind of attention, nor that kind of immense delusion, because it’s a type of viral advertising that only a freak anomaly could create. The fanboy is one of a kind, and as much as many would hate to admit it, an essential part of our community.
But what about the rest of us? Why do we keep heading back, over and over, seeking the next title like a heroin junkie seeks that next 5 minutes of Nirvana? Like movie junkies, adventure hunters, and lets face it, drug users; its the anticipation of the next experience. It’s the ability to escape our meager existence for a while and escape. It’s the ability to enjoy that same experience with our friends and family. It’s the opportunity to create our own path.
People don’t have much control over anything anymore. Most of life is out of our hands now, we simply head to work, pay the bills, and everything is supplied. When we crave adventure, or excitement, we used to go white water rafting or bungie jumping. But in modern life, where most of us live in cities and barely have time to go to the beach on a Sunday, games provide that element of escape, adventure, and control over our (virtual) fate. No longer are we at work, waiting for the boss to get on our cases about reports, we’re kicking ass and taking names in MadWorld.
But the other, most important, reason we game is because its fun. Gaming removes stress, it provides one of the most important parts of a human’s wellbeing – play. It makes us laugh, sometimes frustrated, sad and angry. Generally, it can pull strings across the entire emotional spectrum. We can enjoy it with others, locally or anywhere in the world. Though and around games (playing and writing), I’ve met amazing people, I’ve grown friendships, and found an avenue that only very few other hobbies can match in scope.
Gaming is one the most extraordinary experiences that have developed in the last 50 years. Not since sport, music and film has there been such a cultural explosion that has amassed such a huge audience. We game for all sorts of reasons, for fun, for work, for social engagement. But there is no denying that it’s a powerful force that will not be disappearing anytime soon.
Will we still be doing this at 50? Definately. It just might be that little bit harder. But still just as exciting.