Gamers are really like superheroes in a sense; we all have origin stories. For some, their origin story began on a Christmas morning after unwrapping a Super Nintendo. For others it might have begun with trips to a friend’s house after school, or countless weekends of sleepless nights fighting monsters, solving puzzles, and living lives worlds away from the reality that we confront in everyday life.
In addition to our unique origin story, we all also have a reason for what we do – “why we game”, so to speak. At first glance, the gaming community might seem to be a group of likeminded people who share a love for the same hobby. From an onlooker’s view we are people who are just killing some time between classes or relaxing after a long day or work, but in reality the reasons that we spend our time in these fictional lives is much deeper than that. So, why does a bird sing? Why does a horse run? In the same way, why does a gamer game?
1. To Escape the World
Just in case you have been out of the loop recently, let me fill you in: the world is kinda-sorta going to hell in a handbasket. Everywhere you look violence and terrorism plague the world on a global scale while issues like police brutality and racial tension put a lot of strain on backbone of American culture. Even for those known for keeping a stiff upper lip can be brought to tears by the events that take place in modern culture.
However, in Azeroth there is no Zika virus. In the town of Whiterun the ISIS and ISIL don’t even exist. From slicing orcs in Mordor to driving a tank through the Arian desert in the midst of World War I, gaming gives limitless access to places and times completely apart from our own. Becoming engulfed in a game can serve as the perfect distraction to get away from the evil of the world for a little while – whatever that evil might be in your own personal life. It might not be a permanent solution to the problems that we all face, but having the opportunity to escape the world (if only temporarily) gives us time to take a deep breath and regain our composure to help face another day.
2. Because It’s “What They Do”
Although it’s a reality that many want to face, repetition is the foundation of modern life. Wake up, work out, go to work, go to school, do homework, go to bed. Although the patterns of everyday life can definitely get tiresome, it is often special passions and fun hobbies that keep us going and allow to keep getting out of bed to face another day. In addition to that, it is also these hobbies and passions that define who we are as individuals. Someone who spends their free time constantly at the gym becomes known as “that guy who works out” or perhaps even a “gymrat”. A girl who spends her time listening to music, writing, and painting might become known as the “free spirit” with an artistic soul. The unfortunate truth is that often times these labels that define who we are dictate what we choose to do with our free time. The gymrat might not go to the gym because he necessarily wants to, but rather it has become what he is familiar with. That artistic young girl does do these creative things because she wants to, but often she does them because it is what people expect of her – its what she has always done and therefore more than likely what she will always do.
In the same way, someone who is known by their friends and family as a gamer is expected to play their games. Even I fall into this category. Every morning around five or six in the morning, it would be a shock if I wasn’t at my desk with a cup of coffee climbing the ranks in Battlefield 4. Do I play every day because I am passionate about the game and can’t get enough of it? Some days, yes. But then there are other days where I play simply because it is what I know and it is what I do. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No, not necessarily. However at the same time it does incite the question of why I continue to play if there is no rush of testosterone, no exhilarating rush as I storm the crowded hallways of Operation Locker. After thinking for a long while on the matter, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not that I don’t enjoy gaming, but rather that I have gotten comfortable with gaming. I take comfort in my games in the same way that Linus from Charlie Brown takes comfort in his blue blanket. Rarely does Linus actually address his constant companion, but rather it has become a part of his identity. For myself and others like me, gaming has become a somewhat unspoken part of who we are.
3. To Spend Time with (and Make) Friends
Back in the day, kids used to spend the entire day together. Throughout my childhood my mom told me stories about her and her friends riding through a rural town in the middle of Ohio playing ball, climbing trees, and simply enjoying life. She would tell me stories about her twenties in which she and her coworkers would go out to the clubs and bars, having a few drinks and enjoying one another’s company as the night turned into daylight. Of course both kids and adults do the same things today, but more and more are spending some of their time online fighting, exploring, and experiencing these vast worlds together. Whether it be through grouping up as a fireteam in Destiny to complete a raid, grinding through the dungeons of Brut@l, or finally putting to rest the rivalry of who is better at NBA once and for all, people are spending more of their evenings and weekends together digitally rather than physically.
There has never been a better time to link up with friends online, but the online gaming community is a great place to find new friends that share your same passions! Although often polluted with senseless insults and low quality music, in-game chat can be a great place to strike up some friendly conversation and meet not only a new friend, but also a skilled ally that could help the next time you decide to hop on. In addition to that, online communities in forums and on reddit aren’t just places to find trophy guides or walkthroughs. Helpful and friendly folks are readily available to not only help you with an achievement, mission, or puzzle, but also are there to talk to, share ideas, and link up online to play a few rounds! Remember: Don’t be shy! Gaming isn’t just about playing the game itself, its about sharing the experiences with those around you!
4. To Be Good at Something
Although some people might disagree, I am a firm believer in the idea that everyone has a certain skillset that sets them apart from other people around them. That is not to say that everyone can do something entirely unique, but you might be able to eat more chicken nuggets in one sitting than the rest of your friends can in a week; that is a talent.
Of course, due to circumstances such as physical limitations, mental setbacks, and other factors, many people find it difficult to “stick out in a crowd” and really find that activity that they shine in. However, when it comes to that, finding a game of a genre of games that you thrive in may very well be where you find that special talent that has been lying dormant all these years. For those with quick reaction times, first person shooters like Battlefield, Overwatch, Call of Duty, or Insurgency may fit the bill. Those with less than adept reflexes, but with a sharp mind, can find a nice niche in puzzle games or even puzzle platformers. Within these games, accomplishing the objective is often not so much about speed as it is about the thought that it takes to get there. Even for a sports fanatic who has never been able to truly get hands-on time experiencing the real game, there is more than likely a game for that particular sport that can put you in the body of your favorite sports star and allow you to feel that rush, if only for a little while.
Gaming can truly allow anyone to find something that they are skilled at. Whether that be the simplest math-three mobile game like Candy Crush or a complex and thrilling action role-playing game like Dark Souls 3, it is almost guaranteed that you will find a game that you love and that you, believe it or not, can be good at. Who knows, you might even be the next eSports champion!
5. To Experience Someone’s Artistic Creation
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, art is defined as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings”. Video games are often seen as something there to pass the time. A few minutes between classes, an hour before dinner, an evening with no plans – these are all perfect timeslots to fill with a good gaming session. However, within those gaming sessions and within those games lies worlds that have come from the figment of another person or group of people’s imaginations. The world of Metal Gear Solid was derived from the mind of Hideo Kojima himself. The Continent and all of the strange creatures and beings of The Witcher came from a collaborative effort of all of the minds of the team at CD Project Red. Even the most disappointing games – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, for example – still have those basic elements of design and creativity that classify it as a respectable work of art.
In saying all of that, playing a game is really admiring the art work of someone else. The same way that someone stands in a hall at The Uffizi Gallery in Italy and examines Raphael’s Self Portrait, we sit in our living rooms and battlestations examining the detail of a character’s outfit, the textures on a wall, or the clever dialogue between characters that really bring the story and the world to life.
Much like other forms of art, there are certainly pieces that are less than impressive and/or borderline terrible. However, it’s those games that allow a new developer to test the water – to jump right in, even – and get a real feel for what level their skills are at and what actions they need to take their skills to the next level. In one light, you could say that the gaming industry is composed of teams of designers that simply want to make games and make money while doing it. But in reality these teams are groups of artists with individual inspirations and visions. Through trial and error, practice and failure, these teams can continuously improve their works and repeatedly blow the minds of those that play their games while pushing today’s technology to its maximum potential. However, Jeff Goins sums it up better than I ever could;
“You can always go back and touch up a painting. You can always rewrite a lyric or melody. You can always edit a book or blog post. Art is never done. It is never complete. It can always be refined.”
6. To Become Inspired
This idea is one that we often see coming from the music industry. Perhaps the most common example is in an interview with a rock star who has made a name for his or herself. The interviewer sits down and asks “Where did the inspiration come from? Who first gave you the idea for that tune and that vibe that nearly all of your music has?” With some thought, many rock stars reply with “I saw this group named ‘The Beatles’ on The Ed Sullivan show way back in the day” or “Back when I was a kid I couldn’t get enough of The Rolling Stones. They defined my emotions. They define my generation.”
In the same way that painters glean inspiration from other paintings and musicians incorporate ideas into their works that another musician may have introduced, game designers take the experiences had in their own gaming sessions and allow them to influence their own projects for a new generation of games. From the largest AAA development teams all the way down to the one-man indie development studio, each and every one of these people have been inspired by someone else to put everything they had into bringing their vision to life. Take Tom Happ, for example, the creator of the recent metroidvania hit Axiom Verge. Inspired by the Metroid and Castlevania games along with Bionic Commando and Blaster Master, Tom set out to reincarnate those classics and bring that same experience to a new generation of gamers. With help from Dan Alderman, Tom has released Axiom Verge to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and even the PlayStation Vita allowing millions of gamers around the world to relive that classic metroidvania style of years past. Had Tom Happ never fallen in love with these classics, Axiom Verge may have never happened and the timeless metroidvania style would have been one step closer to becoming a relic of the past.
It may not seem like it, but when you sit down to play a few rounds or grind through some worlds, your brain is taking in and filing away the art style, music choice, color palate, and other small details that give that particular title it’s identity. For those that choose game development as a career, it is these memories and minute details that will combine with their own ideas to create a new piece of art that amazes and entertains the world while also inspiring a new generation of game designers to come.
This list certainly doesn't cover every single reason that people play games, but these are certainly some of the most common. However, every gamer has their own reason for gaming, so what about you? Why do you play games?