Gaming at 39: A Confession

I play games every day. Literally, every day. I recently tried my best to think back and try to remember some 24 hour period when I hadn’t played any games at all. Even while traveling in London and Berlin, I always found time in the evening to play something on my DS or my Ipad or my laptop. I haven’t been so sick that a few minutes of some digital distraction didn’t seem like a good idea. Of course, there must be some time when I haven’t played a game, but I can’t for the life of me imagine when it would have been. It would have to be before I bought my first Nintendo DS, which was in 2006, so probably five years ago. From a detached point of view, this probably seems like rather juvenile behavior for a man who’s just begun the last year of his thirties and is charging towards middle age.

To be clear, I do not feel one iota of bad about my gaming habits. Rather, I take great satisfaction in them. Mine is a restless — some would say wandering — mind, and I always want some form of active engagement. And while I like a good episode of Top Chef or Castle as much as the next person, most television simply cannot hold my full attention. Indeed, most television plays just fine as a radio play with occasional glances at the images. Similarly, most video games, especially the kind that I play on a DS or an Ipad, aren’t particularly demanding of my entire attention either. Building tower defense arrays or manipulating falling blocks or even deciding on my next turn’s strategies don’t quite entertain my whole brain. Thus, the perfect synergy of casual games and casual TV. Nothing like a Top Gear marathon to clear through those Plants vs. Zombies levels.

I find it very telling that, for me personally, there are only three kinds of leisure activity that can reliably occupy my entire attention: sex, reading a good book, and playing a good, in-depth video game. I can’t imagine playing Tetris without the TV on or some podcast playing on my speakers, but a great, enthralling game like Mass Effect 2 will suck in every neuron of my conscious mind. The right combination of story, gameplay, and experience hits all the right notes and puts me in a happy mood. Conversely, playing a bad game for any length of time can sink me right down towards depression, and I think I’m going to have to stop spending time on such things. I’m looking at you, first hour of Two Worlds 2, I think it’s best that we part ways now, before one of us does something that we’ll both regret.

I’ve heard the cries and complaints about how our brains are changing for the worse with all this “internety” distraction. I can imagine some readers scoffing at my habits, decrying them as sure signs of an aimless and unproductive intellect. Don’t I have some books to read or write? Shouldn’t I be out getting some exercise? I do all of those things too, and some of the time I’m not even playing a game while I do them. However, I see no reason to game less than I do. There are more varieties of game, more kinds of gaming experience than ever before in history. The best thing about technology’s relentless advance is that, much more often than not, it gives us more choices than we had before. There nearly is a game for every mood and occasion, and I don’t know what can possibly be bad about that.

So, here I am, recently turned thirty nine, and a devoted gamer. It seems the perfect time to reflect a little on a life spent playing games, and that’s some of what I intend to do here over the coming months. But more than that, I want to put myself out there as on record as saying: “This is good. We should revel in our ludic opportunities.” It’s not kid’s stuff. It’s not necessarily adult’s stuff. It’s this generation’s great contribution to world culture, and its true implications are unknown and awesome to contemplate. I, for one, proudly hope to never go another day without gaming, so long as I shall live.