Why I Play Games

By Alexandra Geraets in Serious Infotainment
Monday, November 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm


Behold. A cave.

I seem to be one of those people who cannot resist the allure of an open cave entrance. "Is that a cave? Why, yes, yes, it is. Hmm... I know I have to get these items to the next town, but that is one yawning maw of a cave opening. I wonder what's down there. Except I have these items to deliver. But there's a gaping mouth of a cave opening... ooh... conflict... nope! Cave. Cave wins every time." And so I go into the cave, and five hours later, after finding several more caves, I finally end up in the town and deliver the goods, all the while having forgotten why I went after those items to begin with.

Does that sound familiar? Like at least 7 million[1] other people on this planet, I've been playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the past week. Being as that I never really got too far in Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and barely escaped the opening dungeon in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, this is quite the accomplishment for me.

Why didn't I ever get very far in the previous two games? Partially it was the playing of the games, themselves; I was new to games, and wasn't terribly coordinated, nor was I completely sure of how the games actually worked. I was more familiar with linear go-from-Point-A-to-Point-B games, and the Elder Scrolls seemed almost too daunting a task. The other reason I never got very far was because of the first person perspective. It disoriented me, and when I switched to third person, the characters moved so awkwardly (side to side, stiffly jointed, bizarre bending of the knees when jumping, and enough weird body manipulation to make your basic anatomy student twitch) that I would have to put the game down and walk away.

This is not the case with Skyrim, and I can't recall the last time that a game I played reminded me so strongly of why I enjoy this hobby as much as I do. It might be the immersion in the world, or it might even be the simple act of playing out the story however I want, with no clear-cut directions on how. Open world games have never really appealed to me, but I am seeing their appeal now, in ways that I hadn't before. This game, while not necessarily doing anything radically different with its franchise, has reminded me why I play video games in the first place, and why they've remained an entertainment staple for me.

I was in college, more or less an academic with delusions of scholarliness, and two of my friends suggested that I pick up a controller and give gaming a whirl. I'd played video games off and on as a kid, but they had never really been part of my entertainment exposure. I recall playing the Nintendo 64 and finding it a lot of fun to play the Mario games, but other that that, my exposure was limited. What my friends did for me by encouraging me to give games a try was introduce me to a new way of storytelling, a new way to have interactive entertainment, and, of course, a delightful distraction from writing five papers a semester.

Prior to picking up that controller in college, video gaming struck me as interesting, but also somewhat silly. It was a hobby that some friends engaged in so they could have parties on the weekends, and others played for the puzzles. What drew me in to the gaming culture was the opportunity to have some fun, a stress release from the world of the working college student.

As I progressed in gaming, through my purchase of an Xbox, I discovered something new in video games that spoke volumes: stories. I've loved books and stories since childhood, and I have worked for almost ten years in bookstores, or with books. Discovering stories that could have come from some of my favorite books pulled me deeper into the gaming landscape. Each time a new game would make its way into my hands, I'd look at it, trying to find something new and tantalizing about it that would make me want to spend time in a world that developers had created.

The on-going argument about whether nor not video games qualify as 'art' is always with gamers, and those who work in the gaming industry. I don't want to get into the argument, but I will say this: some of the best stories that are available right now are present within video games. Working with books in my day-to-day life, I'm always surrounded by stories, be they real or imagined. Video games have embraced stories on the level of the book, and there are games that present imagined tales, and those that base themselves around real worlds and events. It is the imagined tales that have had the greatest impact in the past few years, both in the video gaming world, and in the real world.

Skyrim is a fine example of a strong fantasy story. Its world is vast, open to interpretation, and it is a truly immersive experience. With the impact left by J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels, and contemporary writers like George R. R. Martin with his Song of Ice and Fire series, fantasy is taking its last steps to being accepted by mainstream storytellers as a legitimate medium. Some sneer at it, the same as there are those who sneer at contemporary literature, but there is presence within fantasy stories, and, without the imaginations of people like Tolkien and Martin, Skyrim would not exist. Games like Dragon Age: Origins wouldn't exist, nor would World of Warcraft. Fantasy plays an enormous part in the real world of literature, and so it is only fitting that it has made its mark upon video games.




So why do I play video games? I play video games because I think they're fun, first and foremost. I also think that video games offer something more to players than simply a way to waste time. They are a social experience, a common ground for people who might otherwise never have met, they have the potential to be a teaching tool, to engage people in art through games like Okami, with its stunning design, or history, through military-based games like Medal of Honor

I play video games because I look at what games are, and I look at what they can be. Telling tales, drawing people in, making them want to pick up controllers and explore new worlds, seek out new adventures, live out old adventures that they've only read about, this is what video games offer. As a gamer, I think it's important to share the good things about this hobby, to remember what brought me to it in the first place, and why I want to keep exploring it. It's a good feeling, to be a gamer. And that's why I play.

Now, back to dragons. And caves. You can never have too many caves.

[1] http://www.tgdaily.com/games-and-entertainment-features/59686-elder-scrolls-skyrim-ships-7-million-units

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