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  • Writer's pictureK Fox

Is There Value in Gaming?

It should be clear by now—if not from this blog in general than from my previous post at least—that I see gaming as a complement to a person’s real-world endeavors and social circles, rather than a detriment to them. The strong networks I’ve created through gaming have been immensely valuable in my life, and the games themselves have led to new skills and job capabilities I wouldn’t have without them.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m not alone in this. Lennon, the front-end web developer you met in the last post, has had similar experiences, explaining that his love of gaming has led to developing useful skills as well. In fact, Lennon says that “creating and using skill macros and short scripts in World of Warcraft to better communicate with teammates or make [his] gameplay more efficient taught [him] the basics of coding” which he now uses daily in his job as a front-end web developer.


I also spoke with Mai, a mom, gamer, and entrepreneur, who has taken up Gameboy restoration and repairs. She said this has led to new skills and know-how she almost certainly wouldn’t have gained if gaming hadn’t led her to the hobby.


However, it’s important, I think, to remember what games are at their base level before we go building other structures on top of their varied foundations. Not every game is built the same, and not every game and gaming style necessarily leads to marketable skills, and I'm here to argue that they shouldn't have to.


Most of us have been guilty of gussying up our skills on a resume, turning something like “worked as cashier” into “managed incoming transactions and maintained a balanced cashflow for a multi-billion dollar corporation” to impress a hiring manager. So too can ranked Overwatch players, for instance, highlight how coordinating ultimates to regain control of the payload has helped develop their skills of communication and teamwork in a high-stakes setting. But even if you (like me, I’m not ashamed to say) turn off all in-game player-to-player voice communication and play Mystery Heroes on low volume while watching Kim’s Convenience on your second monitor because all you want is to mess around and turn your brain off when you game... that’s ok too.


In fact, Lennon cautions falling into the trap of justifying a love of games (or of anything that brings you joy, I’d imagine) by validating it through “pointing out that it’s made [you] better at things other people find valuable.” Similar to how we don’t have to constantly justify the value of reading (as it is generally accepted as a good and useful way to spend your free time), so too gaming is, as Lennon says, good and valuable in and of itself. “Some games,” he says, “truly do feel like you're taking part in—not just reading about—an epic adventure.” If that epic adventure is on a page in a book, its value is understood. This shouldn’t change just by virtue of being on a screen instead. In fact, the characteristic of being interactive gives games an edge, in my opinion.


Even Mai, with her own real-world talents born of her gaming interests, doesn’t list income or resume building as the primary gains from her newfound skills. Instead, she explains, that restoring consoles is “a really fun outlet” and that she is “reminded of a carefree time in [her] life” when she works on the handheld devices. She sees value in the art of “giving the devices a second lifeline” while “staying true to [their] classic roots.” While it may lead to practical, hands-on skills, that endeavor sounds like one that is inherently rewarding no matter the outcome.


Lisa, the video game producer also featured in the previous article, has her own thoughts:


As someone in the game industry, I think a lot about what motivates people to play different games. Personally, I find that I have two primary motivators: 1) strategy mastery; something that allows me to go deep, number crunch, and play the game long game, and 2) immersive, character-driven storytelling; something that really pulls me in, gets inside my head, and makes me fall in love with a setting or a character.


In fact, games should be ok to love simply because we love them, period. Because we love the puzzles, the strategy, the story, the whatever—this should be enough. Games give us different worlds, different challenges, and different feelings and perspectives, and Lennon argues that “these are inherently good and enjoyable experiences without having to turn them into teaching tools for stuff people only think is valuable because you can monetize them.” Much how I likened Achaea to taking part in a new kind of interactive novel in my last post, Lennon agrees that playing a game is often like “you're playing a work of art, and in doing so, you are participating a bit in creating that art.”


What more justification could you possible need?



Of course, the value of gaming has perhaps never been more easily appreciated than during the recent year due to COVID-19. Gaming has been a popular pastime for ages, but serious and casual gamers alike—and surely even those who have never gamed before—have been loading up, logging in, and pressing play more than ever over the last year, whether as a coping mechanism, habit born of boredom, or the simple necessity of filling more time spent safely at home.


Unsurprisingly, gaming relationships have been invaluable during all this uncertainty and separation. Lennon, as one example, found a way to spend scheduled time with other people without having to leave the house through gaming. “My guild has a weekly hang out on Friday nights,” he explains, “where we just queue into random PvP games more as something to do while we drink and chat than as some sort of serious gaming time. We have a huge variety of people in the guild, so it’s usually a lively event.”


Beyond the social connections, gaming has been able to provide a sort of comfort to many throughout the pandemic. Lisa says she was surprised by how some of her habits changed with the advent of COVID-19 restrictions. "The most interesting, unique thing to come out of COVID,” she explains, “was my unwillingness to play new games. When I did have the energy to play something, I wanted something familiar that could help me relax or distract myself. I found myself very resistant to playing new things because I just didn’t have the energy to learn new rulesets or worlds.” I can absolutely relate. I had what I now realize was perhaps a terrible idea to take advantage of my newfound free time at the beginning of our stay-at-home order to finally play The Last of Us. Maybe a worldwide pandemic is not the best time to dive into a highly emotional game about navigating a post-apocalyptic world in which an infection has wrought havoc on mankind. Instead, I found myself returning to Hearthstone, Banished, The Sims and other calm, slower-paced, and familiar games for a while, and in them, like Lisa, I found a comfort I sorely needed.


COVID has, of course, also affected with whom we game. There’s been a lot of those outside-in connections, where people bring their real-life friends into their gaming worlds, sometimes for the very first time. The weekly D&D game I used to attend was, of course, called off when it was no longer safe to hang with friends indoors, and instead I played different Jackbox games over Steam with those friends, and they even eventually put up a Minecraft server to play on together. Patrick, the gaming paramedic mentioned in the last article, was already using games as a way to spend time with his nephews who live several states away, and he's not unique in making that long-distance family connection through this medium. Tragger, a freelance graphic designer, says she’s using gaming to keep up with her friends and family as well. “Some of my family lives across the country, so we use gaming as a way of hanging out,” she says.



That all being said, it can be worrisome that perhaps we’ve leaned in too hard over all this time at home. Louie, the gamer and business owner you met in the previous post, says he struggled in the beginning of the pandemic. “A couple games I was really looking forward to released,” Louie said, citing the Final Fantasy 7 and Resident Evil 3 remakes as two he was particularly looking forward to. When the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders started up, Louie explained, “I did not really have an understanding of how to occupy my time, and some of these games honestly weren’t helpful for that. I spent probably far too long playing.” He eventually got better at managing his time, he says, but I think many gamers encountered similar issues during the pandemic. I know I did.


Lennon already discussed his concerns about too much time gaming in the previous article, but he also has concerns when it comes to stepping away from games and back out into the world in earnest. “I do know I need to get back out and do other things. 2020 was consumed with gaming, COVID and politics, and it’s all I know how to talk about anymore. And when you go to chat with a stranger or just make small talk in a bar, you can’t really open with ‘I’m a raging anarchist,’ and COVID isn’t something people want to focus on, and so I’m left with like... the nuances of low level World of Warcraft PVP as something that I think about enough to talk about. And you can hear people’s eyes roll into the back of their heads the instant you mention it.” It’s funny, because this is exactly the thing I would love for someone to bring up at a bar, but in the end, of course I know what he means.


And as things slowly start opening up and people get vaccinated and interested in in-person hangs again, finding out how to be IRL social again will be a bridge we will have to cross when we come to it. There’s no discounting, however, the value that gaming has given us over these several confusing, isolating months. Lisa has seen this firsthand, and she shared a story with me to demonstrate the way she’s watched gaming bring family members together the previous year:


I bought the latest Animal Crossing game for my sister in March 2020, knowing that it was a series that she loved. Since then, she and my mom have played it together every night. Last I checked my sister’s play hours, she has averaged playing this game for 3.5 hours daily since she received it.


Even though my mom is in Florida and my sister is in Los Angeles, they get on FaceTime every evening for hours, my sister shares her screen, and they play together—my mom knows every villager, every seasonal event, just as much about this game as if she played it herself. It’s a major source of connection for them, and she even regularly thanks me for buying this game for “both of them.”


It’s so magical to hear them gossip about this game, especially because my mom has made it clear that she never really understood gaming as a pastime (despite being with my dad, a massive gamer, since high school—and myself going into it professionally), but last summer she sent me a text out of the blue that warmed my heart like few things have in my life:


“I wanted to let you know that I now understand the ‘power’ of video games. Animal Crossing is bringing so much joy to me and Kelly and I feel like we are living vicariously through this game :). It’s weird to say it is true ;) I FINALLY GET IT and I’m a game fan forever because of it :)”


For anyone who has felt the isolation of the last year weigh heavily on them, it's probably no surprise that families and friends are finding new ways to reach each other, share interests, and spend time and grow together, even when apart. I think this difficult time has done a lot to show us the value of games beyond the resume-fluffing new skills and aptitudes often pointed to in order to defend late nights spent in the virtual world of our choosing. Across these last two posts, we've explored relationship building, a sense of control, getting up close and personal with art, guided, attainable progress, and measured achievements—all of which are good in and of themselves and are perhaps made even more valuable to us in a time when those things may be otherwise difficult to experience.


Despite all that games have to offer, however, many people worry that gaming may act as an impairment to healthy adjustment and relationship building. In my next article, the third and final one in this series, I’ll discuss gaming and mental health, and while it would be silly to pretend that there can be no detrimental relationship there, I think there are a lot of positive correlations that are worth exploring as well.

-- This is part two of a three-part series. Read part one here. Part three is here. Need some more fun gaming streams from cool folks? Find Lennon at youtube.com/ChopsTV

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