By Stubert73 8 Comments
There comes a time in a man’s life when he needs a dose of perspective: a look back on where he’s been and what he’s done with this life so far. While it would be easy to throw a thought-provoking movie into the DVD player or take a gander at an inspiring novel, I find one of the shortest paths to insight into how I’ve been living my life is seven simple keystrokes: /played. Those of you who play World of Warcraft know that this command brings up the total time spent playing a character, and for WoW players who have been logged in since the game launched in 2004, that number can be quite significant.
Games today seem to revel in the amount of time they have been played. Nearly all of the ones I’ve played include a time stamp on the save file (200+ hours on the increasingly aptly named “Oblivion”; 2 days of my life spent playing Call of Duty Black Ops; and don’t even ask me what number I get with “/played” in WoW….). It’s a metric that no other medium has been able to measure as accurately, or has been that concerned with displaying to the audience. While the game may be reminding you how much we love it, it is also forcing us to take a good, hard look at our lives. And perhaps we don’t like what we see.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but it suddenly seems like there are a lot of studies showing the inherent value of video games as a means to improve oneself. For every Supreme Court argument trying to ban the sale of violent games to children, it seems as though there are four studies preaching the value of the medium as a way to sharpen our reflexes, hone our thinking skills or spread the milk of human kindness. Have a child play a video game for five minutes before taking a standardized test, and that child will score higher in the test than non-gaming children. It could be that said test was sponsored by the Entertainment Software Association, and, in fact, tested how long it took the child to shoot 20 virtual dudes in the face, but the point is that defense of this particular new medium is reaching new levels.
Which is not to say that the industry does not need defending. Video games are frequently assailed by the popular media, having been linked to multiple mass shootings, and many Americans have made it their life-long goal to make sure no child under the age of 17 can play anything more violent or titillating than Tiger Woods Golf (*cough*). Visit the forums of any game-friendly web site and search for Jack Thompson, Leland Yee or even Fox News (some well-known critics of video games) and you’ll find some of the most colorful and vitriolic language English speakers have yet devised. Are we that passionate about video games, or do we feel personally under attack by these critics? There’s defense of our right to play games, and there’s defensiveness.
This defensiveness implies an insecurity: that part of our minds that reads the hours played number the game so gleefully presents us with and asks, “Have I really just spent 16 hours straight playing a video game without eating, sleeping, bathing or pooping?” It’s nearly impossible to admit I’ve spent more than 200 hours playing a video game, but not nearly that amount of time reading a book, or staring deeply into the eyes of my loved ones or building homes for starving orphans.
It’s this defensiveness that quotes the inconclusive pro-game studies, posts the typo- and expletive-rich forum rant against whatever talk show host is criticizing games and even, to a degree, argues that video games are art, a topic I won’t pretend to answer here.
Game players, myself included, need to admit that video games are ultimately entertainment. Proving to the big wide world that they provide value beyond that will take a level of proselytizing even the Spanish Inquisition failed to achieve. And really, it’s no one’s business but your own how you spend your free time. So before you post that angry forum post about how Kathy Lee Gifford (or whatever TV personality is bashing video games at the moment) is a meddling cow, remember two things: Run spellcheck and remember that life is more than gamerscore.