What Draws Us to Gaming?

I’ve been playing video games for the majority of my life. Much of that time is spent in silence, either in concentration, awe, or the beginnings of frustration. The time not spent in silence is with friends, either on a couch with me or playing together and communicating with voice chat through the Internet. There are so many ways to play videogames, and they can make us feel so many emotions. The scariest games have made me scream, then laugh afterwards at my own reaction. Games can tell moving stories with characters you’re invested in not only just because you play as them, but because you may be able to influence the direction of the story through dialogue options and integrated choices. Games can offer intense, heart-racing team-based experiences either through first person shooters or real-time strategy. More relaxed game settings offer a social experience with friends either in-person or online. There are just so many different types of games and different ways to play them.

This is what gives gaming such a large community and contributes to its extremely profitable industry. Literally anyone can get into videogames. Different types of people are into different kinds of games. I like a lot of different games, so  I get glimpses into these communities, and some of them are totally unbeknownst to me. There’s the racing games community, the fighting game community, the sports games community, the creative games community, the shooter community, and it goes on. Each of these comes with their own sub-communities based on game franchise and subgenre. Any of these can be researched with a quick YouTube search, and you’ll find compilation videos of each’s greatest moments captured via livestream.

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One of these sub-communities is a personal favorite of mine, the Smash Brothers community. If you don’t know, Super Smash Brothers is a physics-based fighting game franchise starring a cast of famous Nintendo franchise characters. A strange premise, now that I’ve typed it out, but this strange franchise spawns and equally strange, yet hilarious and welcoming community. As you can presume with any fighting game community, these (usually) guys are rowdy, hype-filled, meme-aware, and dedicated. These are the kinds of people who observe professionals and use all their technical knowledge of the game to improve their own skill to maybe one day beat or become one of the greats. The kind of people who would love to beat someone in a test of physical strength, but find the idea of virtually kicking someone’s ass way more accessible and in the realm of reality. However, these chaps are quite susceptible to what’s known as the salt. Salt is the term players often refer to when someone is angry or frustrated over their performance in-game. This often leads to screaming, yelling, shit-talking, and controller abuse; an unfortunate reality (please stop breaking your controllers). However, above and beyond the emotional rollercoaster a regular game of Smash will lead to, this community is very friendly, inclusive, and self-aware with that sweet tinge of awkwardness. I could make another entire post about Smash Brothers, but I’ll leave it there.

That’s just one glimpse into one of the many communities formed from this incredible medium we call videogames. So, as a medium, then, videogames present an interesting and unique way of engaging people both with the medium itself and with each other. Game designers aren’t just crafting and deciding what you see like in television, they’re literally crafting small worlds for people to discover for themselves. This is the reason I try to stay away from much of the promotional material for upcoming releases I know I’m probably going to pick up anyway. I don’t want to spoil what secrets any given game world will offer me. Sure, many games offer more linear experiences where there isn’t as much room to explore yourself, but it still affords you the opportunity to interact with an experience completely separate from our physical reality. Many people stereotype the “gamer” as inactive, unhealthy, feeble, or lazy. Well, why shouldn’t videogames be popular with these kinds of people? Seeking to escape our reality in one where you’re the hero, or the builder, or the strong guy, or the detective is an obvious draw to these virtual worlds. Now, I can only hope that games and their messages inspire people to rise beyond and improve themselves mentally, physically, and socially.

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So, besides the draw of separate and exciting realities comes the draw of both competitive and social experiences. The Smash Brothers community is a perfect example of this, as you have to be in-person to play smash competitively at a tournament, and the hundreds of other players that are known to be “the best” push other people to try and attain that skill level, or at least be competitively compatible with their peers. I would compare learning to play competitive games to learning to play different instruments, each with their own skill set and way of thinking. Games like Smash Brothers and Street Fighter can be endlessly complex because you need to learn both the game’s limitations, and what your opponent is going to be trying to do. On top of that, fast reflexes and developed muscle memory are required to learn how to play characters and formulate strategies. This  almost endless complexity is what gets people to play these kinds of games over and over again, seeking to refine their skill. It’s this skill barrier that keeps many from getting into a lot of these games and their communities, as the average skill level of these dedicated gamers is quite high. However, at least in my experience, highly skilled players are respectful to those who are just starting out, as they’ve all been there too. Many of these communities encourage helping each other with learning the ins and outs of these games.

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So, for those still just playing phone games, and are maybe seeking more complexity, skill, community, commodore, immersion, and escapism, you may want to look into getting yourself a good gaming PC or a gaming console. Maybe just research some of the big titles that came out recently or take a look at the trailers for some upcoming ones. I’ll be talking about some of those soon, so I hope they’ll catch your interest. Video games present to us a number of worlds limited only by how much time we have to create them. You’ll want to hop on the train at some point, because it’s only getting faster.

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