Monday, March 25, 2013

Why I Don't Play Video Games, But I'm Glad That You Do

"Why don't you play video games,  Aunt Becky?"

Katie's cousins were at our house this weekend for a Spring Break sleepover.  Five year old M.A. had asked me to help her figure out how to get unstuck while she was playing Kirby on Will's old NES.  When I explained to her that I have no idea, that I never play video games, she looked at me like she just found out her aunt is a mutant, adapted to the environment without requiring oxygen for survival.

I wasn't always such a weirdo.

As a kid in the late Seventies, the highlight of my week came on Saturdays when I'd walk across the street and spend the night with my friend Sherry. We'd hop into our pjs and watch "Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" while eating Ding Dongs and drinking Welch's grape pop  in her recroom.  When our two favorite TV shows were over, her parents would go to bed and Sherry and I would play "Space Invaders" or "Pong" on her Atari game system until we passed out in our Holly Hobbie sleeping bags.

I played Atari games with Sherry because she thought it was cool, in the same way I dressed up as Chewbacca and bought The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack on vinyl because my friend Greg next door thought Star Wars was cool.  It was fun to play along with my friends and get excited about their interests, but Atari games and Star Wars weren't really my thing.

Left to my own devices, I preferred playing with no electronic devices--The Game of Life, Barbies that I used to create soap-operaesque stories, pretending I was Dorothy Hamil while roller skating in the street, pretending I lived in the time of Little House on the Prairie while playing at the creek a block from our house, drawing pictures of what I wanted my life to be like when I grew up--these things were my thing.

I often tell people I don't play video games because I'm too old.  My family never bought a gaming system, Atari, or even Nintendo when it came out when I was a teenager, or any other gaming system.  I got to play here and there at friends' houses, but gaming was never a part of my daily routine.  But lots of people my age and older are gamers, including Will's dad, who is sixteen years older than I am.  So it's not really just an age thing.

So why don't I play video games?

I told M.A., "I just think they're boring."

"But why?"  She wanted to know.

I didn't know how to respond.  I needed time to think.

And that's the thing.  I'm not great at immediate comebacks.  I'm slow and deliberate and I like to focus on one thing at a time.  And another thing, all the action and adventure does not excite me.  It stresses me the fuck out.  As someone who has posttraumatic stress disorder, anything that raises my adrenaline too much makes me want to shut down, go to bed, take a nap.  I am much more productive if I'm allowed all the time I need to get a job done in a calm environment.  It stresses me out to even have the timer running when I play Solitaire on my laptop.

So video games bore me because they're not boring enough?  Maybe, but there's probably lots of reasons, many of which became clear when I watched this interesting YouTube video about why people play games, which helped me figure out why I don't:

"A game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles."  -- Bernard Suits

Yeah man, I don't need any unnecessary obstacles in my life.  I have plenty of necessary obstacles I'm trying to overcome.  Like raising a female gamer in a sexist gaming world.

Here's a distressing yet fascinating episode of Anita Sarkeesian's YouTube series about women and gaming:

From Sarkeesian's YouTube channel, Feminist Frequency:

The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it's more problematic or pernicious aspects.

I am not one of those people who thinks the answer to the sexism and violence in the gaming industry is to ban video games.  Just because I don't like them doesn't mean I think other people should be denied access to them.  After the Newtown massacre last year, I've heard many people blame violent video games for such shootings, but I think that's too simplistic.  My husband plays video games and he's not violent in real life.  I once dated a guy who explained to me that playing football helps knock out our primal urge to wage war upon our enemy.  We are not killing each other on the battlefield.  We are just stealing the ball from each other.  It's harmless fun.  Gets the aggression out.  That makes sense to me.

So I understand why people like gaming.  I just hope people understand why I don't.  I understand that many people like the relief they get by fighting or questing or building or achieving in a virtual world.  It must be similar to the relief I get by blogging.