Why Games Matter

I’ll start by telling anyone who reads this article that this is a bit personal, though I believe others feel the same way. But then that’s the point of opinionated writing isn’t it? Oh well. I have been playing games since I was about 8 (almost 13 years). In that time I have seen hundreds of games, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized something unique about my passion. There is something that games give people that very few other things can, another life. Yes, it sounds cheesy and simple minded, but the gaming is the only medium that allows its players to control another life as their own, and it is liberating.

I realized this more recently because I have struggled with depression on and off for the past two years and I can say with reasonable assurance that without my Xbox I would be in a very different place right now (if at all). There is no one type of game that gives release. I have found solace in puzzle games and shooters alike. This spring in particular it was Skyrim.

Skyrim boasts one of the richest worlds I have ever allowed myself to become involved. It is utterly enthralling. I was an RA this last year of school so in my copious free time I dove in with reckless abandon and lost myself in a world full of dragons and trolls and magic. I woke up most everyday feeling low, like something was truly missing, and Skyrim (like any prescription medication) helped me cope.

I ventured out on quests early in the morning, venturing from Whiterun no later than 7 a.m., explore until the sun began to set, and then find my way back home. I went into any shop with their doors still open and sold what I could before a) they ran out of money, or b) they all closed. I would rent a room at the local inn, a homey place, the name of which escapes me, for 10 gold a night. Not shabby.

The next day I would let myself sleep in. 9 a.m. maybe 10, that way I could catch most shops as soon as they open. I would, for whatever reason, go downstairs and buy bread and cheese from the innkeeper and eat it before heading out. The town circle tended to be my first destination. I headed up to Dragonsreach, the Jarl’s Hall, and tell him that not only did I take care of his bandit problem but I slayed a dragon on the way as well. He would laud me for my bravery and pay me off. 1500 gold later I headed back out to the shops and spent what I could to improve my armor and weapons.

After my shopping was finished I asked around for more work; more bandits, lost jewelry, an imprisoned son, work for at least the next few days. I needed a horse so I left the keep’s walls and headed for the stables just outside. 1000 even for saddled steed. Having the money made me feel accomplished, and without hesitation I threw down for a sturdy, dark brown coated horse. I was ready to make the journey to Solitude. But it was getting dark and the journey would be long. Best if I waited till morning.

I put 80 hours into Skyrim before I beat the main story line, which probably takes all of 10 hours if you go right through it. Nights were drawn out and mornings became painful. But I knew that I had a freedom waiting just beyond my fingertips and class couldn’t end soon enough. Skyrim had given me something that the school wellness program couldn’t, another life.

One of my strongest relationships, one with a great man named Kristopher, developed around two things: our love for Coheed and Cambria (a band) and the Assassin’s Creed games. Each fall we have driven 30 miles to the nearest Gamestop to pick up the next title. Sitting across the hall from each other shouting, “Oh my God did you just see that?!” as we played is a memory that I will not soon forget. We drew crowds. In all seriousness, several nights we had ten kids from our floor (five in each room) come to watch us play, whether it was campaign or multiplayer.

Videogames are so much more to those who play them than an outsider would think. I guess that is the point I have been getting at throughout this piece. We don’t play because were impulsive, easy to entertain, “explosion-addled young men in basements” (thanks anyways Mr. Seth Schiesel). We are most often men, and women (gasp), who value the experience that we get from becoming someone we aren’t. After all, why only read Spider-Man when you can be him too?

Have I become less of a person because I have spent hours of my life looking at a screen? No. In fact I feel somewhat enlightened. I now know, probably more than most, about the origin of the Assassins (yeah they were real). I have saved the universe from Reapers, uniting warring species in peace along the way. I have preached to masses that they should take control of their lives (AC II: Bonfire of the Vanities). But most importantly, I have found out how to save myself from the darkness of depression.

So to those who criticize gamers for squandering their money on silly games, please rethink your accusations. We don’t waste our money on these games. We are just paying for another year’s worth of prescription medicine from Ubisoft (or anyone else). Whether it’s a used game or a limited edition, know that we don’t buy these things willy nilly. Is there a boundary? Yes. And believe it or not, most of us know where it is. The things I buy are my way of saying thank you.

I owe the people who create these games so much more than they know. And I know that I’m not the only one. We all appreciate those who have dedicated their lives to transporting us into others. Mass Effect developed relationships and effortlessly brought tears to my eyes, Assassin’s Creed made me think differently about myself as an individual, and Battlefield taught me to think more strategically and on my feet.  As for Skyrim, I eagerly await the next time I venture to the northern province of Tamriel. My Redguard rests in my home, now in the keep of Solitude, with his wife and House Carl, awaiting my control. When we’re not crushing the Stormcloack Rebellion, slaying dragons or clearing dungeons we work at a farm and mill on the outskirts of town. Long live the Emperor.


For this article in book form check out this amazing book (and my inspiration) Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

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  1. Chris Hersker

    Hello Caleb
    Thank you for this article – it was very interesting. I believe that you’re making a very valid point, when you’re saying that video games can sometimes help an individual get through some tough times.
    I believe that they can do even more. Here’s why:
    I consider myself raised by videogames. Example coming right up.
    I grew up on Daggerfall. The game taught me how to understand digital clock, how to navigate with maps, and the difference between east and west. I told me that different social situations calls for various approaches, such as streetsmarts and etiquette ect. Long story short: The game taught me a lot, and ignited my creativity, which helped me become the man I am today.
    Now I’m the owner of a artistic production company (which shall remain unnamed in this comment), and I owe it all to the wondrous multiverse that games have shown me.

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