I've been playing video games for more than three decades, and as the industry evolved, so did my reasons for playing. In my early years it was all about escape, then when online gaming became a thing, I got hooked on the thrill of the challenge. Through all these years one thing always remains, and it will never change – I play games for the entertainment it provides.
However, I also discovered that there are some hidden reasons I game, like a subtext that keeps on drawing me back to this place in front of my PC screen.I thought that I'd outgrow playing video games, but the pull remains as strong nearly thirty years after I first picked up that Atari device.
Why do I return? Besides the obvious, I stumbled upon two not so obvious reasons why I remain fascinated by the world of video games.
Gaming taps into my inner dialogue
Game critic and author, Leigh Alexander once said that “Playing a really immersive game can feel like a private conversation with oneself. And nothing delights me more than when that conversation pushes my comfort zone, whether that's with what I ponder about myself or about us as players.” the Escapist.
The first time I experienced gaming's ability to tap into my inner dialogue in such a strong manner that it drowned out every other thought and demanded a reply was when I played Telltale's The Walking Dead Season 1. I wrote about my experience in “Lessons in empathy from The Walking Dead.” Remember how for a moment gamers across the world were all talking about the choices they were forced to make in the game? It dominated the conversation for months.
After that experience it was as if gaming somehow rewired me and I wanted more. I wanted to play games that had the ability to force me into a conversation with myself. It's easier to face your inner demons when the only onlookers are made of bytes and pixels. There's no judgement, only you and thoughtful contemplation about whatever the world in front of you ripped open.
No other game led me through such a profound encounter as Papo and Yo, and then recently, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. With the former I played a game that changed me, and the latter ended up being the most important game I have ever played. Sometimes a game would take my hand, and gentle lead me down a path of self discovery, other times, (like in Hellblade), it would grab me at the throat and demand I pay the price to be rid of the thing it laid bare.
Sometimes, playing a video game can be a life-changing experience. If we let it.
A solitude that's all consuming
The few friends I have will all tell you one thing about me – I am a hermit at heart. There's almost nothing I crave for as much as I do solitude, and sometimes gaming can take me to that place. Gaming transports me, it's like traveling without moving.
Not every game I play has the ability to so immerse me that nothing but it exists, but sometimes there's a magic that steals me away. I am talking about a level of immersion that's beyond escapism as it offers me healing of the soul. I have a rare condition in that all five my sense are hyper; meaning I live in a world that constantly assaults me with noise, smells, touch and so on. When I game I slip into a silence that cleanses me – even though sound is present.
Games like the Mass Effect series (except Andromeda) offered me that solitude I so need. It filled me and emptied me at the same time. It drained away the overload of sense stimulation I experienced throughout my day, and filled me with awe and wonder. It's impossible to live in a vacuum, where my senses are not assaulted by whatever is happening around me in the neighborhood, but when I play certain games it whisks me away and restores my soul.
Another game that had that ability was To The Moon, a 16-bit 2D adventure game. The story, the way you progress through the game, and especially the music deeply impacted me. Whenever my need to be a hermit becomes too overwhelming I look for a game that can offer me the solitude I so crave without having to leave my loved ones behind, or travel to a deserted island.
Have you discovered any usual reasons why you play video games?
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