Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Playing Games

I like to play games. Mostly, I like to play video games and RPGs, though I will certainly play the occasional trivia game or board game when given the chance. This isn't a new thing, nor is it particularly unusual; I've been interested in video games since the original Nintendo came out, and in RPGs since I first picked up my 2nd Edition AD&D Player's Handbook about 20 years ago.

Yeah, yeah, this pretty much dates me. Yes, I got a Nintendo when they first came out, and I remember playing the original Super Mario Bros. game for hours on end, though I can't quite recall whether I ever beat it. And it was fun, but only to a certain extent. It was when I invited other people over so that we could take turns playing games, or even simply watch each other play, that I began to really enjoy myself.

Of course, the early Nintendo games weren't much for multiplayer action; you could only have two players, and more often than not you were playing against the other person rather than in cooperation with him. I never found that much fun; I wanted to play with my friends, not against them. I'm not the most competitive person in the world, obviously; I don't like the kinds of feelings that intense competition bring on, and so I tend to avoid them. So I looked, mostly, for single-player games, or cooperative-play games. Contra (yet another massively dated game) was one of the few that allowed people to play together, and I remember a number of very enjoyable afternoons spent playing that with friends.

After moving around several times (and having to find new friends each time), eventually, when I was around 12, I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. Well, 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, to be precise. I was fascinated by the idea, because it told me that, without a video game system or something similar, I could get a group of friends together and play a game with a story like a video game, but with a lot more freedom and capability to include more players. Since I was the one who discovered the books, I ended up being the first Dungeon Master; I still have some reminders from those very early days. Eventually, I ended up moving again, and playing more, and moved on to different games.

Eventually, I went to college, and while I was there, 3rd Edition D&D came out, as well as the Gamecube (though that was near the end of my undergraduate years). I wasn't a very sociable person in college; for the first year or two, the only person I regularly spoke to and did things with was my roommate. It was having some much-needed friends, and gaming (through a club at school), that helped me to widen my social circle there. Eventually my social group grew to around a dozen or so people, among them my roommate, several people from my junior year dorm floor, the other guys in my senior year apartment, and people met through various advertisements on campus for gaming, as well as a few people who showed similar interests in class. By the end of my stay at college, I felt like I belonged there, which is something I had been lacking.

After college, I felt listless, unmotivated, uninspired. I moved back in with my parents, and tried a number of things, but nothing seemed to hold my interest. I made few social contacts, and the few I made were fleeting at best. Eventually, my family got a dog, Merlin, and while he was a constant companion, his interest in games was a little less complex than mine. Eventually, after some severe issues (which I won't go into here), I was diagnosed with, and treated for, severe clinical depression. I ended up going back to school, but the connections I made in my undergrad years were gone; I didn't live with, or really work with, my fellow graduate students, and so never got to know any of them, at least not really. My half-hearted attempts to reach out to other students never quite seemed to make an impact, and they still don't. Lest anyone think I am blaming others for this; I'm not; I'm just very bad at making friends and other social connections

So, I play games. Mostly, these days I play online games; after a number of years playing World of Warcraft, I stopped playing that; nowadays, I'm into other things, like Star Wars: The Old Republic (at least for the time being), though I am looking into other games like Guild Wars 2, or maybe A Secret World. These games are the main way that I connect to my friends across the country, who I get very few chances to see in person. They allow me to connect with people I care about, and have fun with them. I wish I could find a group, either online or in the area, to play RPGs with, but my luck there hasn't been so good.

Games are fun. They are one of the ways we connect with other people, and have fun with them. Games can have meaning, as well, even if that meaning is entirely fictional; playing a rebel in a game world conquered by bad guys feels like it has meaning, even if that meaning isn't in the real world. They give us a sense of accomplishment; being the one to deal the last blow to a dragon, or solve the last piece of a complex puzzle, is a great feeling. Games are, in some ways, more appealing than real life, because games have clear objectives: Do this quest. Save that princess. Bankrupt the other players. So is it any real shock that I often find games to be more interesting and enjoyable than real life?

After all, I can't slay a dragon in real life.

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