Walking a Mile in a Gamer’s Shoes

In high school, I frequently bemoaned what I perceived to be the lack of suitable guys in my grade. My mom, thinking I was simply being too picky, always tried to reason with me: “Anna, you’re telling me there’s not a single boy you’re interested in?” she would ask dubiously.

“No, Mom!” I protested. “I mean, come on—all they ever do is play video games!”

Video games. I would spit out this word contemptuously, as though playing video games was a vile, perverse hobby and the mere fact that the boys in my grade took interest in such a hobby provided sufficient grounds to banish them into the category of “weird” or “not cool.” But let’s face it—the label “gamer” doesn’t exactly carry the most flattering connotations in our culture. Most often, it conjures an image of an overweight, unemployed and un-groomed male, his face ghostly pale from never surfacing from the recesses of his parent’s darkened basement, muttering curses left and right as he frantically jostles a video game control.

Flash forward to my freshman year of college. I find myself in a first-year writing seminar entitled “Worlds of Wordcraft,” and suddenly, irrevocably, I’m eating, sleeping, and dreaming video games. For the first time in ages, I am dabbling in the world of video games again. I say “dabble,” because I haven’t yet found myself so engrossed in the act of gaming as to render a noticeable effect on my everyday life. It’s not that I didn’t find LOTRO interesting or engrossing. Rather, I just don’t think I’ve been endowed with the skills necessary of a true “gamer”—I’m always fumbling over the controls, bewilderingly trying to figure out where in the name of Gandalf I’m supposed to be going, or panicking when faced with the prospect of attack. The sad fact of the matter is: I don’t got game.

However, as a result of my (rather pathetic) gaming endeavors, I have emerged from this semester with a more nuanced appreciation for the art (yes, I said “art”) of video games. What I used to view as an immature, contemptible hobby that enabled future serial killers to blow things up to their hearts’ content, I now see as the product of careful design decisions and attention to detail, as a seamless integration of art, literature, music, and technology. LOTRO, for example, juxtaposes brilliantly-crafted graphics with an engaging narrative to breathe life into Tolkien’s vision of Middle Earth. Now that I’m finally able to step back and admire these small yet crucial details with more of a discriminating eye, it’s hard for me to go back to viewing video games as a childish activity devoid of redeeming qualities. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here: don’t expect me to suddenly turn into a video game zealot. On any given day, when seeking a diversion from the daily grind, I’d much rather prefer to go on a run or read a book than play LOTRO. But I have arrived at a deeper understanding of something I used to rashly dismiss as frivolous and meaningless.

Once again, the old adage proves true: “Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.” Well, this semester I’ve walked a mile in the shoes of a gamer, and after having done so, I can now see that I was perhaps…a bit harsh on my video-game playing peers in high school. Ok, so they opted to play Fifa rather than attend the sophomore-year Homecoming dance? Eh, more power to them. Everyone knows high school dances aren’t that great, anyway.

–Anna Dickens