What is the difference between playing and gaming? What is the difference between a player and a gamer? To me, the difference is the degree to which you commit yourself to the game, how much you make the new reality, your reality. The difference between playing and gaming is what you want to get out of the game, what your end goal is. When playing, you enter the game to forget about reality: let loose and have fun. When gaming, you enter the game to succeed in that alternate reality; you invest in that game in the hopes of winning, doing better than others, being triumphant. In that sense, the same game can be either played or gamed.
Children play a simple game of house because they wish to experience the lives of others they observe. In house, they can invent an alternate life with responsibilities because it is entertaining and different, or they can invent an alternate life because it allows them to have power which they lack in reality. Even though none of it is real, having a more powerful alternate self can be exhilarating for a child who has only known the rules and confines of societal norms.
How do we choose between playing and gaming a particular game? It is nearly impossible not to compare ourselves to others because people are innately competitive; therefore, we are all gamers not players in reality. We strive for success, victory, power. We know what we have because of what others lack. We know what we lack because of what others have. Even if the goal of each person is to find happiness, we only know happiness because we know sadness. Success is subjective and therefore everything is a competition. We don’t want just an alternate reality or illusion of success like in a game; we strive to attain the real thing.
People say that we are playing this game called life. I would say we are gaming this game called life. Occasionally, we play instead. We forget about the future and enjoy the here and now. We forget about our goals and responsibilities and enjoy tranquility. We forget about what we lack and praise what we have. But in truth, life has a series of levels, a set of steps that people must follow. You can’t get to the next level while sitting around doing nothing in your current one. You can’t get to college without competing against other students. You can’t get a job unless you are better, stronger, and faster than the other applicants. It’s Darwin’s theory of evolution at its finest. Natural selection, you have to compete at the highest level to survive.
So, if we are constantly gaming, why do we feel the need to create alternate realities in which we also game. I believe in games as a release from the stress of every day competition. Real life has enough to worry about, enough success to be sought without entering other realities as a gamer. Power in an alternate reality will not make life easier in this one, so why add the extra pressure? However, the choice to play rather than game is the more difficult one to choose. To force yourself be unconcerned with measuring up to others feels unnatural. It feels like failure, but sometimes it’s just the break we need. All in all, the difference between playing and gaming is simple. Playing is about focusing on the fun and carefree side of a game. It’s about the escape from daily stress. Gaming is about focusing on the competitive nature of games. It’s about finding more success even if it’s fictional. Both allow us to live a different life for a little, it just depends on what type of life we choose to live.