Gaming vs. Playing: A Life Choice

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.



Listen! (C-Up)

As I sit here contemplating what exactly I find to be my favorite game, few things jump out at me. Of course I could always say something that I found relatively enjoyable that has recently been released like Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I could also say something that constitutes ass-kissing like Lord of the Rings Online (wouldn’t that just be appropriate from me?). But in all honesty it is extremely difficult to choose that one perfect game that balanced joy, fear, excitement, and sadness and organized them so perfectly that Beethoven could hardly match its perfection with his symphonic genius. Then I think I found it.

I was home a few weeks ago, enjoying my family time as usual. We decided to make a day of driving around town and doing a little shopping. Now, of course, no shopping trip is complete without the quick trip to Wal-mart to pick all your family necessities. So, I did what I normally do when we make a trip there, I browsed the electronics section for things to criticize and/or admire. I was walking through the Nintendo section when I stumbled upon the new giant signs exclaiming that the 3DS’s were now only $169.99. I had never used one and I was curious as to what they looked like with the “revolutionary” 3D graphics (Which has definitely not been in use since the 90’s…). So I moseyed on over to the display model, powered it on, clicked on demo, and waited. When the game loaded up I heard a heart-wrenching tune: the intro music for Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

I was torn into pieces. How could I have forgotten such a magnificently poised series as Zelda? When I was young, I owned a Gameboy: Color and I started my Zelda experience on Link to the Past. I always loved the epic story of an unlikely boy/young man who rose from the lowest rank, starting with nothing but a sword and shield to conquer the evils of the lands. Not only did this game evolve with some of the greatest gameplay qualities of the time, but it also held the values of courage, wisdom, and friendship to such high standards. No matter how old I was, I always adored the story line of one of these games: dressing up like Link on Halloween, running around the yard with a plastic sword yelling “Hiyah!”, and practicing the ever important speed boosting technique of shoulder rolls around the house. As I stood and played the first mission inside the Great Deku Tree, an overwhelming sense of nostalgia swept over me and I once again felt as if I was 8, enjoying another round of everyone’s favorite sequence: the Water Temple. If ever there was a game that impacted me, it was Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

[As this will be my last post until after September 11, I would like to take the time to say that my prayers go out to those who lost family or friends on that fateful day 10 years ago. (moment of silence)]

~~D3LTA04, Faithfully devoted to the defeat of Ganondorf [Post 2]

Are the Rulers of Middle Earth Naturally Selected?

In Oxford’s English dictionary, play has over 30 different definitions, though the most prominent one is “to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose”. But my question is- is that really all play is? Something to keep us amused for whatever period of time were engaged and participatory? I think play is a lot more, and I do not stand alone.

Play is a concept seen most prominently in adolescents of all species. Human babies throw their food and jingle the bells over their cribs before they can walk or talk. Boys play war and wrestle, while girls try on costumes and have tea parties. But, as noted earlier, we are not the only species who play. In fact, some phylogeneticists believe that play, and more specifically cooperative play is another defining characteristic of all mammals and can be used to help categorize animals.

The reason why I am so passionate about animals is that I look at the world through a Darwinist lens. Every animal that exists has some trait, or most likely a slue of different traits that have made them more suitable to survive in this ever changing world than thousands of other competing species. So why is it that all mammals have maintained this trait, this inherent desire to play? Many animal researchers believe that play is actually a naturally selected, desirable characteristic, and that it can be compared to “studying for the game of life” – survival and reproduction. This is clearly supported by the ever-present evidence of boys wrestling, racing and playing war. Boys are known to pick on the smaller child, and assert their dominance if they can; all of these “games” preparing themselves to fight, compete and ultimately win in an aggressive world. Girls (as animals) once filled far different roles than they do now, and their survival, though also based on vigor, was largely dependent on the quality of their mates. Looking at the world in this way, it is not surprising that girls enjoy dressing up, and practice their role of primary caretaker on little dolls.

(Just an interesting idea that I will not delve into- these same animal researchers believe that dreams are akin to a virtual reality practice for life and that vivid dreaming makes mammals more likely to survive.)

So why do we “play” games? Gaming is often thought of as a waste of time- empty entertainment, lacking culture or substance like movies and art. However, looking at games through a “rules and fiction” lens- that games are in essence a set of easily understood rules from which enjoyment is drawn based on “these easy to use rules presenting challenges that cannot be easily overcome. Playing a game is an activity of improving these skills in order to overcome these challenges, and playing a game is therefore fundamentally a learning experience.” (Juul 5) A critical thinker can see why dozens of millions of people slave away at their computers and consoles day after day.

Thinking as the mamaologists do: As an adolescent, I am intrinsically and biologically programmed to play- to want to prepare myself for the world to come. However, we humans no longer live in the world of survival, but rather the world of success. Today it is not the fastest, the strongest or the meanest who survive, it is the smartest, the most diligent and the different. So how do we best prepare ourselves for this new world? What games do we play? As kids we play one massive, institutionalized game called school. This game has rules, it has goals, enforcers, competition, consequences and benefits. However, this game is also our job and there are some games we ADD children tire of quickly, and so we search for supplemental fulfillment elsewhere. We can go wrestle, we can go race we can play war and pick on the little guy, but that too is obsolete, because one does not need to fight or hunt to succeed in this world. And so when I come home from school, I plop down in my chair at my desk and turn on my computer and play a video game. How does sitting at my desk with a mountain dew clicking away prepare me more for the world? Why does it fulfill this inherent need to game within me? While there are some practical purposes for gaming like using video game simulators for combat in the army and race car simulators for NASCAR drivers, the purpose of video games is deeper than that. Looking back through the “rules and fiction” lens, games are also fiction. I am not preparing myself for this world but rather a different one. When I step in to West Bree, or move my knight to C5, I am learning, through playing, a new set of rules, establishing a new set of goals and improving a new set of skills to succeed. That once again looking through a Darwinian lens, we, the most adaptive creatures our world has ever seen, are excited by the challenge of these fictional worlds and want to play to be able to best compete in them. We gamers (as not all people find these games fulfilling) fulfill our biological drives of playing (preparing) and succeeding in the dangerous worlds of Middle Earth and Azeroth, when the game of school, preparing us for the game of life seem more daunting than well… a cave troll or a 4 move chess mate.

So, all in all, we all must play- and when we play games we do play- and learn; just with a new set of enforced rules and often in a different world.

“Everyone plays to win, but what world we do it in is a gamer’s choice” – Kinetix