I belong to a generation where gaming wasn’t a mainstream pastime, which makes me something of an outlier among my peers. This sadly means I’m now fairly well accustomed to having to defend my hobby from people who profess disbelief that anyone who isn’t a) a twelve-year-old or b) a white cis guy plays video games for fun.
It doesn’t matter how many times I politely point out that the global games industry is now worth more than the music and movie industries combined. It doesn’t matter if I remind them that the term “gamer” encompasses a thousand and one different types of people, from nightly raiders to Candy Crush-ers wasting time on their commute. Some will forever pigeon-hole gaming as a niche pastime, and pigeon-hole the people who play them, too.
They don’t ever go quite as far as voicing it aloud – although several people, perhaps unbelievably, have – but you can feel the disapproval radiating off them like the dull heat of an inflamed tooth. Unlike cinephiles or literary fans who are praised for their noble, highbrow pursuits, gamers lie at the bottom of the fandom pile. To those who grew up without it, gaming is thought to be nothing but a colossal waste of time.
Which is precisely what Joe Rogan declared on his podcast this week, a one minute clip that swept across social media. Timelines melted under the weight of the heated responses, whereas in my case, I just sat at my desk, phone in hand, and frowned. Because… well, he’s right, isn’t he?
Games are a waste of time. Some games are even specifically designed to be a waste of time. But gaming isn’t any more wasteful than reading a book is, for instance, or watching a movie. It’s also no less, either.
Admittedly, games take up more time – it took me 80 hours to complete Assassin’s Creed Origins and, to use Rogan’s own example, if I’d spent 80-hours learning Jujitsu instead it’d likely be no bad thing – but that doesn’t make games bad, does it? It just makes them different.
Trouble is, video games have spent so many years lying beyond the realm of acceptability – scorned and derided and steeped in unhelpful stereotypes – we’ve collapsed under the weight of trying to get our hobby taken as seriously as other forms of entertainment. We frantically push for games to be accepted as a valid and celebrated art form because they very much can be a valid and celebrated art form, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be a waste of time. It doesn’t mean they can’t be complete dogshit.
Like any other hobby anywhere on the face of the planet, there are good points and bad points, and there are positives and negatives. Some movies and books and songs might change your life. Some won’t. The same can be said for just about any hobby, including video games.
Rogan’s minute-long rant also touched on how unhealthy it can be to play video games obsessively, and while I won’t accept its a problem unique to gaming, I can’t help but concur that we should do more to spread awareness and support of gaming addiction.
While the organisations that defend the industry are fighting valiantly to have “gaming disorder” stricken from the WHO’s International Classification Of Diseases, most of us either know someone – or know firsthand – that some games are difficult to stop playing. We know games can infringe on your ability to work or spend time with the people you love. But that means we need better support from clinicians and the industry itself, and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. How does vilifying gaming help? And surely doing anything for prolonged periods – be it gaming or otherwise – is problematic?
The fact is, games can be life-changing, in good and bad ways. People have met their partners playing games. Others have formed life-long friendships that led them away from self-harm and suicide ideation. Many games are effective stress relievers – in fact, were it not for online co-op, millions of people would not have been able to remain connected to their loved ones during the global pandemic.
Games are unique in their interactivity and enable us to live and connect with perspectives wholly different from our own and enhance a myriad of skills, improving short-term memory, dexterity, reaction speeds, and even improve our physical fitness. There’s so much more good than bad here.
To be honest, I don’t believe that anyone who spends 15 hours a week practising karate is any more likely to go on to an industrious career in the martial arts than a girl in her bedroom playing Call Of Duty for 15 hours a week will go on to play competitively. But the fact is, it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if you never earn a penny from playing games. All that does matter is that you enjoy it… and as the old adage goes, the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted.