People who play video games on the regular are often seen as obsessed. Though a generation of modern gamers have secured spots within adulthood and the hobby is becoming far more legitimized, many non-gamers or even just casual gamers (I hate that this must be clarified, but this is not derogatory, I promise.) view those who spend a large amount of time playing games as having a sort of problem. While people admit to losing hours or even days to a TV show, a movie marathon, or a good book, a video game occupying that much time is seen as a problem. I’m not here to debate the reality of gaming addiction – I won’t deny that there are countless individuals who legitimately cannot track the time they’re spending or manage to wreck their lives through unhealthy habits – but what I am interested in talking about is an odd tendency I notice to automatically associate extensive game time with some kind of mental flaw. I think a large part of this comes from a general misunderstanding of what a video game is to those who play them and a dated belief that nothing is to be gained from video games.
The WikiHow article titled How to Avoid Video Game Addiction (with Pictures) encapsulates a lot of the misconceptions surrounding gaming. While plenty of its suggestions are perfectly reasonable and even healthy, some of them get oddly specific and condemn actions that are fairly normal for anyone who has engaged in a gaming hobby. One such piece of advice goes as follows:
Look in your drawer of CDs. Are there more than 5 games that you have played in the last two months? Are these games open-ended (like Civilization, World of Warcraft, or Evil Genius)? This could be a warning sign.
While I understand their point is to be mindful of your gaming habits and purchases, to suggest that owning and playing multiple games is bad is pretty weird. Looking on my shelf, I have nearly 100 games on display, and another 100 digital games on various electronic devices. These have been collected over my lifetime and each of them (okay most of them) represent a positive gaming experience. And yes, I will replay them. In the last two months, I’ve played dozens of games, though I admit only three of them are indeed open ended (Final Fantasy XIV, The Sims, Civilization). My point is that in general gamers have a lot of games (though to be fair, if they’re keeping them in a drawer, they probably don’t play them all too frequently). Of course, if a gamer has a long-term pattern of playing for days straight and neglecting responsibilities, it’s a good idea to consider steps to scale down the gameplay, but number of games owned isn’t necessarily a strong indicator of game addiction.
Now, WikiHow isn’t necessarily the best example of a source that understands everything it’s talking about, but this example still represents part of what I’m getting at. Non-gamers don’t understand some of the normal things gamers do. Thus, they see things like a massive game collection as inherently obsessive, when in reality it’s likely the culmination of a long-term engagement with a hobby. Just like a bookshelf filled with books, lovingly curated by their reader with the intent of being able to pull one off the shelf again and relive something they enjoyed (or, to be fair, to keep on the shelf as conversation pieces whether or not they have read it).
Another thing that people tend to assume is that there is nothing constructive about playing a video game. Even games centered around construction, like Minecraft, are ultimately pre-coded situations designed by others for the player to re-form. The outside eye (and to be honest I am one. I haven’t played Minecraft.) looks on at the player with pity. How can they spend so much time making a fake graphing calculator when they could be programming a real one?
Well, to be fair, this apparently does work so, in effect, it is a real graphing calculator. Also, while there could be a sick obsession driving the preciseness required in this endeavor, model-building in the real world has a similar appearance: the creation of a small object, already created and designed by an outside group, merely assembled by the person engaged in the activity. The gain in both instances is actually learning the ins and outs of a system. And to pass time. These are hobbies after all.
Finally, there is an oft-overlooked factor here: mental illness. I’m not talking about gaming addiction here, I mean other mental conditions such as depression, severe anxiety, or other cognitive issues that could affect a person. Video games offer not necessarily an escape, but a release for some of that pressure. For example, organizing things relieves my anxiety. I can spend hours organizing a bag of items in a game or trying to figure out stat growth or enemy patterns. I’m not an expert at these things by any means, so I can’t be competitive or claim bragging rights, but real-world rewards are not the ends to my gameplay. Unfortunately, those seem to be the only ones onlookers are concerned with, so when something seems to them to have no outcome, they brand it a problem.
I feel like there’s much more I could say about this subject, but I’m starting to feel a little long-winded so I think I’ll wrap this up for now. I want to reiterate I am not denying the existence of video game addiction. I do not want to minimize the struggle of people who get trapped in that mental loop and have their life quality deteriorate as a result. I simply want to ask people who judge gamers to keep in mind that their hobbies are not inherently obsessions just because one can’t see the importance themselves.