"I Play Games for a Living"

Russ Pitts | 8 Oct 2007 21:00
Op-Ed - RSS 2.0

As a child and an adolescent, playing games was an accepted, if not nerdish, way of "staying off the streets," and fistfuls of quarters (and then Nintendo cartridges) were thrust at me to keep me occupied. I think "clean your room" was the strongest invective hurled at me as a result of the growing mass of cartridges and soda cans emanating from the area around the TV. As soon as I was able, I even got a job, forestalling that argument before it began. Still, I played games.

One summer in the mid '90s, while I was living in my parents' house between futile attempts to earn a college degree, I spent two months savings on a new PC - and X-Wing. It was the first time I'd lied to anyone about playing games. I told my mother I was using the PC for writing. The joystick gave me away.

In the years that followed the lies became more frequent, until I started to feel like a junkie on the outskirts of society, hiding in my room, stealing away to the mall under cover of darkness to purchase games wrapped in plain plastic bags and then closing the blinds, lest my neighbors see I wasn't entertaining guests, but vaulting Lara Croft through tomb after tomb, ogling her digital ass and dreaming. I pretended to be sick more times than I can remember to avoid having to leave the house to visit friends or attend parties. I burned the bottom of a pan once because I was so engrossed in a rousing multiplayer Quake battle I'd completely forgotten I'd set two cups of water boiling to make macaroni.

I remember the disapproving looks I'd get from friends and roommates after all-night videogame sessions. Most were in bands, which, granted, isn't all that unusual in Austin. At that time, you couldn't swing a taco without hitting at least half a dozen musicians of some kind or another. Saying "I'm in a band" was as unlikely to arouse interest as proclaiming "I'm wearing pants." There were people who looked unfavorably upon these denizens of the night and their vain attempts to earn fame, fortune or just a living through their artistic efforts. We called them "most people" and mocked them behind their backs as we served their food, rang up their retail purchases and washed their cars. Yet even musicians and retail jockeys looked down on me for playing videogames.

They'd return from bars at whatever o'clock at night to find me still at my computer, still playing Half-Life, Civ2, Outlaws, Total Annihilation or whatever the game of the week happened to be. They'd sneer, I'd cringe, and we'd all eat breakfast, whereupon they would collapse and I would return to the PC.

Now here I am, a 30-something-year-old adult, living the dream, as it were, after a decade of hacking a career out of the new media jungle, working my dream job, living in a fashionable neighborhood, making a decent living and enjoying my life as fully as I'm able, and I'm still ashamed to admit in certain company that I play videogames. And by "certain company" I mean practically everyone.

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