Why do we game?

It starts with the first rumors and tidbits wafting over the Internet, wisps of information that we’ve all seen and heard at some point.

“Hey, I hear they’re making this new game…”

It’s the words that excite our heart, even though intelligently, we know that the rumor is just that, a rumor, and that until something more solid appears, what we’ll end up chasing is nothing more than a trace of vapor, a pipe dream. It is a feeling known only amongst gamers, something almost so inconsequential that we commonly overlook it. And yet, it also serves as the common bond between all gamers, be they FPS, Strategy, or RPGers. At first glance, this seems very obvious, after all, games are supposed to be fun, and we all look forward to fun things. This is true of course, but ask any gamer specifically why they game, and only a few will give you the answer that it is fun. Hardcore FPS players will tell you it’s an adrenaline rush, Strategy players will tell you that it gives them mental exercise and that they find pleasure in mentally besting their opponent. RPGers may give you a variety of answers, depending on how deep they are into their respective world.

As time passes, and the rumors of a possible game grow stronger, as more details leak out and the chances of it being nothing more than “vaporware” become dimmer, the rabidness of its following grows, as more and more people become aware of the game and become attached to it. Communities form, and people begin to share and revel in the information surrounding an upcoming release. Unlike before, where one’s first realization that a new game was here would be at the retail shelf, knowledge of releases are known to the public weeks, months, sometimes even years in advance. Each game becomes a publicity event in and of itself.

Behind each explanation of “why” someone plays a game, is a complicated psychological need, be it to escape, or to fill some need in ourselves. Too often, games are dismissed as fun, and too often, that is why people think that gamers play. Because of this, games have rarely received much serious attention from the mainstream population, with the overriding exception of course, being when violence occurs, in which case, the most convenient solution is to blame media, and to blame video games. It is this failure to understand exactly why we play these games that causes this rift between those of us “in the know” and the rest of the world. Clearly, the rising popularity of games these past few years have shown that something is being done right, but what is it? It is a question that eludes developers to this day, and would prove to be the Holy Grail of gaming should it ever be known.

Over time, games have developed into something more than just plain fun. Playing a game is no longer just mindless action and movement, but involves all sorts of other brain functions. Games evoke emotions, ranging from laughter to depression. Games evoke anger, as anyone who has thrown their controller at the screen after dying to the last boss, or played any sort of online game will attest to. Games require thought and planning to win, and games require patience and training in order to be the best. It is no longer a matter of standing at an arcade machine and plugging quarters into Pac-Man until you get good, gaming has evolved into a multi-billion dollar business, complete with cable channels, professional competitions, and sponsorship deals. For those of us who are truly gamers, gaming is no longer a hobby but a way of life.

And then there are those who lose themselves in the game, who find themselves so engrossed in their virtual fantasies that they can no longer differentiate between the real world, and the world that they play every day. For some, the virtual world becomes their residence, as they spend more and more time inside the game, and less time in the “real” world. For some, it is an obsession, for some it is an addiction. And for some, it can even become dangerous. We have all heard of the term “Evercrack” (the popular name given to Sony Online Entertainment’s MMORPG “Everquest”), but how true is this to reality? And if these games are truly so addictive to some of us, can it be that behind it all, the idea of gaming is more deep and complex than we may have ever thought?

What all this essentially boils down to then, is a simple question.

Why?

Why do we play games, and why do we find so much satisfaction, and just as often, dissatisfaction in playing a game? For what began as two bars moving across a screen bouncing a little white ball back and forth, gaming has evolved into a complex and mysterious creature, one that we do not understand anymore, no matter how often we say we do. Somehow, gaming has tapped into deeper psychological urges, and by doing so has become something that now deserves to be examined in detail, in some hope of finding out why people play games. It is a question that will not be answered here, but this is a start. In the following weeks, we’ll go deeper into the heart of video games, and perhaps even into our own heart of darkness.

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