It’s Hard to Talk About Games – Part 1

I’ve been playing video games literally longer than I can remember.  I have some shadowy recollections of playing a Sesame Street game for Commodore 64 when I was 3 or 4, then moved on to DOS, NES, and Genesis games, easy as breathing.  I tell you this not to beg for recognition in a pathetic appeal to seniority, but to explain why I could never explain gaming to non-gamers; I never was one, and I have a hard time understanding what they’re asking.  Someone asking why I play games might as well be asking why I sleep; it’s because I’ve always done it, and the alternative seems awful.

If other gamers share even a little of my mentality, then no fucking wonder non-gamers don’t understand our experiences – we completely lack the language to share them.  If the gamer community is ever going to be more accepting and less insular – if it’s going to get people to not just admit, but appreciate, that games are art – we need to fix that.  Now.

To figure out how to talk about games, I’m going to have to break down the problems with game-related communication into smaller chunks.  Today, I’m just going to focus on one: how hard it is to discuss things you experience alone.

1. Video games are usually individual pursuits – like books

Movies tend to be social.  You can take some friends to your local theater, or put something on Netflix, and discuss the movie immediately afterward (or during, if you want to burn in hell with the line-cutters).  If you prefer concerts, then maybe you and your friends dissect the differences between the live show and the album on the ride home.  Either way, discussing the experience gives you practice at explaining it – you’re learning the languages of film and music with your peers.

But you read a book alone, at your own pace.  If you want to have a good discussion with your friends about a book, you have to foist it on each of them in turn by singing its praises.  Unless they’re already readers who already trust your taste, your battle is way, way uphill.  Even if you can convince them to invest that level of their own time and energy into something you – as an individual – like, you have to quash your own thoughts on the book until they’re done with it.  You don’t get that same immediate incentive to practice your book-language.

Games have the same problem – it’s really hard to discuss the merits of a game with someone who hasn’t played it, let alone someone who doesn’t play games in general.  So, in order to practice game-language, you already have to know enough to convince someone else to play.  Any pitch you make without that competence already in place will come off as slavish fan-wank; they “have to try it, because it’s just soooo gooood.”  Most of the time, you can’t offer to shepherd them through a game, either.  Watching a friend play a game can be just as off-putting as reading over their shoulder.  Worse, you end up back-seat driving their session, tainting their experience and any discussion you might’ve hoped to have along with it.

The dreaded Book Club is the only way to experience books socially that comes to mind.  I hate to think that single-player game discussion is fated to the same model.  I’ll churn it over, and maybe have some thoughts about it next week.

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