The “grown-up” video gaming paradox

We all grow up.  It sucks doesn’t it.

Many of us, myself included, are being slowly dragged down the road of adulthood kicking and screaming.  We all have hobbies or past times that we used to defuse or for escapism.  Many of the games allowed for fanciful pipe dreams to be lived out; how many of us dreamed as kids and teens about leading a sports team to the final prize?  Books, movies, TV shows and magazines are all media with which these are accomplished but the best, and most time consuming by far, is video games.  Video games are unique in the sense that they easily and quickly create a vivid environment that fosters escapism.  Sports games allow us to live out that superstar moment again and again in vivid detail.  We can be the hero in a battle on a nightly basis.  Even building a family and house with a super career can be accomplished.  The right kind of game stirrs the mind and takes people far away from their current lives.

Thing is, video games take time to play well.  As is with most things, those who take a casual interest in things won’t excel.  I have a real passion for golf.  I love to golf, watch golf and talk golf.  Heck, if there was any way that I could play golf for a living I would.  Sadly, 24 hours in a day just doesn’t cut it.  The amount of golf practice I get in every month can be counted on one hand, no room in the budget for the right equipment means my score is usually three digits long.  The same is true of video games.  But why is this a problem?  Certainly there are awesome single player games that allow for immersion without the pressure of being good.  Fallout 3 for example.

Sadly, no.  Most who play video games as job-having, child rearing, bill paying adults once played them with great regularly.  They were good.  Mounting up online or with friends and dominating (at the very least holding their own) was commonplace.  These days are still fresh in our minds.  We long to jump online or in-game and experience this domination; it’s a key part of the escapism.  Being out of practice means we are way outclassed by our competitors.  In the case of first person shooters, a pleasant night of team deathmatch can quickly erode into a frustrating experience.  Many times your frustration is higher after than before you began.

MMORPG games are no different.  Most MMOs require a surprising amount of regular gameplay to maintain an active interest or character in game.  Progression gets exponentially longer for causal players.  While you may jump 15-20 levels in the first few weeks you play, soon you find it takes nearly a month to jump a level.  Then two.  The game becomes repetitive grinding and the allure of the universe fades fast.  Quests are usually quick at the beginning but as your level increases the size and complexity of the quests increases.  So does their time.  Many quests require the completion of instances.  In MMOs these instances are best done with a group, doing so alone means multiple attempts and even longer grinding.  Being a multiplayer game you can call on your friends to help you with an instance.  Except you can’t.  Most likely your friends in game are single, dating or without kids.  They may even be married to someone who loves gaming too.  The result is dozens of hours of gameplay more than you.  By the time you hit an instance they are twice the level required.  Not only do you feel frustrated at getting “left behind” by their levelling up, they likely won’t complete the instance with you.

That and you don’t have time.

Fine, single player.  Alone with your gaming system for a couple hours after a long day.  Fire up your game and dive in.  Where am I in game?  Where am I along this story or quest line?  Who am I supposed to be talking to?  What are my character’s attributes?  Where in this world am I?  What is the in game economy doing again?  I had a path picked out for the quest story line, was I going to do this or actually do that?  What weapons or tools do I have in my inventory?  What condition are my things in?  Where is the closest merchant/trainer/store?  Screw it I’m going to play Texas Hold’em.

So we come to the paradox.  Arguably escapism is nessissary.  We all need a place or thing to goto to escape from the tedium of our lives and life in an alternate universe.  For those of us who grew up with video games as our mode we still desire the escapism gaming provides.  The paradox lies in the fact that gaming as a “grown-up” often leaves us feeling more frustrated, impatient and angry then when we started.  Often times we’ve been away from the game so long that it takes too long to get back “in the groove” that escapism never really happens.  We turn to a media for escape that only adds to the issues we’re escaping from.  In short; gaming doesn’t fill the need the way it used to.  Gaming is still fun, but the level of immersion and escapism we used to enjoy is much harder to achieve.  Time for a new hobby?  A new way of escaping?  Perhaps.  Thing is, once you’ve trained your mind to go to a certain place for something it’s hard to convince it otherwise.  The warmth of something familiar and comfortable is part of the escaping experience.  Turning elsewhere doesn’t seem to provide the same level of escape – even if video gaming is only compounding existing issues.

There’s probably a physiological exercise in all this.  Until then, I’ll see you on the virtual battlefield.  When I have time.