When I wrote recently that blogging was probably my longest-lasting hobby, I was wrong. I realized the other day that, more likely, my longest-lasting hobby is playing video games. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing Nintendo and Super Nintendo games with my brother, and making that long suburban walk to the arcade on summer vacations. In high school and my early twenties, I dropped the hobby for a while mainly due to lack of a console and a lack of funds (and discovering blogging probably helped), but I happily returned to it after a few years. I haven’t looked back since.
I hesitate to call myself a “gamer,” mainly because I associate that word with someone who’s quite serious about it, who enjoys playing almost any kind of game. My husband is more like that than I am, and teases me for being picky about the kind of games I like (and before anyone thinks that’s unfair, I do have to vocalize my bewilderment when I see him playing games that I would give up on in two minutes – so it evens out).
I don’t mean to make myself sound like some video game snob. While it’s true that I can be strangely picky about superficial things such as setting (no space or post-apocalyptic environments for me, thanks) and graphics, my favourite games are the ones with a compelling, immersive story and well-written characters.
When Skyrim (my favourite game of all time thus far) came out in 2011, my husband and I took turns playing. I had slightly more free time than he did then, so I progressed a little further in the main story than him. Many shouts of, “Oh shit, wait ’til you get to this part!” were heard from the living room. The story and world of Skyrim were so engaging that I played it right up until a couple of months ago, when our PS3 gave up the ghost with the Skyrim disc still in it.
And, despite how much I knew I loved that game, I was surprised to find that I actually missed it. I missed almost everything about it. The music, the world, even my character (whose face I spent a long time creating at the start of the game). I had beaten that game long ago and completed all the side quests I’d cared about, but I kept returning to it. If I was anxious or frustrated or bored or even in a perfectly fine mood, I’d pop in the disc and just run around in the game, jumping up to the tops of mountains, firing arrows at giants and bandits from high above where they couldn’t reach me. Returning to that world over and over again was strangely relaxing.
I was thinking about all of this recently because I’m feeling the same pull towards the game I’m playing now, Dragon Age: Inquisition. The first Dragon Age game was my original Favourite Game of All Time. I played it when I was recovering from eye surgery, and while that was maybe not the best thing to do to my eyes, I couldn’t resist (and no harm done, anyway). I remember driving home from a meeting and thinking about the quest I would do next in the game, and how that would influence the story, and how my character’s companions would react. And that to me is the biggest parallel between a good video game and a good book – I think about it when I’m not actively playing/reading, and after it’s over.
And much in the same way that a good book can make you think about yourself and your own life, a video game is a great chance to analyze your own decisions and logic. For example, I have a friend who has no compunction about playing as a fully evil character in the fictionalized environment of a video game, but I can’t do it. And that applies to non-evil things, too. I’m on my second playthrough of Inquisition and making some significantly different choices than I did the first time around, and a few of those choices were actually difficult for me to execute. What do these things say about me? Like with all of my favourite games and my favourite books, I’m right there in the world, seeing how the protagonist’s choices affect people and what happens in the story, and thinking about why I had a particular response to a character or an event. In a game those repercussions are arguably more immediate and less fixed than in a book, which raises the mental anguish potential.
Books and video games are different of course, and games have a long way to go in achieving the same equality standards and cultural significance as books, but I can’t help but see so many similarities between the two. With video games I get to be a writer and a reader at the same time, and it’s wonderful.