Take a deep breath and open your mind as wide as your enculturated self will allow. For many, it's easy to shun a gamer. It's socially acceptable to look at a fellow human and deny them approval because they take part in the virtual instead of the real. A waste of time to some, but a life well played to others.
The concepts of materialism, recognition, and the 'real world' rule many lives, but there is something that almost everyone seeks: happiness. Here, we're going to explore what it means to play a game. For some, it is nothing more than to pass the time, and for others, it is an immeasurable experience that is not accessible in other ways. In a world where we strive to show our worth we forget that, in the end, it's more important for us to show our worth to ourselves. The concept is selfish, but the execution is not. Being selfish is okay when applied lightly to our own lives. We are animals and self-care is written into our existence; so in this instance, selfishness is not the negative stigma of only caring for oneself, but the concept of making sure we give ourselves a small amount of what we need to preserve happiness and wellbeing. This is an introduction to some of the important concepts of gaming, life, and philosophy.
Experience is used here as a term describing a consecutive string of sights, thoughts, emotions, and actions. Whether an experience is considered 'real' or not is up to the individual who has that experience. Only the individual can describe their experience. In addition, an experience is only truly of value to the individual who owns it.
Charles was walking home from work one evening and was mugged. He was held against his will and hit on the face and stomach, and the attackers stole his wallet.
Charles has accrued an experience. It's negative in context, but he decides to tell a friend about it:
William listens to Charles story of being attacked. He pays close attention and the events that Charles is describing play out in his mind.
William has accrued an experience as well. This experience is completely different than Charles's experience, though, because William was not there when it happened. He has only been told about it, left to fill in the missing pieces in his mind. His actual experience is just being told a story. He has thoughts, and perhaps emotions, but there are no sights or actions for William. His change in environment is a story going in one ear and out the other, nothing more. The experience of Charles being mugged belongs exclusively to Charles no matter how he tries to describe/show/portray it.
Experience ownership is what develops our character and outlook on the world. William still walks home late at night despite being told Charles's story of being mugged. William did not experience it; therefore his fear of being mugged is limited. Everyone has the potential to "learn from other people's experiences", but experiencing something first hand is a surefire way to truly understand it. Just like a game: if I do something, my experience bar goes up; not yours.
Experience ownership is important to understand, as well as the idea of experience value. Experiencing something and experiencing a story being told are completely different things, even if the subject matter remains the same. The true value of an experience is exclusive to the owner of said experience.
Value is a term that has been stretched my man to encompass much of the material world. Many of the things we have created have been given some form of value; like cars, money, and even time itself. These things are valuable because we give them value as a whole. If everyone decided that money was worth nothing, then it would be worth nothing. Gold is valuable simply because it's rare and we decided it is. This is a popular concept that many understand, so there is no need to go deeper than that.
True value belongs to things that are essential for one's survival and existence. These include:
Without food we would starve. Without water we would shrivel up and die of dehydration. Without shelter we would succumb to the environment. Without experience we would not know how to retrieve and maintain the first three things. Things that appear to have true value, but don't:
Yes, other people. This seems extreme, but other people are not essential to yourself to survive (it certainly helps, though), and obviously in a scientific sense the human race needs other people to procreate and keep the race going. This is strictly metaphysical; you do not need another human to live out the rest of your days. Okay, so we know that experience only has true value to the beholder and we've identified what true value is. Now what?
In a game, we see sights, have thoughts, feel emotions, and take actions. This occurs virtually, but this still occurs firsthand to us. The story is happening to the characters in a game, but the player has become the character. They are roleplaying, and most likely have forgotten subconsciously that they are not their self, because what's happening on screen is happening to them too. They are in control.
Charles is being chased down a corridor by a zombie. He finally gains enough distance to stop, pull out his gun, and plant a red-hot piece of lead into the zombie's brain.
He was scared at first, his heart racing as he attempted to get away from the zombie. Then he made a fight or flight decision and turned to shoot it. Afterwards, he felt relieved and accomplished. He saw the zombie, thought about how to deal with the zombie, felt the emotion of fear, and took action against the zombie. Charles had an experience; an experience that holds no value to anyone but him, but is essentially just as real as any other experience. If he told William about his experience, again, he would not truly understand what it's like because it holds no true value to him.
This type of experience is something that is exclusive to games, and in particular video games. Video games accomplish something much larger than a book or film can. A film shows you a story visually. A book tells you a story through words. A game transcends the story world and your mind's world to create an actual firsthand experience. It's an experience ripe with sights, thoughts, emotions, and most importantly, actions. That's why when people talk about games with others they talk about what they did in the first person. The experience didn't actually happen in the 'real world', but it did actually happen to the player.
Happiness and Death
Let's get an important matter out of the way. Life is of value to us, and we as a collective have decided to measure it with time. During this time we decide how we want to spend the time as a whole. We all have a different moral compass, but in general, we want to spend time with others, helping others, making a living, attempting to make a mark on the world, and taking time to do the things we want to do personally. The last one is what makes us truly happy. We want to do the things that give us joy. The experiences that bring happiness are experiences just like any other. They are firsthand experiences that only have value for the beholder. What makes one happy won't necessarily make another happy, and because of that it shouldn't matter what other experiences people choose.
Over the weekend, William went out and had a one night stand with a gorgeous woman from the club, then went skydiving solo, then went kayaking at a popular location, and on Sunday night he watched a few episodes of his current favorite show on Netflix.
That can be considered a great weekend to some; there's nothing wrong in thinking that. William had some experiences that made him happy. Here's another:
Over the weekend, Charles ordered some takeout, spent time with his cat, went on a jog, and played Zombie Slayer X for 12 hours.
Charles chose different experiences to make him happy. The issue, though, is that many would look at Charles's weekend and think he is lame, lazy, and uncool. Charles isn't grabbing life by the balls or living life to the fullest. In reality, his experiences hold the exact same value that William's do; to each his own, as they say. Experiences, whether virtual or real, hold the same value; either great value or no value, depending on who experiences them.
To Charles, the action of playing Zombie Slayer X for 12 hours was exciting, intense, and jam-packed with firsthand experiences that weren't real, but can be equally enjoyable as a real life experience. An experience in a game is not the same as an experience in the real world, but in the grand scheme of the universe they are of equal value. More important is the irrefutable fact that both William and Charles are going to eventually die, and the experiences they hold are irrelevant at the end anyway. Sounds cynical, but let's shine it in a different light.
William and Charles's experiences are not irrelevant while they are alive and able to enjoy them, but regardless of whether they go skydiving or play Zombie Slayer X, they both have to die. Death is the great equalizer. It doesn't need to, and shouldn't, be a sad thing. Death can be an excellent motivator, and if anything it tells us that the universe is a level playing field. No matter what you score the game of life ends for everyone. Game over. In essence, your personal happiness throughout your life is really all that matters. It seems silly to think to yourself "I don't care what people think of me" or "I can live my own way", but it's true, you can.
Happiness comes from a lot of things for a lot of different people. Some want to change the world, some want to leave their mark, and others just want to live a comfortable, happy life slaying monsters on their couch. Many people have already made this decision for themselves subconsciously. If playing video games makes you happy, then play video games. Moderation is the key to many life balances, of course, but there is no more value in someone running for office than someone beating a game, in a metaphysical sense. One seeks to make a difference in the world, and the other chooses to live peacefully in that world, while having impossible adventures that thrill and excite. The experience of each makes each individual happy, and that's that. Each individual's experience means nothing to the other.
There's no need to feel remorse after a long session of gaming. We've all been there at some point. The notion of "I wasn't very productive today" is a materialist driven concept that life worth is determined by what work you've done. Our society perpetuates that if you aren't making a difference then you're not worth the life you have. This is a ridiculous ideal! Even if you make a difference, you die and you don't get to experience it eventually. If everyone quit their jobs this very instant and just did what they wanted we would still survive.
Of course, if working makes you happy, then by all means be as productive as possible. But if something else makes you happy then you shouldn't feel lesser because of it. Society has certain standards, but you're not forced to live as a slave to production. We live in a world where you have to do something to make money and survive; those are the rules and they won't bend, get used to it. Beyond that (and the law), you can play all you want. The journey is what is important in our lives, because the end is all the same. You can make tons of differences and work your whole life to change the world, get lauded as a hero when you die, but now you're dead. If you didn't enjoy all that work you did then it's all for nothing.
A human life is made up entirely of experiences. In this way a human life holds both value and no value at all. My life is valuable to me, but not valuable to you. Both of our lives are not truly valuable to the universe, and thus my experiences are only my business. Because of this we are free and should do what makes us happy. So, go and see sights, have thoughts, feel emotions, and take actions wherever you choose. One person's life well lived is another's life well played. I'll be saving the world or taking over the world, escaping from the undead or attacking the living, flying through space while seeing the farthest reaches of the galaxy, living a life of crime with all the money I can take, being a bad guy or stopping the bad guys, and having impossible adventures in worlds no one has ever known. I'll treasure these experiences, and when I find limits I'll go to a new world and have another. What will you be doing with your time?