When I was at school I had a pretty powerful kick on me. When not out on the oval playing some pretty serious football, we were in the cricket nets kicking the ball as hard as we could at each other in the name of ‘science’. Juvenile perhaps, but boy it was fun. After a while I became known for it, the kid that kicks the ball a million miles an hour, the kid that gave Matthew Joy concussion, the kid whose kick you run away from. It was a badge of honour, in some ways, but in others it pre-determined the young footballer I became and I was typecast as your big kicking goalkeeper – something that stuck with me throughout my entire playing career.
And that judgement is all a natural part of growing up, and in many ways we are not in control of who we are or who we become in the early years. Call it social pressure, but as kids and teenagers its almost integral to forge your own identity through the things you do in order to survive what are some of the most gruelling and tribal years of your life. Peer pressure grips many, while others have the willpower to go on and be the individual they want to be. Individual or not, regardless of which clique you fit into there is a pressure, in some way, to fit into some sort of ‘norm’. Whether it be the way you dress, the films you watch, the music you listen to, or the way you wear your hair, every moment of every day during those formative years, you are being judged superficially and that image in some ways becomes you. If there is one benefit to growing up its leaving all of that behind.
Games were never like that for me growing up, at least not to that level. I am grateful that I lived somewhere where we all played games – boys and girls. The school yard was full of pockets of children sharing stories (and often discs) of the latest Amiga games, tales of their latest arcade conquest. But it was a very different hobby back then, we played anything and everything that came our way, and never formed little groups based on what sort of ‘gamer’ we were. There weren’t the indie fans, the strategy fans and the RPG fans. We were all one collective that loved and shared our enthusiasm for what was for many our childhood pastime with each other. You played games and that was enough to afford you entry into a conversation.
But with the onset of the internet it all changed. It was less about what you actually like and more about what you should like. Finding out that those games you loved as a kid are now deemed ‘bad’ because the retrogaming illuminati deem it so is heart-breaking. But its the fact that we all follow their line of thinking that is the shameful part. We the chameleons of the internet shape and mould at their behest, playing the games they deem worthy and constructing our identities around their manifestos. Chuck Rock you’re out, Bonk you’re in. Your credentials as a retro game enthusiast came down to whether you played Earthbound or not.
The strangest thing is these people are adults. I find it gobsmacking that people well into their adult life feel the need to define themselves by anything let alone video games. And not only by the fact that they play video games, but the genres they play down to the most pedantic of delineators. As a society of game players we are becoming so self conscious about who we are and what we play that we are often feeling the need to endure games we are simply not enjoying. We have even rewritten our own histories in an attempt to align our own ‘shameful past’ with the popular opinion of the internet, one dominated by a US-centric version of events. For many years I played games I had no interest in playing because it was the flavour of the month, in order to seemingly legitimising myself as an enthusiast. And it was miserable, it was all-consuming, but more importantly it made me wonder why I did this in the first place. The love of games came naturally, but forcing myself into the model picture of an enthusiast did not – it was less about enjoyment and more about conformity. So I changed my perspective, read less about what others thought, thought less about what others thought, and played the games that instantly piqued my interest. I stopped caring about whether I was missing out or whether I was the fount of all knowledge and in doing so remembered just what brought me to games in the first place. It was escaping all of that and enjoying being in worlds free of the judgement and social pressure that follows us all daily that had me running home to play my latest muse. And all the pressure fell away and games became that entertaining pastime once again.
And as it bloody well should be because when all is said and done games are made for us to enjoy. They are escapism, joy, happiness and laughter. They are business for the few, but a pastime for the many. What you play may in some ways say something about who you are as a person, but they certainly don’t make you who you are. There are so many social norms we have to conform with on a daily basis to be part of the club we call modern society – some are necessary and others merely convention. But video games aren’t one of them and just being involved is enough to join the global club of enthusiasts. So while its cool to where your fandom on your sleeve, don’t let it define you as a person or blind you to the millions of wonderful experiences available to you. Both inside video games and out.