A reader takes a philosophical view on the idea of ‘beating’ video games, and suggests a more relaxed approach to playing.
Before I start let me say that in this piece I am referring predominantly to single-player games, and expressing an entirely personal view. I am not excessively competitive and have never walked out on Christmas day after a row over Trivial Pursuit or charades. Although I know people who have! I am not attacking anyone else’s right to play games or express themselves in any way they choose!
I feel a strange sense of sadness when I see the phrase ‘I beat… [enter game title]’. The first time I noticed it I felt a sudden shock of recognition; other people see this experience in a completely different way from me!
It explained a lot; the extreme anger and frustration frequently expressed by gamers at game features or perceived faults, the idea that only certain ways of playing or winning were acceptable, the rejection of game guides as legitimate companions to game exploration.
These prescriptive views are consistent with a competitive view, where ‘beating’ is the goal and you must earn that accolade in the way prescribed! People even express guilt for playing on ‘easy’ or looking up solutions on the Internet.
But if you see games as a pleasurable activity, an exploration of possibilities, full of surprises, frustrations and personal triumphs, then there are no rules other than what pleases you.
I can’t really see games as my enemy.
Michael Schumacher once advised; don’t grasp the steering wheel so aggressively, hold it gently, it is your friend. Now Michael Schumacher was, I happily concede, a very aggressive driver who was always determined to beat the opposition, but he knew where and how to channel that desire. He was not going to fight his car. He caressed his friend and became one with it.
Surely games are our friends? To travel with, to hold our hands gently while they accompany us on new journeys, new experiences. They are our warm mountains and like mountaineers we reject concepts of conquest or victory; without them there is no journey and when we reach the top, we are consummated with them not against them.
We may make the journey again or just savour this one view and move on to another companion, but we are richer for the experience either way.
Does any of this matter? I believe it does. Language not only describes but in some ways modifies and determines our experiences, which are essentially subjective. If we conceive gaming as conflict or a desire to achieve or dominate, we may lose sight of the experience itself; rushing to complete, raging against failure, smashing controllers, skipping cut scenes…
This time we spend is precious; it is our life. This experience should be embraced as it unfolds and we should live in that moment not in anticipation of some imaginary future when it will be over.
By reader John Weston