Monday, August 29, 2011

A Conversation I Heard....

Well, today was kind of fun. It was my first day of college and everything went better than expected.

I got there and there were virtually no people in the parking lot I chose. Granted, I got there at 8:30 in the morning, but still, it was pretty nice not to have to drive around for half-an-hour trying to find a place to park. That might all change tomorrow, but this post is about today. My classes were easy to find, too, and not very difficult to get between. My 9:05 AM class is American Literature, and I was pleasantly surprised to see my Creative Writing teacher from last semester teaching (before she was listed as B. Joseph and here she was E. Joseph). I then had Music Appreciation, and as it turns out, my teacher for that class is not a stuck up, uptight old man, but a stout woman with a sense of music that is actually rather current, pulling up Celine Dion and Mariah Carrie for us to listen to (we never got around to it since we had so much to do first day).

I also got my copy of I'm With You in the mail today. I haven't listened to it yet, but it's uploaded to my iTunes and it finally broke the 3000 item mark. It won't break on my iPod until I add five more songs, though, because it doesn't transfer digital booklets or iTunes LP. You should expect to see my review of the album some time within the next few hours.

There's one thing I couldn't really quite get over, though. While we were waiting for our teaching to stroll in in American Literature, I overheard a conversation that was taking place one row back and to the left of me. A girl was talking to another girl about her brother, telling her about how he can "sit at the computer and play games for hours," and how it "doesn't accomplish anything." I guess I didn't really know what to think about this. Despite the enormous popularity of video games among youth, girls and boys, men and women, despite the hobby's wide-reaching appeal and entertainment value, some people still seem to think it's a waste of time.

Now, this is perfectly acceptable. Everyone has different opinions, different preferences and personalities. I think fashion and swankiness are a waste of time. I don't think appearance and clothing matter nearly as much as what's inside, but I understand many people make it a large part of their lives, and I'm okay with that. I suppose to me it was that she meant it in such a derogatory way towards video games, as if there were no worse, time-wasting activity in the world than to spend a couple of hours a day in front of a screen pretending to be someone else.

I play video games. Well, I'm not playing much right now (except trying to get around to playing those Final Fantasy games), because it's Summer, and those of us in the loop know that not much in the way of new comes out in the summer. I'm very much looking forward to Dead Island, which comes out next Tuesday, and several different games that will be releasing in November, like the new Uncharted, Skyrim, and Mass Effect 3 in Q1 2012, but between stepped-up homework for five classes and writing this book, it looks like I won't have as much time to play these as I used to. It seems I'm growing up, and I'm truly realizing now that I wish there were more hours in the day. However, it's a favorite hobby of mine, and I'm sure I'll be able to find time between slow homework days to play.

Here's why I don't think playing video games is a waste of time: it's just a hobby. It's another way to spend free time. Some people like to hang out with friends, some people like to read, some like to listen to music, do extra work, write, watch TV, and watch movies. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just that video games are still seen on the outside in as a ridiculous activity because it "accomplishes nothing." But really, does any hobby accomplish anything?

Say your favorite activity is to build model airplanes. You can buy a box full of parts, pain, glue and all the tools you need to put it together. You set aside a little time every day to work on it, and in a little while it's done. But then what? Does it just sit there on display, gathering dust until someone moves out, in, or needs to clean? With that logic, it accomplishes nothing. But to the builder, it does, because the builder has created something, gained building skills and had fun doing it. Let's look, too, at knitting, something my mother does in her spare time, as well as several other people I know. You buy the yarn, the needles and other equipment needed to make the pattern, as well as the pattern itself (or simply printed from the internet in many cases), and you set aside time every day to make it. One of the benefits of knitting is that you can do it while doing other things, like watching movies or television, conversation with others, etc. So eventually you finish the project. The main difference between knitting and other hobbies is that it's a trade, and can be used commercially. You can set up an account on online trade companies like Etsy and sell your merchandise, but at the same time, many simply make them to make them. So what's the point? What is accomplished if the point is not to sell them? With that logic, it accomplishes nothing. But to the knitter, it does, because the builder has created something, gained building skills and had fun doing it. Of course, the main point of both these examples is that the person in question is having fun.

So let's not look at video games. You buy the console, a controller (which often comes with the console) and the game you want to play, and you set aside time every day to play the game and finish it (unless the game has a multiplayer function, in which case the game stays fun as long as other people are playing). Eventually, you reach the end of the game's appeal, either by finishing the main story or by running out of fun with the multiplayer, but what then? The game goes to a shelf and doesn't get picked up again for a long time, in many cases never again, until the player misses the game and pops it in the tray for another play through of the story or another round of Deathmatch with the few players still hanging out on the servers. So it seems like there isn't much point, that it doesn't accomplish anything, but for the player, it does, because he or she had fun and gained skills for playing future games, just like the model plane builder gains a steadier wrist for building and the knitter gains a more accurate needle.

This is where video games and other screen-based hobbies live in infamy: it doesn't produce anything. There is no end product, no model to display, no hat to wear. All that's left after playing a game is a used disc and a slightly more weathered controller. If you happen to be a writer, you may choose to write about your experience, or to write a review of the game, and that would produce something, but most gamers are not also writers (trust me, I know). Those interested in getting into game design need to study games to be a decent maker of games, but once again, most gamers probably aren't going to also be designers. This is where the "doesn't accomplish anything" argument comes from.

So here's the conversation I would have liked to have with her:

Me: "Excuse me, I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but I'd like to ask you something. I need to know something first, though."

Girl: "Alright, ask what you want."

Me: "Tell me, do you like to read?"

Now, this is a pivotal moment in the conversation. But she is in a literature class, so she must have at least some interest in reading, so I'll just assume she does.

Girl: "Yes, I like to read very much."

Me: "Yeah, I like to read too. Sometimes I'll sit down to read, then next thing I know I look up at the clock and two hours have passed. I just get so engrossed in the plot, in the characters and in the writing style that I just can't stop. Do you ever have times like that?"

Girl: "Yeah, I know what you mean. Happens all the time with me."

Me: "I couldn't help but overhear your conversation about your brother earlier. He likes to play video games?"

Girl: *sigh* "Yeah, he does."

Me: "I remember you said something about how he can sit at the computer for hours at a time, just playing games."

Girl: "Yes, that's what I said."

Me: "Well, did you consider that maybe he too is engrossed in the game, the characters, the fun of the game?"

Girl: "I guess I didn't really think about it that way. But it doesn't accomplish anything just to sit there and play games."

Me: "So, what does it accomplish to sit and read for hours at a time?"

Girl: *pause*

Me: "My point is that there is little difference between video games and other hobbies, like reading or watching movies. It's just another way to enjoy your time. It is no more or less sophisticated than reading, it's just different. I can even think of a few books that are no where near as smart as some of the games I've played. Don't hate your brother's hobby because you don't enjoy it yourself."

Obviously, it wouldn't nearly go that well for me, but it's the point I want to make to people that hate video games because they're "a waste of time."

Thanks for reading.

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