My husband and I go grocery shopping together. I know it’s a painful process for him—he absolutely hates the grocery store, but I do the cooking and he has to do the heavy lifting with the grocery bags. But sometimes it’s painful for him in a different way—he has to deal with his wandering wife. I don’t mean wandering as in cheating. I mean wandering as in casual, random, eyes-wide, full body movement away from the situation at hand. He turns around out of the blue and the cart is standing before him, but I’m nowhere to be seen. He’ll find me in a random aisle down, reading some new box of Hamburger Helper or a beef jerky product on an endcap I’ve never seen before.
I’m always touching things. I’m always breaking things. I’m always hitting buttons when I’m not supposed to. I’m always wandering. People try to get around the cart. I run into people because I’m not paying attention. It’s even worse in Target, so we won’t even go there. That’s painful. So what does this have to do with gaming?
I love gaming. I’ve played video games since my brother—5 years older than me—got an Atari in the ’80s for Christmas. Since then, I’ve gone through the Nintendos, Segas, PlayStations, and even computer games. As I grew up, I found that I became less and less talented at video games just as the side-scroller gave way to first-person shooters and strategy games. I found myself having to be selective about games—choosing ones I thought I would be able to play with little skill or attention span.
So, I stopped gaming and just forgot about it.
When I met my husband, he opened me up to a fresh world of video games, including Steam and, specifically, indie gaming. He watched as I read book after book while he battled through survival horror games and Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy. And more and more, he saw me lift my eyes from the pages, watching the cutscenes and following the story until I was so enthralled that I would put down my books.
I’m still not so great at cutting and slicing monsters without dying at some point; hiding behind walls and shooting enemies without getting shot myself; or even reading a map. But as I’ve started wandering around the different genres of games available to players now, I’ve become adventurous and tried to find where I fit as a gamer in the gaming world. Sometimes the fast pace of popular games drains me. I’ve found that what I love most about modern gaming is the option to be casual and look around a little.
I’m currently playing Elegy of a Dead World from Dejobaan Games and Popcannibal. It’s very simple—you are a lone adventurer in a galaxy of three planets, each named after the poets Shelley, Keats, and Byron. You enter each planet alone with the mission to observe and record your observations. Each planet looks different. There are only four ways to move throughout the game, directed by the computer’s arrow keys; you can fly up, sit down, walk left, or walk right. As you explore outside and enter a few dwellings, feather quills pop up on the bottom of the screen, signaling that there is an opportunity to write about what you’re seeing and hearing. You can write either based on a prompt or freeform. You can choose to be funny, serious, philosophical, or just plain silly, dependent on your mood. (You can read other explorers’ published “works” about each planet, and one was an ode to Doctor Who and the Daleks, although there was nothing to do with them on the planet.)
You’re free to roam in your mind, sit down and look at the beautiful world before you (the colors are stunning), and to experiment with how you would describe what you’re seeing without any previous knowledge. What attracted me back to games was watching the stories unfold on the screen before me as my husband played through them. It was like reading a book, watching a movie, and simultaneously being in the movie and the book at the same time. With Elegy of a Dead World, I am able to enjoy the magic of exploration while writing my own script. To me, that’s an innovative and fine example of how the gaming industry is embracing people from all walks of life to plug in and enjoy the benefits of gaming.
When I showed my husband the game, excited to hear what he thought about it, his first comments were, “Is that all you do? Is there any fighting or hitting or anything?” I know from our conversations that the benefits I get from gaming and what he gets out of gaming are different. He has a very stressful job and playing games like Diablo 3 or any of his favorite survival horror games lets him vent his frustration by using the buttons on the controller to command his will on the world. It’s a cathartic activity for him where he can zone out and just wreak havoc.
I have a stressful job as well. But most of the time, when I game, I want to use my mind instead of just my fingers. I want to play puzzle games, I want to discover, I want to be fascinated, and I want to be taken to a different place. For me, that’s how I relax. I want a break from reality and an entrance into fantasy.
For me, after a long days’ work, Elegy of a Dead World lets me game and explore without having to exude a ton of energy or throw the controller after a few failed attempts at beating a boss. I can still game and write and relax. I can still explore the world around me, but in a comfortable setting—and to me, that’s a perfect combo. Just like my husband, video gaming is cathartic for me too, but in a different way. There is a reason the video game industry has expanded to include a variety of genres to increase their participant base—the wider audience and the different categories makes it easier for a casual gamer like me to enjoy the benefits of gaming without having to hack and slash. And there’s no right or wrong way.
A month or so back, I commented on a post in the gamer’s group I belong to on Facebook that discussed the components of a “real gamer.” I commented that I thought anyone who played a game was a gamer—whether I was playing a puzzle game like Professor Layton on the DS, Uncharted on the PS Vita, or the button-smasher God of War. I was only told by a few that the term “gamer” was synonymous with hardcore gamer: someone who runs through campaigns and battles, beats games the day they buy it, reads up on all the games and their release dates … really breathes and sleeps gaming. But most of the members reiterated how I felt: a gamer is someone who plays games. A gamer is someone who loves playing games. Expanding on that, it can be anyone who loves playing an app game on their cell phone, spends time with crosswords and puzzles, and invites friends over for friendly board games like Smallworld and Cranium.
The definition of gamer is all-encompassing and the industry has expanded to meet the needs of larger communities with creativity and options. Now, couples like my husband and I can be equal gamers on our couch in our pajamas, him booting up his PS4 controller to kill some demons and earn the platinum trophy he’s been yearning for, and me booting up Steam to explore abandoned worlds, wander, and write about what I see. And we can come together and talk about it. Because I’m a gamer. You’re a gamer. Everyone’s a gamer.