The Case For Video Gaming
A notice pops up: “Level Up Available”
Yes! I increase my Magicka energy so I can cast longer fire spells, because that Frost Troll was more difficult than I anticipated. On my next level up, I’ll increase my Stamina because I need the extra carrying capacity (these dragon bones I’m carrying slow me down).
I am playing “Skyrim,” a role-playing video game released in 2011 that features hundreds of hours of open-ended gameplay. Up until a few months ago, I was hesitant to explore “Skyrim.” Because, like those dragon bones, I was weighed down by a misconception that successful adults can’t play video games. (Of course we can. Gamers are in good company: nearly half of all gamers these days are women, and this report found that gamers are more likely to have creative hobbies and be civically engaged.)
I grew up in a gaming household—video games, board games, you name it and we played it. Games were a source of joy for me; of immersion when I needed some alone time; of community when my brothers and I put aside our squabbles and played Mario Party together. But outside of my family, gaming was overtly for the boys and few of my closest friends played the games I did. So, after I graduated high school, I wrapped up my controllers, put my GameBoy in storage with other “childish” things, and moved away.
A couple of years ago, I found myself searching for a hobby that allowed me to just “be.” I was tired of optimizing hobbies for productivity—or trying to monetize them. The conundrum solved itself when, at my husband’s suggestion, I booted up “Spiderman” on his Playstation 4 and began casually web-slinging around Manhattan. It was exactly what I needed. Suddenly, as if I had never stopped, I was gaming again. I found myself once again relishing in Sims family drama, navigating lengthy backroads in “Skyrim,” and building a farm in “Stardew Valley” (at the recommendation of The Good Trade commenters). As I spend more time at home these days because of COVID-19, my daily commute has been replaced with much more interesting, and less stressful, virtual quests.
Gaming is the perfect combination of television and books. Thrills, drama, epic storytelling: it’s all there. You’re an active part of the story, so there’s rarely any passive consumption—no more judgmental “Are you still watching?” questions from Netflix. And if you’re in the mood for epic entertainment, long-form role-playing adventure games (or RPGs) invite you to manage priorities, plan your growth, and solve problems in a world that’s been meticulously created for you.
Other gamers find the same benefits I do. “The problem-solving I’ve learned over the last few years playing [‘Fortnite’] really stretches my brain, and I feel I benefit from that rapid strategy and action,” says Aliza Sherman, author and digital marketer. Sherman, a 55-year-old mother of three whose favorite games include “Tomb Raider” and “Fortnite,” uses gaming as stress relief, a moment of escape, and a practice in problem-solving. “If I’m obsessing over something or caught in an anxiety loop, playing ‘Fortnite’ removes me from the current upsetting situation and lets me process my thoughts and feelings in the abstract.”
Where do you start with video gaming?
If you’re not a gamer, perhaps it’s time to consider trying it out. You can always start with a small mobile game like “Stardew Valley” or dust off your Super Nintendo and plug in “Mario Kart.” Just like any screen-focused activity, it’s important to keep a balance and care for your physical and mental health offline. But, if you can find your rhythm, gaming may offer you time to get back in touch with yourself like it does for me.
If you don’t have much time, start by checking your screentime report. Do you have 30 minutes or an hour that you could refocus from scrolling Instagram into strategic gameplay? “I pack my days and rarely feel I have ‘spare time’ to play,” says Sherman. “But I’ve reprioritized things to call my gaming a form of ‘self-care’ so I play a few games almost daily to take a much-needed break.”
For now, gaming has been replacing most of my usual television. No, I haven’t watched “The Dropout,” or “Euphoria,” or the new season of “Ozark.” I’ve only even seen two episodes of “Ted Lasso”—that’s how far behind
I am. Admittedly, that removes me from some conversations; not many people in my social circle are conjuring spells and deep-diving into gaming Wikis. But, I’ve happily replaced hours I’d otherwise have spent passively re-watching something.
Still not sure if gaming is for you? It’s not all “Call Of Duty” warfare games—video games come in every flavor. If you’re looking for something sustainable and affordable, you can purchase refurbished systems online or from friends who no longer use them. You can invest in games that you’ll play for months on your own, find collaborative simple games to play with your family, or log on to an MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) and connect with new people around the world.
One of the most delightful aspects of gaming, though, is that your life doesn’t have to look a certain way. You can do yoga, wear organic clothing, and fight off bandits in “Skyrim.” Or explore a vast universe as a space traveler. Or build a successful farm in a rural town.
When my bed is made and my (sourdough) bread is made, gaming allows me to settle into something that makes me feel useful, engaged, and in control. I can tap into my flow state and ask myself: where will I go today? Whose side will I be on? Shall I just climb aimlessly up into the mountains, then?
And then I climb, aimlessly and happily, into the mountains.
Emily Torres is the Editorial Director at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits, or gaming.