Monday, June 23, 2008

A gamer's Warning

I've been a gamer for as long as I can remember. I remember playing pacman when it was new. I remember playing games before the advent of windows 3.11 where you still had to painstackingly configure your bat files to use mouse and joystick and a commodore was state of the art. I remember playing pretty much anything I could lay my hands on and to a certain extend I still do.

Gaming is relaxing, can take you away from the daily hassles, put your mind at ease and even elevate you from the unknown number you are to some true E-fame.

Gaming will teach you teamwork, language skills, decrease your reaction time and will give you a healthier outlook on how to handle real life things.

But gaming _is_ addictive. There's no 2 ways about it. I remember spending months on end on dune (the first rts one not the rpg), I remember perfecting my master of orion game on hard mode over the course of years, I remember playing the final fantasy series for so long I could've played through the games with my monitor off.

Ironically gaming isn't the demon that people make it out to be. Gaming doesn't turn people into social degenerates (anonimity does) nor does it incite violence or other questionable behaviour (no moreso than the violence driven daily news at any rate) but a game can appeal to an addictive nature.

Gaming is an immersion drug. It doesn't kill braincells like alcohol or kill you outright like prolonged 'heavy' drug usage; but if done excessively it will swallow up all your time. And that's what sets it apart from other 'drugs'. It's a drug that gives you goals and lets you achieve them, it lets you 'be somebody' when you are not so much someone in real life.

Millions have been spent in researching the potential harmful effects of gaming and in all this not a single piece of evidence has been found that gaming is essentially bad for you. In fact research shows more and more that gamers are generally more driven to achieve specific goals and generally make better employees.

But the game can take the upper hand. If you're past a certain point in your addiction then it quickly turns into a lackluster approach to real-life obligations as long as you can finish goal x in-game. In-game items/ goals/ fame become overpowering to the point where 'real-life' seems trivial.

I can't even remember how many classes I missed due to gaming. I can't even remember when I chose homework over a game (any game) unless forced.

For a brief time I lost control completely, my grades slipped and to amplify the problem my in-game career sky-rocketed. With the time saved from doing irrelevant chores like homework, studying and showing up on time for lectures I was able to boost myself into virtual stardom.

Luckily somewhere around that point I became more interested in the game's mechanics and the math behind it. First from a pure desire to improve my game-character but gradually moreso because I was intrigued in what made games tick.

I slowly figured out how game mechanics worked. I became interested in game theory and was already on the path of a 'software developer' by making various mods/maps and whatnot for games.

The coin dropped... I realized that all games are created 'equal' on the basis of pre-defined mechanics and that once mechanics were understood games became trivially easy if not boring (due to lack of innovative techniques).

The challenge was no longer in beating the game but understanding what made the game tick. My addiction evolved into a greater understanding of software as a whole, evolved into an understanding that the game isn't there to be 'beat' but to be enjoyed. Built-in game mechanics are there to draw out your gaming experience and attempt to do this without sucking too much of your enjoyment.

In all this it is important to understand the limits of the game. You can play an open economy like wow forever as long as there are expansion packs but once you come to understand (conciously or subconciously) the game mechanics even an expansion will have precious little innovation (i.e. will not be more challenging than what was before).

Understand the limitations and ask yourself how much time the game is truly worth.

There will always be another game, but you can only ruin your grades once for them to have a lasting impact.

Don't let the game stand between you and real-life achievments, because in the end your real-life achievments will dictate the course of your life moreso than a game ever will.

I am a better software developer now than I would've been without gaming. I know more about networking protocolls, catering to large end-user bases, ui design, networking security implications and even economics than I would've known had I not been a gamer... but all this would've mean nothing had I not been able to get into my chosen profession because of shoddy grades.

In all this I know that while there's nothing wrong with gaming all day; bills still need to be paid, money needs to be made, grades need to be achieved, partners need to be kept happy and life's lessons need to be learned - Even if they sometimes have all the charm of wipe night on shade of aran.

1 comment:

Greta said...

thank you for this post. Its something I've been thinking/writing about lately.

I'm an old lady compared to most players, long out of school and its interesting that WoW is actually bringing me back to an academic mind set. I haven't studied anything in years, but now I really do study warcraft. The math of shot rotations. Boss strategies. Reading blogs and guidebooks, taking notes, calculating what gear would be best... while some people will say that Gamers just sit around getting addicted/stupid, I find that gaming has reactivated my drive to learn and study.