[The Awesomeness and the Curses of Gaming]

Games Added on 23/03/2014

I have recently watched 'Free to Play', a documentary by Valve about professional e-sports that inspired this post. I really recommend everyone to watch it, I think that it expressed the struggles and emotions of gamers really well. Let me start by saying that I have been a gamer since my childhood and while I never want to do it professionally, as I have other goals in my life, I do spend on average an hour or two a day playing PC games. The documentary followed three Dota 2 players who participated in a worldwide competition with a reward pool of 1.6 million dollars. For those who have no idea about e-sports, this is a lot of money put into a game tournament, and this competition was a historical moment not only for Dota 2 but for e- sports in general.

Views of non-gamers (particularly of the mid-life and older generations) on playing computer games usually range from 'this is waste of time' to 'this is an activity for total losers'. Playing games professionally is still only a dream for many and a dream that is very risky to pursue due to lack of funding and public interest, especially in the western countries. While being an athlete or a footballer can mean a very good and fast carrier, becoming a professional e-sports player means being ridiculed and living from pay check to pay check. However, the problem with how the world views game players stretches further than e-sports. I can't even count how many times someone looked at me funny when I mentioned that I play games almost every day. Which is quite weird, considering that my generation grew up in a world obsessed with information, Internet and computerisation. Is using a computer during your free time really so unacceptable, compared to say, watching TV or reading a book? I would argue that playing games at least helps me develop mental skills by keeping my brain active. They also don't force capitalist and narcisist propaganda down my throat every half an hour like TV ads would.

Let's imagine a world was different and eveyrone played games. And you would be the kid who just wants to go outside and shoot hoops. Or perhaps something closer to gaming, play chess. Other kids would push you around, your parents would try to keep you occupied with something else to minimise the time you spend doing what you like. I think people today fail to recognise the validity of gaming not only as a hobby but as an important mental training. Games are not what they used to be in the days of the old arcade machines. Major games like Dota, Starcraft or Counter Strike require a lot of concentration (as much as solving math problems), fast reactions (faster than for anything you would normally do), strategical thinking (developing this over the years has helped with many big life decisions) and the ability to work in a team (understanding yourself as an equal with others is important in anything you do today). Not everyone is equipped with a brain that can play these games well and only a fraction of people can play them well enough to be paid for it.

Of course, compared to physical sports, playing games has disadvantages. The obvious one is the potential to become really unhealthy from sitting for hours each day. I think Valve's documentary should have at least mentioned that gamers who are now 20 will very probalbly suffer from muscular problems a few years later. Or become obese. Or become very thin. Or something else. Another problem with playing games is that you usually don't blink when you are immersed in a game. This temporarily changes the way your brain functions, you can gain maximal concentration unlike anything you might experience during other activities, but you also overwork your eyes and your mind to a point of uneccessary exhaustion. I do experience this sometimes after playing for hours straight, and I find it unable to slow my mind down afterwards and to relax. Disruption of sleeping patterns could also be associated to this problem, especially for people who need to wake up early to go to school or work. Finally, there is a problem of loosing touch with people and with loosing social skills. But then, escaping the reality is really why most of us play.

Having said that, gaming is becoming more and more popular, not only as a hobby but as a sport. Money is starting to appear that supports professional teams and tournments and fan bases of players grow exponentially all over the world. But how could the mainstream society ever support an unhealhty style of living that causes both players and their fans to loose touch with the world around them? My guess is popularity and money. When e-sports will attract more and more sponsors, teams will be able to afford proper coaches, as well as the neccessary things to keep them physically and mentally healthy. And I say 'when', not 'if', because this is bound to happen and is alredy happening in China and Korea. Let's not forget that professional athletes also suffer from injuries and need to take care of themselves much more than people with other jobs. However, they have dedicated trainers who help them keep healthy and the money to afford excessive health care that they need. Given the proper financial and personal support, e-sport players should also be able to afford a much more healthy life style, providing an example for their hobbyist gamer fans. Rather than having to hide their passion from their families and friends, imagine a world where gamers are educated about how to play safely and can do so proudly. Imagine a world where people see them for who they really are - intelligent, imaginative and unafraid to stand behind their dreams, even if out of this world.

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