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Never judge a book by its cover

I never did learn who uttered those immortal words, but for arguments sake, let’s say it was me.

Never judge a book by its cover – Owain Reed, 2014.

Looking at the term in its essence, we’ve seen it applied to books (obviously), people and pretty much anything people want you not to judge, but what about gaming? I’m not referring to games or genres because that would be too easy and I can’t imagine a more boring read (I have to deliver big now, don’t I?). I’m talking about gaming as a whole, as a behemoth and as a social pariah.

Let’s look at its reputation. What do people actually think about gaming and gamers in general? Well, naturally, you have to split the camps.

Camp Réaliste
Camp Réaliste is made up of the non-gamers. These people generally lead busy lives and have no time for such childish things. Games are distractions to the important things in life such as our degrees or jobs, buying houses and starting families. To switch on a console and fire up a game is time wasted in the pursuit of the perfect suburban life.

Now I’m not saying that working towards a degree is worthless or any form of job or paid employment is pointless. Likewise, buying houses and starting families go hand in hand with those things and they truly make us who we are. The important question however, is what do we do to remind ourselves that we’re more than a job or a career?

Each to their own

When I ask that question I refer to the things that allow us to blow off steam. I’m not saying that gaming is the answer for everyone and nor should it be. Some people will exercise, some will read and some will watch a movie. That’s what they enjoy and that’s great! What isn’t great is the reputation gaming has and the benefits that are being ignored.

When you tell someone you play Playstation or Xbox, it automatically conjures up images of you being sat in your room staring at the screen with a pair of headphones on. It’s anti-social, it stops kids from going outside and it encourages violence.

I’m not sure I see the difference between playing a game and watching a movie or reading a book. If anything, gaming is more social, encourages friendships to grow and even develops hand-eye coordination! An argument back to that would be that sitting in your room talking to people over the internet isn’t healthy social development and I’d be inclined to agree.

It’s an obvious point to make that online gaming is the way things are moving forward but what I love about gaming is that it’s an excuse for me to see my friends and actually make plans to have an evening hanging out. You can’t beat sitting in the same room as someone and watching their face as you score an absolute worldie on FIFA or take someone down in COD just as they’re about to get another kill streak.

When you finish playing, memories have been forged and you laugh about things for a long time afterwards. I have a Whatsapp group set up with two of my friends and we plan gaming evenings and talk about the new stuff coming out. It’s a group set up to talk about games, but we talk about life, work and the other things that matter too.

That’s what gaming can do. It’s a social framework that brings people together and allows them to escape from the mundaneness of everyday life. This isn’t just for professionals though. I used to be like it as a kid too. Back then, Goldeneye and Mario Kart 64 were the staples of the day. We used to get together on the weekends and play four player Goldeneye, laughing as one of the boys got excited about getting a Klobb (a submachine gun – there were many better weapons) or when one of us was taken out with a red shell as we approached the finish line on Mario Kart.

We did that as well as get outside and play football. We all went on and gained degrees and have decent jobs now. What those Saturday gaming sessions allowed us to do was build friendships and memories. It gave us the social tools to go out and find like-minded people that we could talk to and in turn, that allowed us to develop the skills for starting and holding meaningful conversations.

Its rightful place

What I’m saying is that playing computer games can be the best way for kids to really bond with each other and for adults to blow off a bit of steam and help them to realise that things aren’t actually all that bad. Gaming doesn’t deserve to be looked down upon because in my opinion, it has more social benefits than reading a book or watching a movie. It doesn’t deserve to be a social pariah and it’s about time we started talking about its pros and not just its cons.

As you can tell, I’m firmly in the second camp. It’s the gamer’s camp and everyone else in that camp, I consider to be a member of my fireteam. I want this to change though. I have a dream. One day, I believe I will see one camp with gaming not at its core, but as a valued cog in the recreational clock that allows us to express ourselves. It deserves its place alongside cinema trips, starting a new book and going for coffee with friends. I hope others share this dream and that my musings will have some effect on everyone that reads them.

I’m leaving this here now because I’m having COD withdrawals and I can hear someone in Latvia mocking me through my headset.