I am explaining why they need no defense
I periodically see articles about falling away from video games (most recent examples: here and here) and they largely harp on the same themes. Player was once fully engaged with the medium, but life happened and now games are less important. Usually, the articles are tinged with nostalgia and a little regret, but ultimately conclude with the idea that video games were a cherished past time of a misspent youth that should now be focused on serious business like kids and jobs. There is often a subtext of how games represent immaturity. What I don’t see are similar articles about movies, books, or television. No one waxes nostalgically about the time they could watch House of Cards and then go to a theater to watch a play. This is suggests that their remains a stigma that video games are a youthful pastime. This is wrong. Video games can, and do, fulfill the same role as other mediums with the same level of respectability.
For a fair number of gamers and former gamers, the medium begins and ends with the likes of Call of Duty, Madden, and Mario. These are either games they played as a youth and abandoned or continue to play sparingly in between life. Their image of gaming is one of poor stories, minimal messaging, and a lack of anything identifiable as “art”. I could respond by reviewing the many artistic advancements video games have made in the past decade, but then I’d be missing the point. The issue isn’t that games lack artistic vision, but rather that people don’t recognize that they engage with games the same way they engage with TV or movies. Call of Duty fulfills the same role as the hit TV de jure. Consider Breaking Bad. The final season caused waves through office water coolers as people joined together to discuss plot points and predict the future. As a listener of the conversations, I can say that while many of the participants were very passionate and interested, very few of them were approaching the show for its deeper meaning. There was little discussion of subtext or imagery, and a great deal of discussion of “I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY DID THAT.” For a show with a great deal of cultural respectability, I’m hard pressed to recall a single discussion focused on the show as art.
The show is clearly enjoyable without narrative parsing. People were watching because it was entertaining. For all the artistic merits of the show, the vast majority of its viewers were engaging with it on the same level that they might engage Halo on. They liked it, so they kept watching. In that gaming’s flagship titles aren’t earthshattering only goes to show that video games have the equivalent of a Transformers or James Bond. Playing Call of Duty is no more embarrassing than listening to the latest pop princess belt out a tune. The only difference is that many still associate video games with their youth. Take that away and they look very similar to the rest of the cultural landscape. I see no reason why a game of Mass Effect need be embarrassing whereas Orange is the New Black is mindblowing.
The immaturity argument is also a failure to understand why people play video games in the first place. For some, their play is inextricably linked to needs they had as children be it alone time, a safe place, or just a way to stave off boredom. When that need no longer exists, many assume they have simply grown out of video games rather than grown out of whatever need was driving the playing of video games. The issue isn’t that playing video games are inherently immature, it’s that they are associated with youthful need in the person’s mind and that need is no longer present. There are a number of perfectly acceptable reasons for an adult to play video games even if previous gamers no long have theirs.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what others think about this hobby. Gamers can continue to game without the permission of their workplace or social circle. It’s just that I’ve run across so many people who have willfully denied themselves the benefits of video games for no greater reason than a gut feeling that they are not worth their time. That’s a shame, because they’re missing out.