Why Gaming Is An Excellent Hobby
Alternate Title: Why my therapist is mostly a genius but not this time.
Me: “I feel so out of control of so many things in my life. I feel powerless and frustrated and stymied. I can’t get anything done that I want to get done. Nothing changes the way I want it to.”
My therapist: “Try doing small tasks that give you a sense of progress.”
Me: “Oh, dude, I have the best way—I’ll just start a new ‘Dragon Age’ playthrough.”
She was not convinced. There was more to it, and she is generally right about most things, but in this case we disagree. I love gaming for the very fact that it addresses one of my most stubborn emotional challenges: the driven need to always be accomplishing something. I’m a born perfectionist and anxious mind. If I’m not doing something of value, I feel my usefulness and my worthiness slipping away from me.
See also: why this website exists. But anyway.
Yes, relying on a false sense of accomplishment is not a good tool if it’s the only tool in my toolbox. If I only use video games as a way to pretend I’m making progress in a fake world, I am not truly solving the underlying issues behind my endless need to accomplish.
However, in a world that feels like not just an uphill battle but a fight between me and some very stubborn, unmovable mountains, sometimes I need to disappear into a fake world where my actions make an immediate difference. I work in a job where my role is to support and be patient. I have loved ones who are mentally ill, and my job there is mostly to support and be patient. I have children, and I don’t raise them to be little me clones, so my job there is to stay behind them and support them and be patient. I can fight with my body all day, but let me tell you—no amount of fight will change it. Change in the places I live is a rare and precious gift. I love the feeling of growth and movement, I thrive in new challenges and new territory, and in the worlds I’ve chosen growth and movement are rare (and usually not catalyzed by me). I have much less choice than I wish I did. I think that’s the way life is, and part of my journey is being OK with that.
When I’m not feeling OK with that, I have Thedas.
In Thedas, if I recruit a party member, I save them from death. If I give them a bunch of shiny presents, they change the way they act toward me. If I make a choice they don’t like, they react accordingly. In Thedas, there’s a world that needs saving and, dang it, I can save it. I can choose how I save it. I can choose what to say and how to be and each choice has a clear and present effect on the world around me. I have no requirement to be patient in Thedas. If I want to touch the thing, I can touch it and deal with the aftermath right now.
In addition to all these lovely things, I also have tasks. I have a list of tasks that someone else makes, and I can check those things off as I complete them. I cannot describe the pleasure I get at doing useful things, even if those things are totally fake in a totally fake world. I feel the accomplishment, I get a payoff of reward through actual character improvement, and maybe I also get some gold or pants. I never get pants as reward for my to-do list in real life.
Video games are the perfect way for me to feel like I am doing something good. I am moving that mountain and accomplishing that goal. Is it superficial? Yes, probably. I don’t care. I feel no shame about using a video game to help me when I’m feeling my most stuck and useless. Stuck and useless never got me anywhere, but video games have brought me enjoyment, skill, and friendship even outside the fake world itself.
You can bet the next time I’m feeling the weight of a thousand unchanging things, I will be fighting some mans and solving some problems in the one place I know I always can.