Guilty Pleasure

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A lot of people spend their lunch breaks doing different things. Some enjoy the company of a good book, others stare at the small glow of their phones while they read Buzzfeed or some click-bait-of-choice. Me? I like to play video games. I find with the combination of kids, more work responsibility, increasing civic involvement and the ravages of age, my free time is increasingly shortened.

Over the past year-and-a-bit, documenting my gaming life at Achievement a Day has offered perhaps no better example of how I juggle life and gaming. But the audience for that blog is niche, a sub-culture of gamers that enjoy achievement hunting. While being a ‘gamer’ has attracted a broader level of acceptance, particularly in younger demographics, there is still a lot of agitation, even within the gamer community, about identifying as a gamer. Yesterday’s Kotaku article about the culture at Riot Games, for example, focuses extensively on the culture of only employing ‘core gamers’ – something the article tries to contend that (Riot believes) women are incapable of.

So, if gamers can’t even play nicely among themselves, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a middle-aged white executive from the Accounts team of South African origin (who speaks like he longs for a return to Apartheid) might have difficulty accepting that gaming is a perfectly acceptable hobby to partake in during some down-time in the middle-of-the-day.

The game itself was Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money, which I used for yesterday’s Achievement a Day, and so its comical appearance probably makes it no worse than watching something like Family Guy or Rick and Morty on my lunchbreak. But when Mr. South African stood from his desk and caught a glimpse of his screen, it wasn’t his disapproving look that bothered me the most, but rather the immediate onset of guilt for playing a video game.

Let me be clear: I was playing a video game on my own computer, during my own lunch-break out of the line-of-sight of most people. While Trailer Park Boys could be arguably quite an offensive game to the average person, it’s only in reading the cartoon-bubble text where you will get the offense. At least, that’s certainly the case yesterday.

three men standing in front of racing arcade machines
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No, the guilt came purely and solely from the act of playing a video game – not the content itself, and I think that is worth discussing.

I am certain that there is some psychology behind gaming as a hobby in which it hasn’t received mainstream acceptance yet and so it becomes a closet activity which can only be enjoyed behind closed doors, in the confines of your own home.

It’s a crude analogy, but homosexuality has been like that for a long time – first it was out-and-out unacceptable, then it became something that could be tolerated by two consenting adults out of the public eye, through to today where it’s (typically) not given a second thought. (Well, perhaps that last point still remains a lofty goal – but it’s getting there.) In either event, gaming as an activity is still in the ‘toleration’ phase of development. Nobody outwardly berates you for being a gamer – you might get the odd sneer or sideways glance – but, at worst you’re considered to be a bit eccentric, or at worst, a socially-awkward nerd.

Neither of those labels particularly bother me – at times I feel I have a foot in both camps, but collectively, the act of playing a video game and being a ‘gamer’ should have no better or worse connotation than being a ‘reader’, and reading a book on my lunch-break.

Is there a solution? No. It’s a cultural trend that will have to die out like the dinosaurs – again, much like societal views on homosexuality or any other progressive stance. I don’t think there’ll ever be, or need to be, a ‘gamer pride’ celebration, but it will be a shift that takes time. It will take the conservative, close-minded relics to die out, or have their views so increasingly marginalized by the powerful voices of a progressive youth. There’s signs of hope – the growth of PAX, and this year’s introduction of the Melbourne Esports Open are both stepping stones towards a more mainstream acceptance of gaming and gamers.

man playing game on personal computer
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Perhaps once that acceptance kicks in, then there’ll be a greater ability to relax and stand proud when playing a video game over lunch.

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