Mindful Gaming

No One Likes/Dislikes Games

When I talk to someone who doesn't play games, I often hear variants of "They're a waste of time" or "I just don't like them". When I talk to someone who plays games, I hear "I'm a gamer" or even "I want to make games". Thus it may seem that there's a clear dichotomy between gamers and non-gamers.

But I feel that this is a very misleading representation of what games really are, and that many of these people are rather mistaken in making such statements. What they really mean is that they've developed certain bias on the meaning of the word "games" based on particular realizations of games.

Games themselves are just an empty vehicle for arbitrary simulation. They don't offer anything to like or dislike. To make the statement "Games are a waste of time" true, everything in this world must be a waste of time; otherwise a game can simulate an experience that's not a waste of time. Likewise, to make the statement "I love (all) games" true, one must love everything that can be experienced in the world, which is clearly false.

I can't help but roll my eyes as games are often collectively evaluated, demonized (e.g., they promote violence) or praised (e.g., they are educational). Stereotyping is always wrong but perhaps more so in this case, because games are quite possibly the most general object that exists; they can offer literally any experience in their most general form.

Mindful Gaming

I certainly don't like all games myself. One class of games that I'm usually unable to enjoy are those that narrowly focus on some technical aspect of an experience. In such games, the goal is to master control techniques to perform a specific task very well. They include platformers, shooters, fighting games, strategy games, puzzle games, sport games, and open-world exploration games.

I don't like such games because I don't care about mastering game-specific control techniques for its own sake. Gaming becomes mindless as soon as I lose a sense of purpose. Do I know why I'm doing what I'm doing, or am I just binging on sensory stimulation? Does it build up to some meaningful resolution? If the answer is no, then I stop playing. I find the hollow feeling in the aftermath of mindless gaming so horribly unpleasant that I avoid it at all cost.

A game that excites me is one that makes me effortlessly mindful. It has a nontrivial, convincing story to tell, and I must be accutely aware of my actions and choices to live it. For this to happen, the game usually needs a certain amount of seriousness. It needs to believe itself to be "real" rather than a figment of imagination; otherwise I'd feel like an idiot trying to forcefully immerse myself in it. When succesful, this type of games makes the journey purpose-driven rather than techinique-driven and justifies the painstaking effort I must put in to push forward – although, as in real life, it's the journey that matters in retrospect.

The genre of role-playing games (RPGs) is a natural fit to my taste. In fact, I'm prepared to defend RPGs as the genre that most accurately represents the true spirit of games; you play a meaningful role in a virtual world. Furthermore, RPGs can incoprate any level of technicality to reinforce the core experience. This is why best RPGs are often accompanied by exceptional technical aspects such as the "shooter" aspect in Mass Effect, the "strategy" aspect in Dragon Age Origins, and the "survival horror" aspect in The Last of Us.

The Last of Us (2013)

That said, I don't mean to make little of technically driven games. Many critically acclaimed games are in this category and even for me there are occassions to enjoy playing them. A well-made fighting game such as Street Fighters can involve surprising depth and subtlety in its technical details, and the sense of achievement in mastering them is by no means false or shallow.

Takeway

No one likes or dislikes games; everyone likes or dislikes certain realizations of games based on personal preference.

As for me, almost the only type of games that I seek is one that makes me want to be mindful because I'm convinced that the experience it has to offer will build me up in some fundamental ways. But it's a different story for each person.

Home Home