I have a confession, I started watching Pawn Stars on Netflix and I can’t stop. I love it. Me and my special lady friend have been grinding the series for a couple of weeks and are already through the first two seasons. “One more episode” has turned into two, three, and four episodes more often than not.
For those of you not familiar with the show, a pawn shop in Las Vegas is the location for a string of historical items being sold. I was expecting a few guys hanging out ripping off degenerate gamblers, but the show is so much more than that. People bring in droves of antique collectibles, either found, inherited, or purchased and see what the shop will give them. These items are often incredible pieces of history worth thousands of dollars. After watching the first couple dozen episodes I became painfully aware of a trend in the sellers’ reasons for giving up their prized possessions: their wife made them.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a “gamer” of some kind. It all started with Number Munchers in the school’s computer lab, from there it’s a laundry list of games in a laundry list of mediums: Nintendo, Sega, Magic, Rage, Deadlands, Pokemon, Star Wars, Diablo II, Playstation, Xbox, Playstation 2, Scrabble, Playstation 3, Everquest, Texas Hold’em, World of Warcraft, Ascension, Kittens in a Blender, and the list goes on and on.
For years I remember talking to girls and being ashamed of my interests. I remember beating around the bush when girls asked what I did for fun: “oh you know, hang out with friends, that sort of thing,” because who doesn’t like friends? “I play Magic” just didn’t seem like it was going to help my case any.
I grew past that. When I came back to the game a few years ago, I changed my outlook; what do I have to be ashamed of? I have a hobby that introduces me to some of the coolest people I’ve ever known. I have a hobby that gives me a reason to travel with my friends. I have a hobby that is multifaceted and captivating. I have a hobby that I passionately enjoy. I’ve realized that’s not something that everyone can say, and I feel extremely lucky to have found something I enjoy so much.
I’ve listened to women that had absolutely nothing going for them talk about their boyfriend’s / husband’s / brother’s / son’s gaming passions like they were gutter trash. I’ve listened to women blame gaming for every problem in their relationships. I’ve watched videos of women at the very brink of madness cackle gleefully as they smash their boyfriend’s game systems in the driveway.
I’ve watched men receive “THE PHONE CALL” – a phone rings, a man answers in a timid voice, garbled yelling on the other end, “oh shit, I gotta go” as they scoop their possessions into a bag and rocket out the door. I’ve also seen men look at their phone, sigh heavily, say “she’s going to be pissed”, hit ignore, and continue playing because they love the game so much.
I listened with white knuckled rage as a talk radio personality lambasted her show’s own producer for playing video games to unwind when he got home from work – AT TWO IN THE MORNING WHILE HIS ENTIRE HOUSEHOLD SLEPT. “You need to quit playing video games, you’re too old for that!”
I watched as the internet tuned in to watch Alyssa Bereznak crucify Jon Finkel on Gizmodo for not including his hobby in his online dating profile. Nerds everywhere raged, and some women did too, but it was more of the same: a man who loved a game being criticized for having a hobby that he shared with his friends. Sure he was a highly successful investment banker, extremely intelligent, and a nice guy, but that was all washed away by his shameful secret.
At dinner I got straight down to it. Did he still play? “Yes.” Strike one. How often? “I’m preparing for a tournament this weekend.” Strike two. Who did he hang out with? “I’ve met all my best friends through Magic.” Strike three. – Alyssa Bereznak
After all this, it was the depressed look on the face of every man forced to sell his most prized possession to a pawn shop in Las Vegas that brought me to this point, I’m tired of watching my fellow men give up the things they love without good reason. I’m speaking out. I’m taking a stand. I’m here to help explain where we’re coming from. I want to help the women in our lives understand why we love the things we do, and everything’s going to be okay if we continue to love them.
How is playing a video game different than watching a TV show? I’ll give you a hint: you participate in the story of a video game, you just watch the story on a TV show or movie. Writers are getting better and better at bringing some of the best stories ever told to video games. Take a look at Red Dead Redemption, it’s widely regarded as one of the best Western sagas written in the last twenty years. Twenty hour science fiction epics that could never reasonably be filmed by any studio are commonplace in the world of gaming: Halo, Mass Effect, and Bioshock. You can run the rooftops of ancient Europe in an Assassin’s Creed game, fight the very Gods of Mount Olympus in the God of War saga, storm the beaches of Normandy, avert nuclear war: you can literally do ANYTHING.
Games are more than just the sum of their parts, they become an experience. You form a bond with the characters or pieces you control, a relationship that can last a lifetime. You remember your favorite toy as a child? Remember the adventures you had? Games bring that back to us every time we play, whether it be a video, card, board, roleplaying, or tabletop game. And we’re criticized for it.
What about all the fantasy, horror, and sci-fi sagas you’ve grown to love? Harry Potter? Twilight? Hunger Games? Game of Thrones? Maybe you’re excited to see Prometheus or the Avengers this summer? These stories are just the tip of the iceberg of the world we play in. Magic is a game that spans centuries, crosses into new worlds, and unravels into different realities. We encounter vampires, zombies, werewolves, wizards, spirits, dragons, angels, demons, robots, aliens, and every kind of animal you can imagine. We’ve battled across frozen wastelands, worlds fashioned of metal, a city that spans the entire globe, feudal Asia, fairy tale lands, forests straight from horror movies, and nightmare landscapes fashioned out of the harvested flesh and minerals of countless worlds. And that’s just Magic. One game.
It’s social as well; when was the last time you spent an entire weekend with your closest friends enjoying a hobby you’re all passionate about? When was the last time you piled five deep in your friends’ car and road tripped to the nearest city with your best friends laughing the entire way there and back? College? Spring break in high school? Am I starting to bring this home yet?
Did we talk artwork? Can you honestly say that the above artwork is not beautiful? Is it not intriguing and magical? Gaming is littered with artwork like this, it’s literally everywhere. In gaming, the entire skyline is a painted sunset, every forest is a verdant paradise, each mountain is majestic, and all the fields of grass sway softly in the wind. Every monster is epic, every hero is bold, and every angel is inspiring. The artistry that goes into crafting these grandiose worlds is absolutely monolithic.
It’s not that we have different interests. It’s that we’re different. I’m not talking about gamers being different from non-gamers, I’m saying that men and women are different. We’re just wired differently, it’s nothing personal, it’s science. Men tend to gravitate towards tasks, trades, and competitions. As a man, I have to leave the cave, kill something, and bring it home; I can’t help it. I have to go out into the world and conquer something. I’m compelled to run with a pack of my peers and compete constantly; for men life itself is a competition. We’ve moved well past the days of clubbing a woman over the head with a cartoonishly large bone and dragging her back to the cave by her hair, but we have not grown past our urge to conquer. Gaming lets us do that in ways that are far more reasonable.
I want to clarify: I’m in no way implying that women are not participants in the gaming community and I am in no way saying they are not welcome, I’m just pointing out that they are not as prevalent because the genders are generally wired differently, that’s all. Men and women generally play games for different reasons.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, games are as much an escape as they are the cause for our desire to escape. By criticizing the things we love we’re made to feel resentful and demeaned, but through gaming we can be a different person in a different life … if only for a couple of hours a day. Just like Harry Potter, we’ll take the abuse and sulk under the stairs dreaming of a magical world that wants us to come be its hero. But after a while, we’re going to head out and resume gaming.
I see men playing these games defeated and manipulated into thinking they’re somehow worse for being a gamer. They second guess what they’re capable of and who they’re capable of becoming because they’ve been made to feel inadequate. We’re made to feel like we don’t deserve to be treated well in a relationship, we don’t deserve to date an attractive woman, and we don’t deserve to have nice things. In a time when there is so much backlash against the way media portrays women, the conversation about how men are being portrayed hasn’t even started – we’re supposed to feel lucky just to be along for the ride.
The possibilities in gaming are only beginning to be explored. While games have been cited as a cause for violent behavior, they’ve also been cited as a release for aggression. Simple games have been proven to reduce Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Video games have been used as a way to mitigate the pain experienced by soldiers being treated for extensive burns when pain meds are not enough. Games unlock worlds of information for children of every age. Games push the envelope of technology, inspiring features on phones and electronic devices that you’ve grown accustomed to in your every day life.
Sure, gaming is not all positives with no negatives. MMORPGs like World of Warcraft have been linked to countless failed marriages, but it could be argued that those marriages were doomed from the start, WoW just gave access to an easy disconnect from the underlying problems. Like ANYTHING that people enjoy, it can become too much if it’s not balanced. But where do you draw that line? Three hours of video games is too much but four hours of TV is okay? What about nine hours of football on Sunday? What about nine hours of football on Sunday with a laptop or iPhone open checking fantasy football scores? It’s all relative. I would say that as long as someone’s interests don’t interfere with their responsibilities, they’re not a problem.
You’re on the cusp of this world we’ve been playing in our whole lives. You’re experiencing games like Angry Birds or Words with Friends through electronic devices that have propagated and advanced to the point they’re at now because of video games. You’re delving into the fantasy world of Harry Potter, the dystopian world of Hunger Games, the supernatural world of Twilight, and these are all elementary examples of their genres. You’re playing Facebook games built on the foundation that board games have been laying down for years.
For the men: share this with the women in your life.
For the women: Loving games and loving you are not mutually exclusive, we can do both without one taking away from the other. Now you know why we play – maybe its time you joined us?