Day to day decision-making is such a part of life that we barely even notice it. We’re far more likely to become aware of the process when we have to make critical life decisions. Do we go to college, or do we get a job? Should I marry this girl, or should I shag her mother?
However, there are other critical and life-changing decisions that aren’t made consciously; they creep up on us over time and are cast in iron before we’re ever conscious that we’ve made them. Recently I’ve become aware that some time in the last few years I made such a subconscious yet life-changing decision. Perhaps I should have realised when I began booking time off work so that I wouldn’t miss crucial social events in the Animal Crossing calendar? I knew something had changed when I began buying old consoles off Ebay that I’d owned as a kid and now craved for again, yet still I didn’t fully realise. But know I’m totally aware that at some point I made a deliberate decision to devote my life to gaming.
Perhaps you, the reader, are what people like me call a ‘casual gamer’? You know, you own one console, probably a PS2, and you have a handful of games. Grand Theft Auto 3, undoubtedly, and also perhaps either Madden 2004 or Pro Evolution Soccer 3, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on. Along with these titles I bet you have a driving game, maybe Gran Turismo 3, or more likely Need For Speed Underground. I’m not mocking you – god, no – in truth I admire you. I bet you enjoy your gaming every now and then, the odd two-player bash after a night out, the occasional rainy afternoon. As long as you still enjoy your gaming, I hold out my hand to you.
Actually, no. I withdraw my hand. Do you feel my icy stare bearing down upon you? Can you make out the murderous mumblings whispered under my breath? Why my sudden turn of face? Because I bet you have a social life, don’t you? When the sun comes out you go outside to enjoy it rather than closing the curtains so you see the TV screen better. I bet you even have a partner, don’t you? A loved one, who shares your interests and hobbies. Damn you. Damn you to hell!
If you’re not one of them, one of those ‘casual gamers’, then you may well know what I mean. Are you like me? Have you given your life over to games, in much the way Anakin handed his destiny to the dark side? If you have, then I welcome you. Come join me on the sofa, grab hold of one of those pads and let’s get to know each other. I’ll lock the door, make sure none of those ‘casual gamers’ can get in and start talking about other things like cars or the television.
It’s easy to mock the ardent gamer, to poke fun at their pale skin and ridicule their social incompetence. Before you do so, however, just take a moment to think about how much commitment it takes to be an avid gamer. First of all, there’s the cost. Yes, we all know games are expensive. Although you’d be mad to ever pay RRP with so much competition in the market, you’re still looking at between £20 and £30 per title. This time of year it can still be hard on the wallet, but imagine the trauma in the winter when anything up to 10 quality titles can be released in one week. “Well don’t buy them all” I hear some ignorant fool crying from the back. You simply don’t understand. If you’re a true gamer you simply need to try these titles, you need to own them. If you don’t your encyclopaedic-like knowledge gaming will fall behind, and as a result your life becomes redundant.
Not only are games pricey, but what about the consoles? At least if Nintendo would have the decency to bow out of the hardware market then us gamers would only have two machines to buy, but as it stands come 2006 somehow I’ll need to find the hard-earned cash to buy three extortionately priced machines, as well as the launch range of titles. Yes, I realise I could wait until after a year or so when the retail price will fall by half and the range of titles will be far stronger, but that’s simply not how it works. I’m a gamer; my finger needs to be on the pulse. In all honesty I should be importing the machines from Japan months ahead of Western release, but I’ve tried going without food and it just doesn’t work.
But the financial side of it isn’t what really matters. After all, it’s always possible to work more, never buy any new clothes or simply resort to theft and prostitution. What really hurts are the sacrifices that need to be made. I guess it’s like athletes or professional sportsmen. As a spectator you look at David Beckham and think “What a lucky b*****d.” but in reality you don’t know how tough it is to get to the top. The constant training, the self-discipline; all your mates are out on a Friday night on the razz but you don’t drink or smoke and you’re always in bed by 10:00pm.
Being a life-gamer is much the same (stop laughing at the back). Baring in mind the necessity to work, eat, sleep and even sometimes wash, there simply aren’t enough hours left in the day to play all the games in my collection. A tear sometimes collects in my eye when I think about all the quality games sitting untouched on my shelves, great titles that are neglected whilst I review the latest platforming nonsense to land on my doormat or squeeze in “just one more go” of Pro Evolution Soccer 3. Imagine the stupendous level of work that goes into a title like Knights of the Old Republic and it is nothing short of criminal that despite investing over 24 hours in the game so far I have seen barely half of it. To try every game and enjoy all that’s on offer I realistically need to play at every single opportunity. Going out with friends almost feels like a night off work.
Eventually, something has to give. As all the things you cherish slowly drift away, all the people you’re close to start to find it too much, at this point the life gamer has to decide whether they’re ready for the commitment. Sounds like a stupid thing to do, right? Choosing something as trivial and superfluous as gaming ahead of the things and people you love. But folk do it. Thousands of them do. And it’s thanks to the dedication of these people that you, the reader, can browse the internet and read all the latest news, read good quality reviews and find all sorts of advice and solutions on pretty much every game ever made. There’s a whole community of us out there, somewhere, devoting our lives to games. Very very few of us ever get paid for it. Most of us do it for the love, the love of gaming and the wonderfully creative and talented people who make it possible.
We do this despite the losses it entails. We bite our tongues and cope with the loneliness simply because we love gaming. And if that’s not a warming thought that for once sheds some positive light on the realm of gaming, then I don’t know what is.