With all of the nonsense that surrounds modern gaming, sometimes I start to wonder if this hobby is worth it. With all of the Metabombing, comment section trolling, political crusading, scandal-gating fanatics polluting the culture, the progressive corporatization shaking our last dimes loose with questionable DLC practices, subscription fees, excessive hype, and general oversaturation sometimes I think “Do I really need all of this in my life at my age?”
An the answer is always “Yes. Yes I do.” But why? We live in the age of Netflix, Spotify, and Hulu and I still trek to the library and order comic books through the mail. I’m not really short on things to entertain me. In fact, I’ve got too many interests to ever indulge in full. Objectively, gaming would be the first to go, if only for the sheer cost of it. There’s clearly something else there even beyond my three-and-a-half decades of history with the industry that binds me to gaming. Yeah, it’s fun, but lots of things are fun with a fraction of the baggage. Why be a gamer at this point?
I was on Crunchyroll watching the second season of Log Horizon -one of an increasing number of anime/manga series that have taken to gaming as a source of inspiration and creativity- the other day and I had the answer laid out for me. I’ve already written about a number of Japanese animated series with similar premises, most notable Sword Art Online, which treat gaming and gamer culture with a kind of respect we simply are not used to in the West. That isn’t to say that otaku are cultural heroes with massive sex appeal in the Land of the Rising Sun either, but even if they are still looked down on by the popular kids at school, the media at least sees the value in targeting them as a legitimate demographic.
Log Horizon takes place inside of a video game.Whereas SAO took a conceptual science fiction approach to explain how people could get trapped in a fantasy MMORPG, this one is contentto let you wonder about the “Apocalypse” that brought them into the gaming world of Elder Tale and focuses instead on the lives and times of the players adjusting to a new state of being, one they are actually better at than “real life”.
For the most part the series focuses less on conceptualization and more on plotting and putting the actual characters in interesting situations and the typical anime tropes of pining for senpai and kicking perverts in the face, but in the tenth episode of Season 2, at least half of the show is spent in a single monologue unlike anything else I’ve ever seen or heard on television. It’s the kind of inspirational speech that, if given at a massive gaming conference like E3, could incite the geeky masses to overthrow the tyranny of sports and reality shows and remake this world in our own image. Or we would if we weren’t too busy playing games all the time.
The context is that a large guild has spent weeks on a large-scale raid. But where their real life had become a video game, the game itself has started to become more like real life with no rules or balancing. As a result, the raid bosses suddenly stopped behaving like raid bosses and left their designated areas to team up on the party, making for a bad situation where the party was surviving by the skin of their teeth against a single boss and then wiped out following the arrival of two more. After respawning, the entire guild is miserably considering giving even after having put so much work into the raid. And that’s when their guild leader, William, haunted by memories of the social scorn he endured to be the gamer he is, reminds them of why they are even doing this. Cue inspirational guitar solo.
Is spending all of your time gaming stupid, impractical, not real, or (to quote Scroobius Pip) absolutely batshit, factually inaccurate, engaged in the inanimate? Maybe. But it’s how we choose to spend our lives and that is, in itself, a beautiful thing. We CHOOSE to wholeheartedly invest ourselves in another person’s art; to so completely immerse ourselves in virtual worlds that we often neglect the “real” one in order to be somebody else someplace else.
And in a society where the vast majority of people invest themselves in the televised love lives of celebrities and grown men getting paid millions to play with balls while seriously considering voting for Donald Trump to occupy the highest station in the free world, fuck you if you tell me that’s wrong. I choose to game not because the media and my social peers are telling me it’s important. I do it for me and only me because I enjoy it. Gaming isn’t just a something to occupy time or argue about or be persecuted for; it can be a powerful declaration of one’s individuality.
And let’s not just accept that the time we spend occupying the databases of servers instead of drinking ourselves sick in bars -or whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing- is time wasted. We learn valuable life lessons well beyond the old “hand-eye-coordination” standard we used to justify it when I was little. We learn never to quit, we learn organization and how to work together as a team, we learn to analyze the details of our surroundings for anything we can use to our advantage, we overcome our fears and our doubts and find out that there is always a way through it you can just change your perspective a little.
I’m different from other people. I see things they don’t see. I do things they don’t understand, and I get results that they struggle to replicate. A lot of these things could be arguably be traced back to a lifetime “wasted” on video games. Or is it just that these are the things that attract me to gaming in the first place? I’ve been gaming my entire life. There’s no way to even separate one from the other.
If I was ever considering selling my consoles and investing in sports memorabilia instead or perhaps spending my time falling in line to cheerlead some social parasite’s malformed self-serving political opinions, William’s speech would set me right. I don’t define myself by those standards. I shouldn’t define myself by those standards. I’m a gamer because I choose to game and I choose to game because that’s how I enjoy spending my time. Any objections?
Log Horizon may lack the level of conceptual sophistication of a Sword Art Online, but what it somewhat lacks in originality, it makes up for with heart in scenes like this. I wonder if American television will ever have shows that speak for gamer culture this way after the rampant demonization and marginalization that had been the media status quo for so long. But even if it never happens, we’re still not going anywhere.
Those of us who decide to break left where everyone else stays right and choose to actively participate in the worlds of our escapist entertainment where everybody else is content to just be a passive observer and get more hardcore in an increasingly casual world aren’t doing so because it’s the easy thing to do. We’ve always done it under a hail of double-standard mockery and projected shame and if that never changes, so what?
Even if it gets worse and we’re blamed for the planet’s economic and ecological hardships on top of the violence and social discrimination that’s already scapegoated onto video games (in spite of the fact that these things have decreased exponentially during our generation), we will continue to do what we do if for no other reason than it’s what we ourselves have chosen to do. And that’s what separates gamers from somebody who occasionally plays video games.
When we win, we press on. And when we lose, we try again as many times in as many ways as is necessary until we win and then we press on some more. It may have taken an anime character’s rant to crystallize this concept for me, but I suspect it’s always been there in the back of all of our minds urging us on with stubborn defiance. Like the adventurers in Log Horizon we may be living in a database (at least some of the time), but in its own way, our virtual lives just as vital as anybody’s real lives, if for no other reason than we say so. Thanks, William.