Solitary Soundings

Musings of a solitary gamer. "The advantage of conversation is such that, for want of company, a man had better talk to a post than let his thoughts lie smoking and smothering." (Jeremy Collier) Comments welcome.
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Putting Things in Perspective

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"‘Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said—’ the Hatter went on, looking anxiously round to see if he would deny it too: but the Dormouse denied nothing, being fast asleep. ‘After that,’ continued the Hatter, ‘I cut some more bread-and-butter—’"
"‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked. ‘That I can’t remember,’ said the Hatter."
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While I've loved games all my life, I have to make an effort to keep the hobby in its place. My tendency is to go "all in," or even overboard, with anything I get passionate about. But when I step back for an overview, it becomes clear that there's no time for everything. And some things are more important than others.

Health, for example, is something that should obviously take priority over any hobby--and over many aspects of life--since it's difficult to accomplish anything without good health.

I'd put spirituality even above health, because to me life has to have a purpose. And it doesn't seem to have any compelling purpose to me unless there's life after death and a grand scheme to the universe.

Relationships are the first thing many people think of when it comes to priorities in life. We want to love and be loved, and to take care of our dear ones.

Work--a job or career--is another high priority. We need to make a living, for one thing. We also need to be of service somehow--contribute something worthwhile to the world.

Daily chores--though they're often routine and sometimes annoying--are another priority. We have to maintain good hygiene and keep our living space and belongings in reasonably good order.

Community service is another priority for many people. Some do volunteer work, some give to charities, and many people keep up with the news and do their part to make positive changes.

Those are six key areas that merit one's time, effort, and attention. Maybe there are others I'm not thinking of right now.

So, it's when I've checked to make sure all those areas of my life are in good shape that I can feel free to relax and spend some time on hobbies.

But in practice, I find it's not so clear-cut or simple. All six of the areas I named can be stressful at times. Problems come up, despite one's best efforts to avoid them. Wheels squeak and need to be oiled. In fact, it seems to me that the tensions of life are pretty constant. Not a day goes by without some difficulty to deal with.

And that means that when I take inventory--look my life over to see if all is in order--I never come close to evaluating any area as perfectly OK. There are always trouble spots. It may be that nothing requires immediate attention, but there's always room for improvement.

Then I'm faced with yet another problem--how to deal with those tensions of day-to-day living.

One way is to take the bull by the horns--be proactive and apply myself diligently to solving one problem after another. In many cases, that's the thing to do. But a lot of other times, it's unclear just what I need to do or want to do. Then I have to let the problem sit while I'm figuring things out. And meanwhile, the stress of it weighs on my shoulders.

That's when gaming (or another hobby, like writing) comes in for me. Other people might choose to have a stiff drink, zone out in front of the TV, or indulge in some other pleasure. But I usually grab a snack and play a favorite game.

And actually, that puzzles me a bit. It seems like an illogical choice, since the games I play are chock full of problems to solve. Tackling those problems is always stressful, even though it's also fun. Why would I escape daily tension by taking on stress in a hobby activity?

Well, I suppose, for one thing, the artificial problems posed by games take my mind off real-life problems. So at least they provide a shift of attention. Also, game problems are often more easily solved or require less effort than the big difficulties of daily life. And as I solve game problems, I end up with a feeling of accomplishment: even if I haven't been making much progress in real life lately, at least I've achieved something notable in the game.

What stands out in my mind when I play games is that for a while I'm in a whole 'nother world--a world of make-believe. It's "just pretend," but it's a world I choose, and it's a world I can at least partially create and affect and enjoy as I please. And although it may have parallels with the real world, it's almost always very different; it's a real change of scenery.

In a way, I might say playing a game is like going into a dream, only in full consciousness and with much more control. There's something compelling about that, and the "dreaminess" of it actually does relieve day-to-day stress (even if I do experience another kind of stress while fighting monsters and struggling to level up and reach objectives).

So, is that the purpose of gaming, then--to relieve the daily tensions of life? Hmm--partly, I guess. But other things (sleep, sex, and more) can also do that. I suspect gaming fulfills another role besides that.

The key, perhaps, is in the feeling of accomplishment I mentioned. The problems posed by games may be artificial, but the act of solving them is real. When you slay a dragon and save the day in a game, you've actually succeeded at something you might easily have failed at. It may not be anything of practical value, like making money or winning someone's heart, but it's an accomplishment nonetheless.

At minimum, you've exercised your mind. But maybe you've done more than just puzzle through something logically. Perhaps you've also exercised your imagination and experienced a range of emotions. A good game, like a good book or movie, can transport us into situations where we smile genuine smiles and cry real tears.

Since I'm almost exclusively a single-player gamer, I haven't touched upon social, multiplayer gaming. But that opens up even more possibilities for actual alternate-world experiences. In that case, you're interacting with other players while all your characters (or game pieces, or whatever) interact with each other.

And maybe that leads into another topic: what different kinds of people get out of gaming. Someone who feels too isolated in daily life might go for multiplayer gaming to compensate. A person who feels daily life is rather dull might seek fast-paced excitement in games. The games we choose might thus reflect something about who we are and what we need.

Perhaps most people don't like games much at all; they have other outlets and prefer different pastimes. But for those of us who love games, I believe they can be a valuable part of life. In some sense they're just fantasies cast in some structured form, but in another sense they're the places we choose to go and the things we choose to do in our free time.

That, in my view, means somethihg.
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