Ask Me: Episode One (Why Play Games When You Could Be Doing Things In Reality?)

smb question block 01

As many gamers out there can relate to, most of the people I know don’t play games. I’ve often wondered what the perception is of a gamer to those that don’t play. With the advent of mobile gaming, more and more people are some type of gamer, whether they find that to be true or not.

So I got to wondering, what do non-gamers wonder about gamers? What do they wonder about video games?

So I asked.

I have a friend who is roughly my own age. His last console was the Atari 2600 (which he has and it still works!), and he is puzzled as to why anyone plays games. His questions were as follows:

What is the draw of video games? I’d rather grab my gun and go shooting than play a game about shooting. I’d rather go for a motorcycle ride or a drive than than play it in a game. Is there something I’m missing? Is it just me or could it be that I’ve never gotten past the number of buttons on the controllers?

I’d like to address these as they were brought about, so here we go!

Please keep in mind I am only answering for myself, so take these responses with a grain of salt.


What is the draw of video games?

For me, the simple answer is: to have experiences I could never have in reality.

A world like Rapture, an undersea utopia gone horribly wrong, could never exist in reality. Yet within a video game, I can explore that world and experience that story.

I can participate in a narrative in a way I can not within the realm of books or film.

I’ve often said how I love horror movies and that they do not bother me, and yet when I play a horror game, it puts me on edge in a way I’m not in any other circumstance. I am participating in the game, not merely observing. I am walking around those dark corners. I am coming face to face with those horrors. It is up to me, the player, to make it through.

I would never say games should substitute for real-life experiences, but they are amazing experiences in and of themselves.


I’d rather grab my gun and go shooting than play a game about shooting. I’d rather go for a motorcycle ride or drive than than play it in a game. Is there something I’m missing?

Well, you are missing alternate forms of those experiences.

The first example that comes to mind is the disabled gamer. For a sizable contingent of gamers out there, they will never be able to drive a car, ride a motorcycle, or go to a gun range. For those gamers, these experiences are glorious. There are now more ways than ever to configure games and controllers for disabled gamers to allow them to participate in games in a way that works for them.

That’s pretty remarkable.

Let’s say you actually like shooting (by the way, many people I’ve spoken to that play shooters say they wouldn’t ever want to handle a weapon in reality), how would you feel about shooting in an ’80s style open-world environment where you take down robotic dinosaurs to a glorious synth soundtrack? Can you do that in reality?

You can in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

(Incidentally, it’s super awesome.)

That’s just the first of many varied examples.

Another is Toy Story Mania.

At Disney’s California Adventure theme park, there is an attraction of the same name, and you can basically recreate that experience at home in your living room with the Toy Story Mania game. Not everyone can afford to get to the Disney parks. This is a “shooter” that allows you to have the experience of the attraction in an alternate way.

The same can be said for driving games. What if you didn’t have a car or a motorcycle but still wanted that experience? A game (for far less cost and risk) allows you to simulate those experiences. With the advent of virtual reality, the simulation begins to approach the real thing in a way we’ve never seen before (no pun intended).

Games open up experiences to people. That’s pretty incredible. Digital or otherwise.


Is it just me or could it be that I’ve never gotten past the number of buttons on the controllers?

It’s not just you; sometimes the control schemes in games are a bit ridiculous (I just recently wrote about this exact issue regarding a game I’m currently playing). Most games have very similar (and universally accepted) control schemes, and if they do not, you can often change the controls to whatever your preference is.

I actually think the biggest hurdle is just trying something out for the first time. Once you dive in, it’s not quite so daunting. Of course I say this, and I feel the same way about PC gaming. I’ve dipped my toes in those waters, but I need to wade in a bit further.


I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with my thoughts on these topics. I offer up a recommendation of an excellent book I wrote about previously, Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. In it, she discusses why games are a positive reinforcement and how they reward us for problem solving (among many other positives). I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more.

And with that, I look forward to doing more in this “series” to address the questions people have about games and gamers.

Categories: games

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9 replies »

  1. The way that you answered the first question is the same way that I have responded to those that have asked me similar things. I love the fact that games can offer you the chance to experience and interact with something that simply could not exist in our reality. I think that is really cool and exciting.

    Also, I like the idea of this series and I look forward to the next one.


    • Great minds! And indeed. There are so many crazy and unique experiences we could never have outside of games.

      And thank you! I hope to make this a regular feature.


  2. Excellent idea for a recurring feature! I hope you receive many more questions that fit the theme as it often seems adult gamers can be viewed as almost a different species by adults who don’t play. It’s funny, the reaction I can get from someone who doesn’t understand why I might be largely unavailable during E3, yet that same person might be completely obsessed over Shark Week or the NFL Draft. Same enthusiasm, just a different interest, right?

    Like the others, I agree. For me it’s not about doing something virtually instead of doing something in reality, it’s about doing something I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) in reality. For example, I happen to have a motorcycle, but I’m also incredibly safety conscious with it. I would never ride in reality the way I’m free to in a game.

    And for me, time spent gaming is not time that would have been spent out in the world doing something else. I still do those things, and at the same frequency I would without games. Time spent gaming, again for me, just replaces time that would have been spent reading or watching TV. While reading is decidedly better for you and and can certainly engage your imagination, both forms of media are largely passive. As you said, video games require participation, interactivity. I guess the simplest explanation is that I game to participate in a great story in place of a story I can’t take an active part in.


    • Thank you! I’m actually getting some good feedback, so I hope it takes off. I will do my best!

      You are so right; sports and such are deemed acceptable ways in which to spend countless hours (passively, no less), but talk about playing games and a huge amount of people are like…wow. Time waster. Some are understanding, but others can be really judgey.

      Yup. Judgey is a word.

      Your reasons for gaming are very similar to mine. I would never use them to replace doing things in reality.


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