How Video Games Changed My Life

As an industry, people typically still dismiss video games.  Their stigma is that they are loud, obnoxious, and inherently violent.  The perception is that video games are played by sullen teens or despondent middle-aged men in their basements, staring at their screens with eyes glazed over, or tongues flying around a barrage of curses.

The first game I ever got as a kid was a JAKKS plug-and-play Ms. Pac-Man game, which came with a total of four other retro games from Galaga to Pole Position.  I had been begging my parents for years to get me a Gameboy Advanced for Christmas, and the Pac-Man plug-and-play was our compromise.  My first memories of gaming involve sitting on the floor of my basement with my sister and father, laughing at each other while we took turns at the joystick, inevitably only getting only a few rounds in before crashing and burning.

From an early age, gaming, to me, was about sharing an experience.

As I got older, I went the round of game addictions, like the kid’s game Club Penguin, or the teen-rated World of Warcraft, which only served to reinforce my experience of video games as something that was only shared with others, and typically in a mode of collaboration.  It wouldn’t be until I had graduated high school, and discovered the wealth of PC games available through services such as Steam or GameJolt, that I really began to understand that gaming is not only an experienced shared between players; but exchanged between the creator and the player.

Like film, the independent gaming industry has allowed creators to use their games as a mode of self-expression.  If you look in the right places, you can now find games that run the full gamut; from Triple-A titles which give us a rush of adrenaline and entertainment, to smaller indie titles that immerse us in more personal, authentic stories.

I recently played a game called The Everyday Average Adventures of Samantha Browne (you can find the full playlist here), about an introverted university student overcoming her anxiety of cooking in the communal kitchens.  You would never see a game like this on the shelves of a GameStop.  In fact, you wouldn’t have seen a game like this anywhere outside of ten, maybe even five years ago.  Its premise is too simple, its art style too cutesy and minimalist to earn a widespread release.  But why shouldn’t this story exist as a playable experience?  For too long, video games have followed the marketable trope of the lone, white male gunslinger, to the point where this category of character has become the standard; the automatic default.  But why should I, as a queer Caucasian woman, be forcibly immersed into the perspective of this Triple A standard, when my experience and my story are just as playable and relatable?

Video games have informed my experience has a storyteller and as a person.  Some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my life were transmuted vicariously, sitting in front of a screen with my fingers on the keyboard, while the game narration and score washed over me.

One of my favorite games of all time is a small title called The Beginner’s Guide.  The first time I was introduced to this game, I was actually watching a Youtuber do a commentary over the gameplay, and even without having any agency over the choices which were presented in game, by the end of the video, I was in tears.  I sat in bed, staring at the same four white walls for at least an hour, stuck in a miniature existential crisis.  I went immediately to my Steam app, bought, and downloaded the game.  I had never seen such an accurate and nuanced depiction of what it feels like to be a creative person suffering not only through artist’s block, but a creeping and not easily identified depression.

There are times in my life in which I use entertainment as a crutch; I use books, films, and video games as a coping mechanism that allows me to live vicariously through another person or event for an intermediate amount of time.  I won’t pretend that this is a healthy coping mechanism, and it has certainly fed into my cycle of procrastination over the last several years. 

But sometimes entertainment extends to much more than simply living vicariously, or “escapism”.

Every once and a while, as I’m wading through the entertainment that crowds up my life, I suddenly strike a vein.  Some truth I hadn’t thought of, or had subsequently forgotten.

Sometimes, fiction has the power to reveal truths about ourselves and our lives.  Video games may be entertainment, but like Hollywood, every then and again, among all the action sequences and explosions, a chord is struck. When are truly entertained by a game, we are fully immersed in the game. We might know that the game is separate from ourselves, but we believe in the world of the game; its feels like an extension of ourselves.

We control fictional characters made up of hexagons and coding, and yet, when a gamer loses a life, we don't say, "I lost the game". We say, "I died." 

When are fully immersed in the stories which we tell - when we believe in them - we discover the truth about ourselves.

What about you? What games, movies, TV shows, or books have had the greatest impact on your life? Have any of them surprised you? Let me know in the comments below! Subscribe to my newsletter for more updates and news about new releases, production, and much, much more!

Shai Cotten