Hate the Player, Not the Game

The other day I had an especially trying one at el jobbo del day, the details of which we needn't repeat, even in my imagination. (Today is looking up; I already had to kill a mammal with nothing but my cunning and a serving spoon.*) Luckily, Friend Adam had already extended an invitation to join him for some recreational activity that evening. I dutifully tromped over to the outer limits of Queens, where many n00bz were pwn3d (read: many inexperienced players had their digital avatars removed from the game by force). Of course, by "many n00bz," I mean "me, over and over again," and by "were pwn3d," I mean "trounced, most likely by 'tween boys with a 100-word limit on their available vocabulary." It was my first time playing XBox Live, you see. In spite of my adamant liability to my fellow teammates -- something I really do feel quite bad about -- I did feel considerably happier after my little adventure.

Never mind that there are some indications video games can be helpful in alleviating depression; games that conference in other live players can have a decidedly social aspect to them, not to mention the sheer teamwork involved. In the games of Halo I played the other night, our team never could have won the rounds they did without talking through what was going on. It was better communication, in many cases, than I experience in a given day at el jobbo del day. But I write not here to draw insinuations of insults by comparing a fictional war game to a real-life office environment (not here, anyway) but rather to discuss the prejudice against games.

What prejudice? You may well wonder. People love games. They watch reality TV for the games people play, and football for the games titans play. We even have fantasy football, in order to play a game outside of the game. Gambling is a short-form game, and driving is a rather high-stakes action game. Games abound. Even video games are getting a great deal of respect these days, comparatively speaking. Gaming consoles are bleeding cool into what was once a domain of the ubergeek, and even housewives are getting excited by the Wii whilst stock brokers eagerly anticipate the next Call of Duty installment. Heck: "Gaming" and "gamer" have been appropriated into terms associated almost solely with video games, as far as the mass audience is concerned.

In spite of all this acceptance, imaginative gaming (and I'm coining a phrase here) continues to get a bad rap. Perhaps it's because of all the acceptance; I think it's an ingrained habit for we humans to define ourselves by what we reject, what we do not believe in, and if we're accepting all this other gaming, maybe we need something to point a finger at and say, "Bleargh!" I don't understand it, frankly. I never have, and that inability to understand has resulted in countless awkward social predicaments from about age five on up to now. However, it's also resulted in some of my most rewarding experiences in life. So I stick with being a little different in this sense.

What do I mean by "imaginative gaming"? I mean improvisation. I mean games that are relatively free from conventional constraints. I mean role-playing games (RPGs), but I don't mean the kind that can be played on a computer (as of now, that is) nor do I mean only RPGs. I perceive a unique category of games that spans a bunch of different categories, yet has very much earned a distinction in being rather more openly creative than the rest. I'm basically naming something here that I like, personally, but I'm inclined to believe that I'm not alone in this specific preference. Expatriate Younce outlined some categories of RPG play for me a couple of years back (gamist, narrativist and . . . and . . . LOOK, A SEAGULL!) but these are more styles of playing than descriptions of the game itself. Imaginative gaming is any game in which the players are the ultimate authority over the rules. It is a play in which the sense of play is more important than any other element -- meaning the game itself is based on how well it is played, not how well it is won. Moreover, if this scares you or sounds ridiculous, imaginative gaming is as applicable to buying groceries as it is to making up stories around a table. Movies can be written with it, and difficult negotiations can be compromised with it.

We've all been in the position of working with someone whom we don't particularly appreciate or enjoy, and in some ways playing with such people is much worse. (And I'm perfectly comfortable admitting that I have been just such an undesirable player on more than one occasion, for more than a few people.) Memories such as these make us cautious, and resistant to new experiences. We want to be able to control outcomes, or at least be supported in the belief that control is a factor at all. But the beauty of a game is that we get to be surprised by what occurs, and we get to test ourselves against adversity of all kinds, within a contained environment. Maybe learning to play well with others is one of these challenges. I personally believe that anyone can be a welcome addition to play, if only you can find a good way to play with them.

All this is just to say: Try not to hate the player but, even if you can't achieve it, find a love for the game. It's all some kind of game, after all, and the games that are most true to life are the ones in which we create our own rules.

*My cunning is less lethal than the spoon; luckily (for me) the little guy had run across the wrong side of a glue trap.