Fireworks from Final Fantasy 13.

I often get asked why I enjoy playing games in my adulthood. I’m tired of that question, but let’s try a less-trodden idea. Gaming isn’t that different to social drinking if you really think about it. Consumption of alcohol is normal in most societies, and it’s done for a wide variety of purposes, such as to share news, meet up with friends, and celebrate.

It’s a good example to use for the normality, sociability (and downsides) of video games.

An idea

Many people find drinking liberating, to free up their concerns and inhibitions, helping them relax with others. Interestingly most people I know who play video games do so for many of the same reasons – to experience a life slightly outside of “themselves” and to explore ideas they wouldn’t normally. To experiment with behaviour in a similar way to how people who drink can pin their “out of sorts” self to the booze rather than their own behaviour.

Both gaming and drinking can be an excuse for people to act in ways they society would not normally let them – to say things that would be otherwise out of order. This is shown in our experience of games day in day out, but is perhaps best shown by the growing bravado that seems to come with playing games online, where people say and do things safe in the relative anonymity of the internet.

It can also be as simple as acting out scenarios in games that we would not normally find ourselves doing. We make decisions far from our own moral compass, killing people (as an extreme example) leading people along with a lie, or simply stating things in another way to how we would in real life.

One of the only differences between the two pastimes is that social drinking is often perceived as an adequate use of time – where as gaming is not. This is primarily because drinking is a historical sociable pastime, whereas games are still struggling with its less than social reputation.

My experience

To put it another way – gaming is another form of social lubricant, I have met most of the people I am close to through video games and games continue to be important for most gamers, as another way to interact with our social circles.

Playing games are not yet part of social normality, but I think gaming does perform many of the same tasks as social drinking in situations where lots of people are involved – the influx of party games, phone games and the proliferation of console gaming in homes are good examples of this and inspire those who may not have considered games before to give it a go collaboratively.

I suspect one of the few differences is that gaming is too young to have become as much of a social norm as drinking. Despite this most of our gaming experiences now are with others – even if they’re not played collaboratively they become talking points that we can elaborate on, as we share things between ourselves.

This is because despite widespread perceptions of our hobby, video games are inclusive – allowing everyone to have a go, and there isn’t much of the historical peer pressure associated with drinking. Culturally video games are my preferable replacement to drinking, because they’re not a social norm yet, I feel that responsible gamers have to be ambassadors for our pastime – proving that we’re normal, well-rounded members of society, just like most drinkers are.

Possible problems

Like any pastime or joy things can be taken to the extremes. Many more people have an over-reliance on drink than they’d care to admit. We have a particular problem with binge-drinking in the UK, both gaming and drinking have had their fair share of national and international public outcry.

No one is denying that both gaming and drinking can have adverse effects, but in my experience it is usually a minority of the people partaking in both things that take them to the extreme. A small percentage of the British public are problem drinkers, but there are an even larger portion of the population drinking more than the recommended weekly amount of units, (not to mention the fact that binge drinking costs the UK economy about £20 billion a year). People are doing this for a variety of reasons – to cope with stress, to relax or to socialise with others, and that’s an extremely familiar concept.

Most of the time both of these pastimes are a way to relax and enjoy the company of others, just occasionally though they can also be about having a coping mechanism, and there is definitely more appreciation and consideration given to those who drink to relax compared to those that do other things. Bad behaviour when drinking is pinned on the playfulness of drink, minor indiscretions that are “harmless” and can be ignored. Bad behaviour as a result of gaming is supposedly because games provoke violent tendencies, addiction and social ineptness and this perception needs to change. It’s quite a double-standard.

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