Time to play?

Some time ago, I lamented my inclination towards not playing games. The mismatch between the number of games to be played and the time available to play them persists, and so my frustration grows.

Most people would consider this a rather decadent issue to even be complaining about. After all, playing games is entertainment; just for fun, right?

In a sense, yes. I am having fun when playing (most) games. Of course, some games are boring, or fascinating in a not-funny way (this is actually possible!).

Don't laugh - it's important stuff!

But there’s more to it than my personal enjoyment. I am working with games, and doing so from many different perspectives.

As such, I am required to play games.

Don’t laugh.

You got it right.

I must play games in order to fulfil my professional tasks.

As one of the pioneers in game studies, Espen Aarseth, once wrote, “informed game scholarship must involve play“:

“If we have not experienced the game personally, we are liable to commit severe misunderstandings, even if we study the mechanics and try our best to guess at their workings. And unlike studies of films and literature, merely observing the action will not put us in the role of the audience. When others play, what takes place on the screen is only partly representative of what the player experiences.”

I couldn’t agree more.

It is simply naive and misguided to believe that teaching, writing, talking, investigating and contributing to the field of video games is possible without playing games.

You might consider this whole thing an argument meticulously crafted to convince myself to play more games; and in a sense, you would be right to do so. I’m constantly having this somewhat schizophrenic discussion with myself on whether to go play the new indie flick, Red Dead Redemption, Starcraft II or whichever game – or write a paper, do a presentation, teach a class, participate in a meeting etc. The choice might seem easy, as the game would seem the most appealing and entertaining option. By far.

But that’s just part of the story. It’s about more than just my personal dilemmas.

I have talked to several researchers, developers and teachers working with games, and the issue of “time to play” surfaces on many occasions. Even students of games are repeatedly frustrated by their lack of time to play enough games.

Some time ago I read the post “Playing By Ear“, which addresses many of the considerations above:

“Forgetting to play video games? Is this really all there is to it? Actually, no — it isn’t, at all. Making time to play games, no less remembering to play games, can quickly turn into a serious issue when designing and developing our own.”

Time to teach

As some of you might know, a large part of my work is devoted to carving out a place for games in the traditional education system. In doing so, I am constantly faced with a multitude of challenges not easily overcome.

One of the barriers emanates from the large numbers of teachers who are neither interested in nor familiar with video games. It can obviously be really, really hard to harness the potential of games in the classroom if you don’t play games, don’t know anything about games and basically don’t understand what all the fuzz is about.

I recently participated in a meeting with a group of teachers, where the agenda was games, and how they can be brought to strengthen teaching across a wide array of subjects. We talked about games, but at a certain time it struck me, that the majority of these teachers probably didn’t play games on a regular basis. They were willingly trying to grasp the concept of games – but by doing everything else than actually playing.

One often applied explanation for this is simply a lack of time (in addition to a lack of interest).

When someone actually brought up the suggestion, that we should probably be playing more games as part of our collaborative effort to mobilize games, many seemed to consider it an almost misplaced joke. The idea of playing games when working is seemingly an alien one, and the entire discourse surrounding such a scenario clearly signaled an inherent resistance to this idea.

I do have a certain interest in language, discourses, and the way we talk about this or that; it is not just talk, but a vital component in our ongoing negotiation of meaning. When we discoursively frame playing games as something inappropriate (be it consciously or not), we maintain the phenomenon “games” itself as something somewhat inappropriate.

All of this rambling back and forth is just to support my argument, that we need to be serious about playing game; even when it’s just for the sake of having fun. Could we imagine a situation, where we only talked about books without ever reading one? Where our common frame of reference was primarily built on some vague preconception rather than first-hand knowledge about concrete books? Where the suggestion of actually reading a book was above all received with scepticism and a disoriented laughter?

No?

So let us take the time to play.

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