2. Wherein the Writer Doubts the Cause

From the beginning, every time I think about writing about video games, I have a difficult time taking myself seriously. I feel, and have felt, that everything I have to say on the topic is juvenile or shallow or undeveloped or obvious. For example, the realization that games offer me escapism and that that escapism is part of why I like them so much. I have had such a strong desire to focus my work in this area that I so enjoy, that so delights me, but every time I’ve lifted my pen to do so I’ve been plagued by this feeling of being unprofessional, trite, and childish. And in a way, I feel like petulant child, insisting on writing on a topic that increasingly seems impractical and pursuing a path rife with obstacles. So, convincing myself that I deserve to try and write in an area that I want, and to give myself the time to figure out what that means precisely has been the challenging first step.

I was compelled initially to try and write a very traditional research paper. This was in part so that I could fit in academically, but also part for me, that I might be able to finally say in concrete terms whatever it was I had to say about the games that have played a part in my life. The question of whether it was valuable to write about games didn’t cross my mind until later. I know that much writing, scholarly, popular, personal and otherwise, is done every day. I want to contribute to, even stand out in that discourse somehow. But what I have struggled with is determining and refining what I have to say. My first thing I think to write is always, “games are great!” “Ocarina of Time is the best game ever made!” “Kingdom Hearts STILL makes me cry!” I just want to shout about all the things that excite me about gaming. All the awesome stuff I’ve done in game worlds. All the wonders I’ve discovered, all the riches I’ve amassed, all the lives I’ve saved, and taken. Even when I’m not in the game worlds, it’s all so exciting to me. And I just want to gush about it. I’m holding back gushing about it now, a bit. And I think in order to develop my thesis I have to work through that in some way, to get to what I might say that might really contribute. Because when I’m gushing like that, that’s when I think that what I’m saying doesn’t matter. I’m just excited about something that I like, and I want to talk about it. So I’ve been discouraged when I’ve been trying to brainstorm and I keep asking myself, “why do I like video games so much?” And my answer is, “they’re so much fun. They’re freeing, they’re inspiring, they’re riveting. Saving the princess, saving the world, earning the sacred sword and defeating the forces of evil- how could I not like video games? How could I not love them?” And while I do feel strongly about that emotional entreaty, it has been difficult to refine that sentiment into a thesis. So I’ve kind of floundered. I think the thing to do at this point is to just start writing about my actual experience with games, rather than circling the subject in an approximate way, and maybe something good will come out of that.

1. Wherein the Writer Begins

Let this be a record of trial, of struggle, of discovery and success. This project, my master’s thesis, has been stressing me out for more than a year- since long before I began work on it. Even now I’ve only just begun work on it in earnest, but I have lost more sleep and sunny days and quiet evenings to worry and doubt than I care to remember. All I’ve known from the beginning is that I want this to be something that matters. It’s been a feeling of importance, of weight, of a coming moment that can change the future. My worry of course has been getting that moment right, having success in that moment. In life and in school I’ve spent so much time making smart choices. Being responsible. Taking the safe shot. It’s how I learned to be. Keep your head down, work hard, prepare for the future. Be the ant, not the grasshopper. And I believe that has value. I want to be prepared in life in so far as I can, to keep my loved ones safe, and not be flaky, shortsighted, reckless- at least when it matters. This has been my guiding instinct in many things, and especially in school. I have spent time and energy responsibly, doing what I have had to do in order to get the grade I need. But I haven’t afforded myself the opportunity to explore at all, or try to do something different or more creative than the assignment asks for on the surface. It is this that I’m afraid of repeating in my thesis. It’s something I’ve been worried about, and didn’t even realize I was worried about until now- I don’t want to just follow the outline again. I don’t want to just follow the instructions that somebody else has given to me to get an A. I’ve been really good at doing what I’m told well enough to get the prize. What I want now is to make my own way, to do something of my own and to make it uniquely good, objectively competent and worthy of praise, successful in its own right. So I guess I feel like I have something to prove. That’s starting to sound a little shrink-level personal, so I’m gonna pull up a little bit. But suffice it to say that I think I’ve been feeling like I’ve been skating for a while. Faking it. Coasting. And I feel that it’s time to really try, and that is at once inspiring and scary.

What I want in terms of the content of my thesis is to follow my passion. I’m good at writing about things that other people ask me to write about, but I rarely write about things I like, I think because I don’t see immediate value in doing so. The internet is saturated with people bloviating (thanks Andre) about video games and comics and the end of Lost, so I guess I feel like adding my reflections to the garbled din is a little futile. And given the shape of things in my life in the past… ever, it hasn’t seemed like an efficient or useful way to spend time, so I haven’t. In retrospect, I think I would be happier and healthier at least psychologically if I spent more time doing things for me, so maybe that’s a note to take for the future, and maybe that’s what I’m doing right now. Whatever the reason, I haven’t ever written about the things that I like, and now, in what in all likelihood will be the end of my academic career, I want to finally do that. I feel that I owe myself this indulgence after decades of subservience to lesser themes. So now I think I want to write about video games. Games have played a big role in my development as a person. I remember them from childhood as strongly as I remember many other important moments. I relate things in life to them on a regular basis. Just now, as I was writing about about taking the smart path, I realized that it was a video game  strategy, to play it safe. When you’re playing a game and your magic is strong but you only have a little, you save it, in case you run into a strong monster or something and you need it. But sometimes you keep saving and saving and never use the magic, always keeping it to use against a stronger enemy and before you know it you’re at the end of the game, and its your last chance to use this awesome spell you’ve been holding on to all this time. And you realize then that you could have used it a bunch of times in the past and you didn’t because you were being prudent. And you realize that games are supposed to be fun, you’re supposed to enjoy the experience, but you were so focused on working smartly towards the end game that you lost sight of enjoying yourself in the moment. You can always play the game again, but it will never be the same as the first time, no matter how advanced the game is and how much it changes when you play it. All that’s left is the final boss fight, and it’s a doozy, and it’s your last chance to use your magic. I’ve been saving magic for a long time, and now I want to see what kind of awesome spells I can pull out before the end.