Throughout the pandemic, I’ve had a lot of time to digest different games. Whether it’s a single-player, plot-driven thriller or a competitive multiplayer shooter, video games have become the primary way I consume media. Yet most of the time, I don’t plop myself onto my desk chair and say, “I am going to have so much fun playing this game.” Rather, I just sit and play. I’ve reached the critical point in my life where something that I never wanted to be true is: I don’t play games for fun anymore.
A big part of this is because of the pandemic where I was no longer able to see many of my friends in person. Instead of hanging out and going to get coffee or going to see a concert, it turned into a nightly routine of “Anyone down to play?” and a couple of people hopping on for the night to play “Counter-Strike,” “Portal 2” or “Sea of Thieves.” My mindset quickly turned from “This video game is really fun, and I’m going to have fun playing it,” into “I’m going to have fun hanging out with my friends.”
Although this change was in part due to the transition of being always online, I think it is also a larger implication for me as a person. It seems like a large part of growing up is realizing that not everything you do is for fun. Not necessarily in terms of “I need to work and make money so that I don’t starve,” but in terms of bettering yourself as a human being. Much like practicing a musical instrument, where the practice is not always fun — in fact, sometimes it is infuriating — but the end result is pure satisfaction.
So, what do I think now when going into a new game? I’m not sure how to quite describe it, but it’s more of a sense of anticipation. How will this game provoke thought, and what lessons will it teach? How emotionally connected to the characters and the story will I get, and what will the payoff be for each interaction?
The first game that made me reconsider the way I was playing games was “Persona 4: Golden.” The deep emotional bonds I formed with every character are the major reason it is one of my favorite games of all time. Although the characters are not real people, they made choices and struggled through situations I could relate to. I saw myself, my friends and my family in each and every character and how their situations made them grow.
Initially, I struggled with these emotional connections. Why did I care so much about people that weren’t real? Ultimately, I had to take a break from the game because I thought I wasn’t having fun, and in my mind, video games are supposed to be for fun. But after a few days of rest, I returned and got a payoff greater than any game I had played before.
Did I have fun? No, I absolutely did not; the game itself was not that fun. The turn-based combat was sub-par, the procedurally generated dungeons wore me out pretty quickly, and the story, although technically impossible, was just a little too real. However, the deep emotional attachment to the characters provided me with something much more satisfying and, in turn, enjoyable. I can’t say for sure that playing “Person 4: Golden” made me a better person, but it sure made me want to be.
The best art is not always made to be fun. It’s made to change you as a person. Watching a provocative movie or reading a book that challenges biases is true art, and I get closer and closer to that with video games.
I am not trying to say that video games should not be fun. I have had a blast playing “Mario Kart” and “Super Smash Bros: Ultimate.” These are still some of my favorite games, but I have opened my eyes to games that extend beyond fun.
Games do not have to be just fun and enjoyable anymore; the best games have a mix of enjoyable gameplay and story beats that challenge you to grow as a person. Sometimes the games I find myself playing may not be fun, and that’s okay; they’re making me who I am. Anyway, who said growing is fun?
Daily Arts Writer Maxwell Lee can be reached at email@example.com.