This one is for you non-gamers in the audience, all you readers who came to learn about gaming for the sake of someone else, but who don’t consider video games to be your thing. Reader, I respect the cupcakes out of you, and I applaud your effort to learn about a hobby that you don’t fully understand. Seriously, that’s really awesome of you.
It’s okay to not be a gamer. Many of my favorite human beings are, in fact, not gamers. Each person has their own interests and dislikes and priorities, and that’s just as it should be.
There isn’t anybody anywhere who couldn’t use an extra half hour in their day, or an extra 10 dollars in their pocket. If you have never had a positive experience with a video game, or even if you just really need that time and money to spend elsewhere, it is super easy to see why you might not be tempted to pick up a new hobby.
Here’s the thing, though. I think video games can be amazing, at least as amazing as books, television, or movies. And you don’t need to have any major lifestyle changes to try many of my favorite games. People go to the movies all the time without considering it to be a “hobby.” Video games can be the same. You can love one game and hate another, and if you want, only invest as much time and money as you would put into a movie or book.
If you aren’t going to try out a video game every now and then, I just really want that to be for a good reason. I think there’s a game out there for everyone, and I would be sad if you never got to find yours.
I asked a bunch of my friends why they don’t game more often, and I noticed some definite trends in their responses. I’ve outlined them below, with a few suggestions for overcoming these obstacles. My mission? Remove as many barriers to entry as possible, so that you can try out a game without taking any risks.
If, at the end of the list, you still find yourself in the anti-gaming camp, then I respect that. And I tip my hat to you, reader, for being informed about your media consumption.
1. Video games are too time-consuming
There are only so many hours in the day, and when there’s laundry to be done and trash to be taken out and parents to be called (hi mom!), it is hard to justify spending time on something as frivolous as a video game. Especially because some games, once started, are not easy to quit. Sure, you say you’re only going to play Flappy Bird for five minutes, but before you know it, the sun has gone down and the garbage truck is driving away without your trash. Not only is that frustrating, it’s kind of embarrassing. I feel ashamed when I think I’ve wasted my time, and that is a rotten feeling.
Luckily, there are a ton of great games out there that are not addicting and that can be finished in just a few hours (we even made you a list right here). Short games are awesome, because you can interact and have fun with a handmade, artistic experience, and when you’re done you get the satisfaction of having completed something. Want to find out how long a game is before you start? There’s a website for that, too.
Plus, there’s nothing wrong with playing a long game in short increments. The Legend of Zelda games, for example, have numerous side quests that you can work on for 15 minutes at a time. And because those games tell a complete story, there’s none of the addicting never-ending play sessions that you get with games like TETRIS or Candy Crush Saga.
That’s not to say that endless games have no perks. Four hours playing Sudoku may feel like a waste of time, but studies show that logic games can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. So, while it is definitely important to remember your priorities, don’t be too afraid to think of games as a quick trip to the brain gym.
Alternately, games with great stories can be worth your time simply because of the questions they raise and the thoughts they jog. Depression Quest is a short, text-based game that teaches about some of the experiences associated with depression. Alz is a free flash game about Alzheimer’s that will take you less than five minutes to complete. Republica Times is a free game about making tough decisions while living in a totalitarian regime. The indie game world is full of these small gems.
2. Video games are too lonely
Gaming often means spending a lot of time by yourself. If you are a super social person, this can make gaming seem totally unappealing. Why would you want to sit at home when you could be hanging out with your friends?
First off, nobody is with their friends 100% of the time. Even if you are the most extroverted of social butterflies, you have to spend some time alone now and then (and if you don’t, you probably should). And if you’re going to be spending time alone, wouldn’t you rather be doing something that flexes and engages your brain? If you have time to watch reality TV, but not to play a short indie game with an amazing story, then you are seriously missing out.
Secondly, video games don’t have to be a lonely experience at all. Whether you’re playing online with strangers, online with distant friends, or in person with a couple buddies, there are all kinds of ways to use gaming socially.
3. Video games are too difficult to learn
There is, of course, a downside to gaming with your friends. Many video games have a sharp learning curve, and if you’re playing with other people, it can be embarrassing or stressful to be the only one who’s confused. It’s like being the only one on the soccer field who doesn’t know the rules. You haven’t had the time to practice, and you’re afraid of looking stupid or of letting your team down.
Heck, even if you aren’t with a bunch of other people, learning the rules to a new game that you might not even like doesn’t sound like a good reward for investment. It’s frustrating.
Luckily, there are a lot of games out there that are ridiculously easy to learn. Here are a few of my favorites:
Party games like Nintendo Land, Dance Central Spotlight, LittleBigPlanet, or Sportsfriends are particularly great for groups because they’re easy to learn and fun for gamers at all levels of experience.
4. Video games are too expensive
It’s true, reader. Some video games are extremely expensive. If you want to buy a modern game for an up-to-date console, expect to pay about $60. If you want to play games with accessories (cough Disney Infinity) or special downloadable content, expect to pay a lot more than that. And of course you have to buy the console first. That’s a huge investment for someone who isn’t a gamer.
However, with the advent of smartphones, and of better and faster computers, you don’t need to drop $600 to become a gamer! Let’s start with computer games. There is no easier way to play high-quality games on a budget than by downloading Steam. Steam is a totally free software for PC, Mac, and Linux that lets you find and download video games and keep track of your stats. It’s famous for its awesome sales and community integration, which makes it easy to chat about and get hints for any game you want. Plus, since Steam keeps track of your game info, you can start a game on one computer and then pick it up on a different computer without losing any of your progress. It’s a console and a store and a social media platform bundled into one. And speaking of bundles, Game Bundles are on the rise. Sites like Humble Bundle make it easy to buy a whole bunch of games for whatever price you want. Indie game developers get exposure, you get great prices, everybody goes home happy.
Mobile gaming is often associated with kitschy, addictive games with sneaky in-app purchases. However, there are lots of games for mobile that are neither kitschy nor addictive, but are actually full storied experiences. Check out the titles below, all available for under $10, and see if any tickle your fancy.
5. Video games are too samey.
It’s true. Like any kind of media, video games have popular genres which often dominate the media. Shoot-em-up war games are a very popular industry, and if you have no interest in seeing the latest Michael Bay movie, you may also have no interest in trying to play a game about two white guys trying to kill each other.
But just because you don’t watch Michael Bay movies doesn’t mean that you don’t watch movies. And hopefully by now you’ve realized that there’s a lot of variation, just as much as there is in movies, television, and books. Broken Age, Journey, Mass Effect, Papo and Yo, Guacamelee, Portal, Fez, Transistor, LIMBO, Papers Please, That Dragon Cancer, Octodad, Bioshock, Journal, Braid, Costume Quest, Half Life, The Last of Us, Machinarium—these are games that have amazing storytelling and world-building. Most of them are short, most of them are cheap, and all of them are unique.
So, okay, don’t be a gamer. That’s totally respectable. But don’t let yourself miss out on an amazing experience because of a misunderstanding. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to try out something new. If so, let me know in the comments! But first, go play a game. You might even have fun.