As a thirty year old man with a wife and two kids, sometimes video games can feel like the furthest thing from my mind. I coach my kids in sports, try to help my wife out around the house, and am currently working on my PhD. Time is at a premium most of the time. So, occasionally when I spend several hours on the weekend playing video games, I have to ask myself, “Why waste my valuable time playing video games?”
It’s a question that I both ask of myself and receive from people who I tell about my research interests (which are in play and game studies, bringing in video games as an aspect of composing persuasive and expressive texts). So, I’ve had plenty of time to think and dwell on this question because it is one that repeatedly comes up, either internally or externally.
The question of “Why waste time playing video games” isn’t all that different form a lot of the types of questions society likes to throw at people when they aren’t immediately “working” or selling the labor (for my fellow Marxist’s in the audience). Whether it is a hobby or lesiure activity, we are constantly asked to justify the existence of non-work related activities.
When it comes to video games, I have attempted to answer this question by evoking some of the underlying assumptions of the question: that video games are a waste of time, energy, and money, that video games don’t carry any cultural value, that video games don’t impart any skills or lasting effects beyond an increase in aggressive behavior (all of these are false by the way).
I’ve talked about the ways in which video games improve cognition, improve meta-awareness and self-reflection, improve hand-eye coordination, offer opportunities for socialization, reward players for innovative thinking and analytical reading, and so on.
But more and more, these answers (though research continues to prove these as truer and truer), feel less satisfactory and more as a way to justify something I truly feel is great.
So, I have a new question that I pose to both myself and to any questioners when the idea of videogames being a waste of time floats by on a capitalist breeze.
Why is Mario so fun?
This is the question I keep returning to after hours of reading games studies scholarship. While there are certainly great skills and valued processes bolstered and taught by video games, and while there are definitely tangible benefits–both cognitive and social–to playing video games, and while there are video games which critique and offer insight, all of that pales in comparison to the simple idea of having fun.
Fun needs no justification. Fun is both the means and the ends. Fun is fun and that makes it worth while.
I’m going to keep playing and writing about games until I can answer that question. Because, I mean, why is Mario so damn fun?