Get Your Game On

MATT O’KANE on why gaming is OK.

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So we’re at that stage of the game when the drudgery of real life is starting to kick in. There are no more, “Like OMG my summer hols were totes amaze” conversations, no more over-indulgence in crazy Freshers Week VK deals, and far too many awkward, mortified glances at that fit Fresher you pulled so skilfully and who just wanted to fit in at Cambridge. The honeymoon period is resoundingly over.

We have all been dealing with the crushing depression of real life in different ways. Some people have been immersing themselves in their work. How commendable. Others have found escapism in more conventional ways. A cocktail was made of such potency in one college the other night that, well, just see girls. These – or more specifically, the latter – are normal forms of escapism, practised by normal people the world over. There are ways, however, in which the typical student can find release in a world more vivid and exciting than their own.  Some of us have carted up the mountain of gaming equipment which will likely keep us sane throughout Michaelmas and beyond.

I always thought that ‘Halo’ was an appropriate title for what is at least one of the best examples of electronic entertainment in history. When its first instalment was released in the early Noughties, gamers the world over praised Babbage for sending a glorious, first-person perspective angel to guide them in their quest for escapism. Gaming is a place to where your panicky student retreats in order to unwind from the unrelenting realness of daily life. And thats the point of gaming.

Rather than fill out an overdraft form, or deal with the rancid chorizo at the bottom of the fridge, the gamer escapes into a world where he (never she) becomes a lethal, powerful, physically incredible killing machine. Particularly when the game is from a first-person perspective, the realities of that recurring acne, that grim workload, or the severe lack of friends, become irrelevant. On the one hand, it is fun to point the crossfire at a repulsive onscreen alien and think BANG- uncleaned vomit in the bathroom sink. BANG- inevitable job as a soulless office worker with, for the love of all that is good and holy, a competitive salary. BANG- wondering why you aren’t working in a surf shack in North Cornwall, drinking tequila with lunch. What is more rewarding, however, is to become the strapping Master Chief, or the babelicious Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, to shelve your identity for a while, and to lose yourself in the ridiculously superb virtual reality that is becoming commonplace gameplay.

I say a while; my limit is about three hours before the unavoidable happens. You get to level 63 million, and then your phone goes off and you look at the time, and you think “Oh Dear. My life is worthless. I am scum. I have wasted every second of my gloriously useless life.” But of course you have to keep playing- the lovely endorphins and natural analgesics are telling you to finish this level, and anyway that extremely important essay has waited all day, so it may as well wait a bit more. Even as your mind goes into meltdown, and the first tear of existential worthlessness sighs its way down your face, your hands are so crippled and deformed that you can only grip the game’s control and nothing else. Then someone comes in to ask for a salad fork, but of course by this stage you are socially defunct; you stare them out with eyes which manage to be both grey and bloodshot, and make a noise which sounds like a Nazgul breathing out.

And, once they have fled, you tuck in to a Sainsbury’s Value £1 packet of Scotch Eggs, sobbing your worthless heart out. The cruelty of gaming is that it gives you back what you so desperately wanted it to take away: existential insignificance. Finding the time to game at Cambridge is particularly difficult; friends at other universities shed tears of laughter when I explain that I actually have to produce work and turn up to things, rather than wrap myself in blankets with Marmite and Nutella sandwiches eight days a week. The rate of extra-curricular participation in Cambridge is also extremely high. There is very little time to stop and smell the roses, or the rank contents of your fridge.

So, if you are a gamer at this university, don’t despair. You aren’t deserving of compulsory euthanasia for locking yourself up with WoW for hours at a time. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit back for a bit and take yourself away from the stressful and unpleasant sides of the world. After all, that’s often why people read fiction in their spare time, or go to drawing classes, or play sport or a musical instrument. Not to become more cultured or rounded or anything like that, but to relax a bit and spend a bit of time enjoying themselves. Just keep your miserable self-loathing and your crying nice and quiet, so your neighbours who are doing their work aren’t disturbed, and you’ll be absolutely fine.