Playa, Playa

Hi, I’m Peter, and I’m a gamer.
By Peter L. Knudson

Hi, I’m Peter, and I’m a gamer.

Phew. That was pretty difficult to say.

I’ve always been a little ashamed of being a gamer. Out of all the labels one could be given in high school, geek, nerd, and spaz were amongst the least desirable. I had a reputation to maintain, and as much as I wanted to discuss the intricacies of the one-handed waraxe in “Dungeons & Dragons’” fourth edition with my varsity football chums, I somehow always refrained. I’ve been a closet gamer as long as I have been able to roll dice.

And so were most of my closest friends. Yet, when far away from the judgmental eyes of high school, we would break out the dice, the cards, the joysticks and the cartridges, and gather in our usual basement of choice and get down to gaming. While most people generally stick to one type of game, we were constantly changing our medium. The term “gamer” historically has referred to people who played role-playing games, but recently it has come to encompass those of us, like me, who spend most of their free time playing and learning about all types of games. We knew our way around an Xbox, had a vast collection of board games, dabbled in poker and bridge, and knew about every trading card game that mattered.

Gamers tend to become friends very quickly, and the glue that held my friends together was one game in particular—

“Magic: The Gathering.” Magic, the oldest and most popular trading card game, can be described as a mixture of chess, poker, and bridge all wrapped up into a fantasy setting. I was introduced to the game when I was 10, and since then I have met my closest friends because of Magic. Magic players can immediately engage in a conversation with any other Magic player they ever meet, and because of the constantly changing nature of the game, the conversations never grow stale. My Magic encounters involve elves, goblins, battling with creatures, and casting and countering spells, which are often deemed “too awkward” to talk about with non-gamers. So my spells stayed locked away in the basement, only to emerge when the coast was clear.

But I am Peter, a gamer. I am no longer afraid. I don’t fit into the stereotype that society has created for gamers (thanks, “World of Warcraft”). I have friends, I am not overweight, I don’t live in my mom’s basement, and I shower regularly.

I look back at my apprehension of being outted as a gamer in high school, and I wonder how I could have been so naïve. I have since learned to embrace what I love and what games offer people. For me, I love engaging in strategic interactions, solving problems on the fly, and the competition that arises from two people fighting over a common goal. But what I get out of playing a game may be completely different than someone else, which is why so many people enjoy playing them.

Games offer a momentary escape from reality, where instead of the plethora of life problems that demand attention for most of the day, one can put those aside and focus on a completely different goal. Some folks thrive off the mental stimulation that word games and puzzles provide. Some get a kick out of mindlessly addictive pursuits to pass the time (read: “Farmville”), and others still seek to play games as an outlet for their competitive side. Games offer moments of personal triumph over difficult tasks, a sense of exploration in finding out dominant strategies, an outlet for relaxation, and most importantly, a source of amusement.

While I am not proud of the fact that I led two lives for most of my existence, the process was a learning experience. Accepting one’s interests and motivations is a struggle that many people have to go through. I like games, and think that everyone could be better off by playing more of them. If I have my way, I’ll be creating fun and addicting games until I can’t anymore.

The truth is, every person in the world is a gamer in some way or another. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t played Monopoly or chess, or a student in college who hasn’t engaged in a game of Beruit, or any person in the U.S. under the age of 30 who hasn’t picked up a video game controller. And aren’t athletes simply gamers imbued with dexterity and physical prowess? Going beyond the explicit examples, people instinctively make games out of the most mundane of tasks. Grocery shopping is a video game where one is trying to locate the items on a list. Choosing college courses is a game of constrained optimization. And I dare someone to tell me that surviving four years of Harvard isn’t a game in and of itself. In the role-playing game of Harvard, finals are the veritable endbosses, your tutors are the non-playable characters, and your textbooks are shields of +3 intelligence. You’re up, it’s your turn to roll for initiative.

—Peter L. Knudson ’13, a Blog Executive, has got his head in the game.