Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was released in the pre-Christmas rush of 2011, the latest instalment of one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. Yet own up to possessing a copy and many would label you a social reject. Girlfriends and wives will roll their eyes, the football boys will openly laugh, and your parents may suggest you get a new hobby. Maybe yoga. Well, this geek has had enough (although I still want to take up yoga).
Play is of importance to healthy human development. When babies aren’t eating, sleeping or emptying, they live in a world of play. It’s an essential aspect of our ability to learn how to encounter the world around us – we take risks, realise consequences, we find joy in escapism, because when the most fascinating thing in the world is your ability to put the big toe of your left foot in your mouth, you're going to need some distractions.
But then we are told to stop. For years our parents encouraged us to go to our rooms and throw Lego at the wall until we bled with glee, but at some unknown point during puberty somebody took away our permission to play. Like picking your nose or appearing naked in public, it’s something you’re supposed to grow out of.
It is hardly surprising then that it is the geek who is often labelled as the most socially inept of the hipsters; far too many of us would invest a disproportionate amount of our day to becoming engrossed in a virtual world of readily controllable and understandable consequences. When our peers turned up their noses at our games, we turned our backs on them - and in today's age of online gaming and social networks, there are plenty of new, less threatening friends out there who won't judge you for owning all of the Halo games. The gamer is encouraged in their hobby, often to the detriment of their ability to fit in with the world outside of their game (doubt me, and I can introduce you to several friends who I believe fit this definition. I'm not one of them. Shame on you for thinking so).
It’s men who really struggle to cast off their play days, such is the importance of competitiveness to the male psyche - but play is so much more than a competition. Many men replace their dreams of being the cowboy/soldier/spaceman with a football pitch or a poker game, but the worlds offered by computer games allow men to indulge in the dreams of their childhood.
This, in turn, is the result of the gaming industry being a male dominated beast, churning out guns and bullets which don't appeal to everyone - particularly women. Nintendo led the way, with the Gameboy and Wii the first consoles to break the 'casual gamer' market and provide a series of titles that actually caught the imaginations of many who had never picked up a controller before. I hope that more titles continue to capture the imagination of less 'traditional' gamers, which in turn might break the male dominance the industry currently experiences. Gaming needs more challenges than 'how many bullets you can put into the enemy'.
I’m proud to be a ‘gamer’ – a man still living in the imaginary world of his boyhood via a little controller and screen full of bangs. Many will turn on my hobby with a look of scorn, pitying me for my lack of maturity. For any curious enough to give it a go, I would suggest that you look to Portal 2: it does shooting, platforming, action and adventuring, all with its tongue burning a hole through its cheek.
Don't shun the geek - the geek is merely a mature champion of play. And play is good.