It’s only a game

There’s an old gaming chestnut I’d like to smash today. I’ll try to be brief.

Whenever I’ve been told “Dude, it’s only a game!” it’s always been by someone who just finished bullying me or one of my friends.

Yes, it’s a game. No, it’s not only a game.

By that argument it’s perfectly all right for some asshat to stomp all over my kid’s lovingly-built sand castle. It’s only a sand castle, right?

By that argument, it’s perfectly all right for some asshat to slash up the painting I’ve been working on. It’s only a hobby, right?

We are emotionally invested in these games. We’re supposed to be. If you’re not, and it’s “only a game” then why are you in there playing power games and what exactly are YOU trying to prove? The implied lack of emotional investment and involvement is something I find pretty disturbing, actually.

Why play games if you don’t care about what you’re doing there? Is there a point to playing a game where you have so little involvement and investment that you don’t actually care what happens there? Is that even a game?

It’s often a matter of nuance, too. There’s getting killed/bested in a game and being perfectly happy with the outcome (except you’ll do better next time), and then there’s getting killed/bested in a game by someone who then proceeds to tell you that you shouldn’t care, because it’s only a game. I never did get that attitude and I never will — to me it sounds like nothing so much as a cop-out. “I know I’m being an asshole and I know MY fun requires YOU to be upset, because that’s how I am, so I’m going to make sure it’s somehow all your fault because you can’t take a joke.”

Funnily enough, those people don’t respond well when you return the favour and tell them it’s only a game.

I’m not nearly close enough to Nirvana to have abandoned all attachment to material things, games included. My apologies if I care enough about my gaming to actually give a shit when I or my friends get bullied.

Note — this mini-rant isn’t prompted by anything in particular. I haven’t been bullied lately. But I decided years ago that I wasn’t going to stand for bullying and I was going to call bullies out on their behaviour. Sometimes you have to take a stand.

17 responses to “It’s only a game

  1. Well written post.

    I think I’d slap someone if they insulted either

    a) my gaming, which at the current level is normal and not ruling my life.
    b) my blogging, which at the current level is a little above normal and needs some direction.


  2. Tangentially… there’s a lot of money in these “games”. Apparently, somebody (many somebodies, actually) cares about them enough to spend money on them, which tends to suggest that there’s some value there.


  3. My attitude varies from game to game. If I played a children’s game like Wizard 101 I’d go out of my way to be helpful and nice. In games like WoW and AoC I try to be friendly cooperative but I can be bullish about pvp. I think pvp is there to add excitement and it’s ok to attack someone who has picked a pvp server even if they make it clear they don’t want to fight you at that moment.

    In Eve I see it as a ruthless strategy game and it appeals to the side of me that has always been fascinated by military history. I think setting up uneven battles through skillful use of scouts, fast manoeuvring and even by the use of spies is a fascinating game. I’ve been suicide ganked many times and am planning to do some suicide ganking. For me it’s much more exciting transporting goods knowing that I might get scanned down and killed. I actually considered running 2 plex I own in a system where they are cheap to somewhere I could get more money for them and balked – I really dont want to risk 600m isk in a small fast ship.

    I don’t gank simply for the sake of upsetting someone but feel that ruthlessness is an encouraged part of Eve and have various schemes afoot which could really upset other players and which are unsporting. It’s part of why Eve is so interesting and I want to explore that within the safe confines of a game world. I wouldn’t steal in real life but I might in Eve, especially if I conned my way into a military enemy and stealing was a form of military sabotage.


    • Oh, I’m not trying to say PvP is unsporting. I’m trying to say (I think) that going out of your way to mess with others and then using the “It’s only a game” routine is disingenuous in the extreme.

      And it doesn’t apply only to PvP. When someone loses some item they were very attached to, I wouldn’t react the same way because I’m not particularly item-driven, but I understand their (momentary, not-as-big-as-in-RL etc etc etc qualifiers blah blah) distress.

      Just because something isn’t AS important as work, death & taxes doesn’t mean it’s not important at all. Especially games.

      We are, after all (as your comment amply illustrates in fact) able to make distinctions and see gradations of meaning and importance. It’s not an either/or kind of thing.

      Am getting much too philosophical. πŸ˜‰


  4. Not to justify assholes in games, but sometimes the “it’s just a game” defense is justified. In a game where you have open PvP, a player who insults someone else’s mother on global chat after being killed might need a friendly reminder that it is a game. This is often a much rarer situation, though.

    Not to spoil a good rant. πŸ˜‰


    • Heh see, I didn’t even think of that.

      One of my many failings (or maybe naiveties (it’s a technical term)) is that I tend to assume people will generally behave in a civilised manner. It would never occur to me to insult someone’s mother in any kind of chat, even if they had just beaten me senseless and peed on my corpse.

      Point well taken, and I of course agree.

      This is why I have such trouble being concise! There are too many exceptions to the situation and the rule but for once I wanted to stay under 1k words. Rants are better when they’re shorter.


  5. Poker is just a game too, and fortunes are won and lost on that game…

    But people do take things a little TOO seriously and need to be given a reality check.


  6. Great read!

    I think generally, it all depends on your context. Every gaming community has norms of civility (or perhaps norms of tolerable asshatery would be more accurate in some cases). Players in a given gaming environment can’t be expected to exceed those standards of civility, because a game is only a game. Conversely, the fact that a game is a game doesn’t excuse failing to meet the expected level of civility.


  7. Tell that to my wife, she won’t believe (or understand you). Of course, her idea of a game as all the persistence of Bejeweled (or what ever it is called). Of course, I bet I could make my point by interrupting her Wii Fit/Active time.

    That shit is sacred.


  8. “It’s only a game” bothers me to no end.

    Maybe I’m odd in that I tend to extend my real life civility into a game. In real life I’m not going to harass you and do whatever I can to make you miserable. Why is it that if someone does that in game it’s okay because it’s “only a game”? The game doesn’t play itself. There’s a real person behind that character.

    Added to the “it’s only a game” pet peeve I have is the “just put them on ignore” mindset. What in the world made the gaming culture think it’s okay to be whatever flavor of asshat you want to be and the rest of us should just use in-game tools to ignore it? I can’t count the number of times someone has been harassing or offensive in a world chat channel. Multiple people will speak up about it, and there’s always a very vocal contingent telling people to ignore it.


    • Ely? πŸ˜€

      The “ignore em” mentality I would guess comes from the “don’t feed the trolls” mentality on the boards, which is actually a very good rule.

      But yeah, the ignore function is usually a last resort for me, not a first. Most ignore lists aren’t long enough to allow for that kind of selection anyway. πŸ˜›


      • Nice to see you and thanks for stopping by! I feel a bit trampy for abandoning you guys in EQ2 and haring around with a brand new MMO-doxy on my arm. πŸ˜‰

        I’ll be back sooner or later — that always seems to happen with EQ2, heh.


        • It’s okay. We forgive you. Sorta. πŸ˜›

          We’re playing a bit less right now, too. Although general consensus is that it’s a piece of trash, we’re having a good bit of fun with Disciples 3. I’d almost forgotten how nice it is to dive into a turn-based strategy game for a while.


  9. Ah yus, that old line. This is the same thing I realised years ago while pottering around text-based world. ‘It’s only game,’ the favourite self-justification of griefers… and other people who just have to get their way, no matter what.


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