Get a life? Give me a break.

How many times have you heard this one? You’re playing a video game, and someone tells you to “get a life”, whatever that means. When they say it, they’re making a value judgement towards what you happen to be doing as a diversion, as though you don’t do anything different with your life. Putting aside that someone can make that same crass assessment towards any medium with which a person can choose to preoccupy themselves, the assumption is that you don’t accomplish much of anything else, and this person knows what you do with every given moment of your time.

When I was a kid, I went to school for eight hours a day, and chores were waiting for me when I got home… from my part-time job. Therefore, free time was precious to me, and I earned the right to not be judged for watching TV, listening to the radio, watching a movie, or (dare I say) playing a video game. If I got my homework done, first.

It’s funniest when I get this from a stranger in an online game. Once they’ve lost an online match, they’ll default to the go-to ad hominem when you’re dealing with gamers: “get a life”. The assumption being, I live in my mother’s basement with little or no work and I’m only good at this game because I’ve been playing it for 16 hours a day. Therefore, I need an intervention so that I don’t have to play on the same server you play on and beat you at your favorite game. Of course, they’re playing the same game, so they’re not saving face.

Most of the time, when someone tells you to “get a life”, the life they have in mind is to immerse one’s self in whatever media that they find preferable. Usually, it’s books. Works of fiction involve escapism through immersion into the fantasy world portrayed in the narrative. Which makes it different from video games, how? And some will try to tell you that books are somehow less violent. Have they heard of The Hunger Games? It’s a bestseller.

And yes, some mothers will complain that their children started displaying bad attitudes after playing violent video games. News Flash: video games have had ratings for about two decades. It’s every parent’s job to monitor what media gets into their home. The responsibility for your child’s upbringing, including the media that they are exposed to, falls on you. Not the media. Don’t complain when it’s your own fault.

Here’s the thing: video games aren’t exactly new media. They’ve been around for at least four decades in one form or another. Over three-quarters of American homes have a video game system in them. In the world I grew up in, video games were harder to find, and interest in them came with it some sort of stigma. Nowadays, distance from interactive entertainment places one’s self at risk for social isolation. If you’re the kid who doesn’t like video games, you’re weird. If your parents don’t let you play them, you’re unfortunate (and often invited to other people’s homes to experience what you’ve been missing).

Me? I sometimes play games as a diversion. The only thing that prevents me from calling it a hobby is the same thing that prevents me from saying the same thing about books and movies: enough people do it, that it’s not unusual. It’s nothing noteworthy anymore. I can probably call soldering my hobby. Even though I don’t devote as much time to it, not a lot of people do it. But video games are played by enough people that it doesn’t necessarily need to be declared as a hobby. It’s almost to the point that someone could ask a stranger which video games they play; you probably won’t be told that they don’t play video games.

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