I'm sure we all have interests and hobbies outside gaming, integral pieces of our personal identities that shape our being and govern our private lives. These passions will inevitably mingle, influencing one another and ultimately forming the opinions that make us who we are. A sports fanatic is certain to play series such as Madden or FIFA; musical composers will naturally be drawn to games with acclaimed soundtracks.

As for yours truly, my first name translates to "nature lover," which could not define me more perfectly.

More often than not, the world becomes too much. The rat-race is a claustrophobic place, a place where the hot boiling stew of perpetual controversy, judgment, hatred and malice represses individuality and freedom of expression. It's easy to stray off course in life, or to lose sight of the good amidst the dank fog of corruption. In nature, none of it matters. Life marches steadily forward, free from the burden of intelligent thought.

Nature is pure and wonderful, glorious and fascinating, majestic and unfathomable in its beauty. Experiencing nature is life-affirming and reminds me that no matter how depressing my situation or impossible my task, life carries on and is worth the price of admission. Nature warms the soul and I would most assuredly lose my sanity without it.

I don't have the most physical endurance in the world, but give me a good hiking trail and I can go endlessly for hours. Much like my gaming, I prefer to do my hiking solo or with somebody near and dear to my heart. It seems that too many of us view the great outdoors and video games as two conflicting interests. I can say with complete confidence that they are not—a love for nature is an important factor in why and how I play games.

Recently, I saw a commercial for a truck (I don't remember which brand) that stuck in my mind. The gist of the ad was a father using this new pickup to take his son, "who would rather play computer games," on a camping trip. His son appears reluctant at first, but gradually warms to the idea as he learns to enjoy various outdoor activities. It was disheartening to be reminded of how we are commonly generalized as couch potatoes with no understanding of or appreciation for the world beyond video games.

Another theme present in the commercial that really struck home was that gamers don't know how to connect on a "truly" personal level. Different people have different interests, and to assume that two friends getting together to play a video game is any less of a bonding experience than camping is the product of closed-minded prejudice. It's not like gaming is the only thing we ever do with friends, either. One of my most cherished memories is a day my best friend and I went for an all-day hike on the crest of the local Sandia Mountains. The vistas were beautiful, the forest tranquil, and the time spent with a friend priceless. I won't ever forget it.

When I caught the end of an episode of PBS' The National Parks: America's Best Idea, another anti-video game sentiment reared its ugly head. This time, it was what the narrator said, "America is not video games," that irked me. "Whoa, hold on there," I thought. America isn't solely defined by the gorgeous lands within its borders, but by its people and culture as well. Whether you like it or not, video games are a significant part of that culture and, therefore, who we are as a nation.

When it comes to being a gamer, both my reclusiveness and love for nature are key influences. If you've read my bio, you know that I prefer single-player to multiplayer in most cases, and tend not to invest many hours into online gaming. I concur that Smash Bros. is at its best when enjoyed with a buddy, but I've played hundreds of hours without a friend on the couch beside me. I admire Halo's online prowess, but would rather replay the campaign than jump into a multiplayer match. Gaming is as much a form of escape as entertainment, and it's difficult for me to really get away when other humans are involved.

Single-player RPGs fit my tastes like a glove, and that is especially true for Skyrim, one of my favorites I've played this year. The first thing about Skyrim that made me sure I would love it was the combat (it was my first Elder Scrolls game, after all). The first-person perspective and individual control of each hand breathed a sense of realism into battles, drawing me in almost immediately. Yet, as much as I remember it for the epic quests, dungeon crawling, and grandiose dragon encounters, I can't stop thinking about how elegant the landscape was. I would often set out with no other purpose than to calmly appreciate the forested mountains.

While it's true that I revel in solitude, I don't believe any person's life could ever be complete without companionship. Journey had a lot to teach me about that. When I first played Journey, I couldn't believe how pitch-perfect the gameplay felt or how ethereal its world. Surfing on the glimmering dunes and gliding effortlessly across chasms was matched perfectly by the musical score, and I couldn't get enough. As soon as I completed my initial playthrough, I gladly did it all over again. Journey is a game everyone should play twice, because it's incredibly deep meaning shines through far more clearly the second time. As a poignant allegory for life, it's impossible not to appreciate ThatGameCompany's emotional masterpiece of interactive art.

My only complaint about Journey back then was that, as long as I was connected to the internet, co-op couldn't be switched off. All I wanted was to be alone with the experience that proved to me once and for all that games are a powerful art form. But then I played it a third time. My companion on this journey wasn't just some show-off or a rogue trophy hunter, but somebody who genuinely wanted me to stick with them. If I tried to wait them out, they would remain patiently for my arrival. I finally gave in and found to my surprise that a partner made everything all the more meaningful. I was dumbstruck as to how a video game could convey these feelings through such a simple idea.

If gaming is escapism, then Minecraft must be the greatest getaway of them all. Like Journey, Minecraft is what I turn to when I need a pick-me-up or the time for self-reflection. My humble cobblestone home and the familiar surrounding regions is where I go to unwind, to put my feet up for a while and not worry myself with real-world troubles troubles. Minecraft is also an outdoorsman's dream; an entire pristine world all to yourself to explore is almost too good to be true. At times, I almost wish it had hyper-realistic graphics to complete the illusion.

If you've taken the time to read this, I thank you. My heart and soul truly are in this piece, and while it isn't perfect, I can only hope I opened somebody's eyes to the meaning games can have in a person's life. Gaming is not some sick obsession (though for some, it is an unhealthy addiction) that consumes our lives, barring us from enjoying the simpler things. Gaming is a way to connect with friends, a retreat from our often harsh realities, a new frontier waiting to be discovered, a teacher of life's lessons, a shoulder to cry on, and so much more. Gaming is as indispensable for our souls as the air and water that sustain our physical selves. I think we all wish more people could understand that.