For a non-gamer, the gaming world consists of strange comedy, jargon, and the general interest in playing video games itself can be an alien experience. Gaming can be a barrier that stands in the way of friendships and relationships. Whether it is the obsession with the world of Skyrim where dragons, magic, and elves hold sway or with Call of Duty blasting away the latest bad guy, or solving puzzles in a game like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, gamers can come across as relatively confusing creatures. It is due to this confusion that gamers are sometimes asked rather clueless questions about games. Usually these questions are asked with the best of intentions behind them, but they can come across as obtuse and sometimes even demeaning. So, without further ado, I present to you the five questions never to ask a gamer.

5. Oh, so is _______ all this game is?

When a non-gamer asks this question they have typically seen about five minutes of a game and think those five minutes is typical of the entire game. The answer to this question is usually a firm, “no.” Games have moved beyond the days where they only had a single game mechanic and goal like the original Tetris. Many games have multiple gameplay modes that build on that base mechanic, or multiple mechanics. While Super Mario Bros. might be a platformer, does that mean that “all you do is jump on dudes?” No. You avoid enemies, escape traps, and otherwise cleverly use your power-ups and lives to rescue a princess with poorly trained bodyguards. While Call of Duty might be a shooter, is all you do in the game shooting? No. You also ride snowmobiles, prevent nuclear Armageddon, play different competitive modes with friends, and compete in different challenges that test your reflexes. Modern video games are made up of more than one part and a single part might not be indicative of the collective whole.

4. Are you shooting those people?

This question usually comes as a response to a scene of violence witnessed in a video game by a non-gamer. Sometimes, video game violence can cross certain lines, much like the film franchise Saw with gratuitous blood and gore that don’t really serve the game. Other times, however, it is no worse than what you would experience at a summer blockbuster action flick. When that is the case and I get posed the question whether or not I am shooting people, I answer that the question does not even apply to the situation. In fact, I am not shooting anything. I am pressing a button, on a plastic controller, that causes a virtual avatar to pull a non-existent trigger, firing a fictional bullet which then hits an illusion in the form of a human being. At best, the question is a reflection of the questioner’s surprise at seeing violence in a form that they associate with children and innocence. At worst, it is a confusion of reality (committing violence) and fantasy (imagining violence). This leads to the mistake that some non-gamers make of attributing supremely violent acts carried out in the video game fantasy-scape to the player in the real world.

Dragons, unfortunately, aren't real

3. Is this game supposed to be realistic? (Because you shouldn’t be able to do ________)

Non-gamers can be bamboozled by the flashy and vastly more realistic graphics that this generation of hardware has achieved and it is that confusion which leads to this question. While games are still not quite to the point of realism, non-gamers sometimes try to apply real world consequences to events in-game. Take Skyrim for example: a person wearing heavy armor should not be able to swim through water with ease, or jump down a nearly vertical cliff like it was skipping through a park. If Call of Duty was real, one bullet wound would put most soldiers out of commission for at least a couple weeks or worse. Games are not meant to be real. If what gamers got out of games was more reality that would defeat the point of playing a game.

(Note: Both of those examples have been pointed out to me by non-gamers while playing said games.)

2. What is your score?

This question really displays an ignorance of how far games have come. Most games these days have moved beyond a score-based system for motivating players. These days video games are driven more by story or clever programming that leads a player in a certain direction rather than a simple lust for a better score. While scores continue to exist in some areas of gaming they have mostly gone the way of the dodo, with three major exceptions. Scores are a way for people to engage in friendly competition with each other. This is why they are still employed in arcade games, coop modes, and incorporated into Xbox Live Gamerscores. They are also seen as a way to measure up to the wider gaming community and boast your prowess. However, asking what a person’s score is in a game like Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Skyrim, or the vast majority of recent titles, does not apply.

1. Are you winning?

This is the question that most gets under my skin. The reason it burns my biscuits is because it treats all video games as if they were board games. Video games are not all Monopoly (except for the games that have been appropriately licensed by Hasbro). Many games these days are story driven. Can you lose at reading a book? Can you lose at watching a movie? Of course not. There is a difference between finishing or beating a game and winning the game. Winning a game can only occur when there are multiple people competing to achieve a set goal, like a match of Call of Duty multiplayer. But if you are playing a single player campaign, the idea of winning is moot. You are playing through a story and you cannot lose a story.

(Note: Sorry I haven’t been around on the site much these days, been working on Skyrim and my final papers are beginning to rear their ugly heads. This coming weekend I am working on a fifteen paper about Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 while marathoning Lord of the Rings Extended Editions… I’ll be trying to post blogs, but forgive me if they aren’t exactly in a timely manner.)

Boss mode... ENGAGE!