I’ll admit, a couple of years ago video games and life were pretty much the same thing for me. As soon as I got in from school I’d boot up the PS3 or Xbox (yes I made the somewhat reprehensible choice of buying both) and the evening would be gone. When I went on holiday my first question was always ‘does the place we’re staying at have a TV?’ Whatever the answer I’d pack my numerous video game magazines and read them cover-to-cover on the journey. At one stage I could probably have told you every release date for every game coming in the next year and the review score of every title in (the now defunct) PSM3 magazine’s top 20 games of the generation list. Not any more.
As time passed, my gaming budget fell, social skills developed, and I found it increasingly difficult to find both the temporal and financial resources I needed to dedicate to my once beloved pastime. This has only increased at university; with a limited budget and apparent lack of appropriate free time, it’s increasingly difficult for students to stay in touch with an industry so many of us care so much about.
This seems to be a problem unique to the medium. An interest in books, films, music or television can easily be supported on even the smallest of student budgets. Want to see that new film at the cinema? That’ll cost you about £8, as will that new Game of Thrones book you’ve probably been dying to read. Even if your bank account is running on fumes you’re unlikely to run into issues keeping up. With the countless free music, movie and TV streaming websites available, keeping up with other artistic mediums is relatively easy on the wallet.
In contrast if you plan on playing even a relatively new gaming release whilst at university you’ll probably be living off Aldi tinned soup for the rest of the month. That is, if you’re lucky enough to have access to a TV and console of some form in the first place. With the advent of a pricey new generation I predict this challenge will become more pronounced than ever. Indeed, whereas a few years ago I would probably have been queuing up on some freezing London street when Microsoft launched their new console, I now sit here on launch day unaware of a single soul in my St Andrews sphere with the means or inclination to buy one. It’s unsurprising really, when you consider the £430 price point.
Nevertheless, though a key influence, cost isn’t the only limiting factor on gaming at university. The nature of the time we have is also crucial. Most of us could probably admit to filling a fair amount of our day with brief lecture and tutorial commitments, idleness and that mad dash when a bit of real work pops up. If we’re honest we’ll probably admit that, as gamers, we have just as much time now as we had at school. The difference is the way we use our free time. It is moulded as much by the environment we’re in as as it is by our interests. The majority of our post-school evenings were probably spent at home, a place that, for the most part, is not filled with social commitments. In contrast, university is an intensely social environment. If you’re in halls you probably can’t make yourself a cup of tea without bumping into someone you know. If not, you’re probably sharing a house or flat. Either way the environment in which you now spend your free time is pretty much always filled with people you know. If your mates are there when you get back from class you are far more likely to settle for a quick game of FIFA than spend time launching yourself into a story-driven game.
Admittedly one could offer a far simpler explanation of gaming’s weak purveyance at university. Perhaps it’s purely down to a new generation of consoles that bring little that’s genuinely new to the table, in comparison to the step-ups from previous generations. The PS2 brought us a phenomenal increase in gaming quality and possibilities from the PS1. The Xbox 360 and PS3 brought console gaming into the world of HD and introduced us to the idea of these devices being entertainment hubs. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are, in comparison, just making refinements to the existing experiences.
No matter your opinion on these matters however, it seems hard to deny that the nature of university life is making it increasingly difficult for many of us to enjoy our favourite pastime.