'Why do you game?' - I've been asked more times than I can count over the last 22 years - more so in the few years since I hit my mid-twenties.
It's become apparent to me in the last decade or so, that despite the average age of gamers actually being somewhere in their late twenties/thirties, people still seem to see gaming as something childish, to be scorned or laughed at. As if me picking up my One or PS4 controller in the evening is akin to sitting down on the floor with a My Little Pony colouring book and a box of Crayola, and sticking the finished pictures on my parents' fridge.
The thing is, people seem to still be pre-occupied with a stereotype of what (or rather, who) a gamer actually is. You say 'gamer', the uninitiated instantly see a teenage boy, shut in his bedroom for days on end eating Pot Noodles - I have nothing against a good PN, by the way - and whose only friends are of the online variety - again, most of my friends are online, and the nicest lot I've (n)ever met.
Of course, I'm not denying there are gamers like that, but I’m sure there are doctors, nurses, lawyers and politicians who were like it once, too, and you know what? They probably still enjoy a bit or orc slaying or tomb raiding when they get time to relax. And that's the point - you don't stop enjoying something just because your age, living situation or occupation changes.
To me, playing an engaging game is no different to someone unwinding by sitting down with a good book. It's just an interactive one. Instead of seeing characters in my head, and playing out situations with my imagination, I'm acting them out in a more physical way, literally playing them out. What I do is no different to what you do, it just takes on a different form.
Not that other hobbies and interests are any less important, of course - mine (or, if you are with us, ours) is no more superior to something like knitting, even if it did cost me about £500 more than a ball of wool and some knitting needles (disclaimer, I have no idea how much wool and knitting needles actually cost). Yet, for some reason, what I enjoy is looked down upon, as if there are better things I could be doing with my time or spending my money on - like yoga classes, cupcakes and sewing machines, if my similarly-aged female associates are anything to go by.
After another round of disparaging looks from mothers at the school gate, I've now decided my default response to 'why do you play games?' is going to be 'why does it matter?' because it doesn't. Why I enjoy what I do, is irrelevant. As long as I do enjoy what I'm doing, and you enjoy what you're doing, then everyone's happy.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a date with a Pot Noodle and a dragon.