Learning to Enjoy in the Face of Negativity
A letter from the (Managing) Editor.
01.26.14 - 11:50 AM
I was never taught how to enjoy.
Sometimes it's almost as if I don't want to enjoy everything. Just considering video games alone, I've uncovered various traps I've set for myself to hamper my enjoyment. Some of them are easily recognizable and understandable while others are simply absurd.
A) I don't want to like a game because everyone else likes it and I have better taste than that.
In many ways, my path to adulthood — the initiation into grade school, high school as a preview of the future, the university factory — was like erecting a series of walls or veils that obscured, obfuscated, and complicated, though I have had invaluable experiences and learned so much. Now that I'm almost free of the machine (though fending off the last grasping arm of it — work), I have a lot to unlearn. I have to clean from my mind the bog of deconstruction and the game of find-the-fault (be critical!) that we're taught to practice, that we're taught are correct. The intellectual elitist agenda is quite well-hidden.
If this sounds anti-intellectual, that's because it probably is. I'm all for using science, history and the arts to illuminate truths and improve lives, but intellectual self-indulgence is something else. Of course, I may have had to learn these things in order to learn that I need to unlearn them: the journey is a means and an end in itself. Regardless, here I am trying to enjoy things, be it book, film, music, life event, or video game, and that's difficult enough on its own, but there's a dark voice keening all the while. It's distracting, it's destructive, it's malicious: it's negativity.
The beast has many conduits and its voice is varied and powerful:
"Don't buy this game. This is not an old-school RPG. It just looks like it. Any of the good old PC RPGs would beat this one. It cannot compare. The devs never liked the old games. They're posers. That's the problem."
"Square-Enix, you suck. I've been a fan of Final Fantasy since I was 12 but now this is the last straw. You lost a fan for life and I won't buy Lightning Returns or FF 15 even though I've been waiting for it for six years now. Goodbye, Square."
"Let's compare WRPGs and JRPGs. Some good WRPGs: Fallout, KOTOR, The Witcher, The Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age: Origins, Jade Empire. This is just off the top of my head. Think of all the other ones too. But JRPGs? I can't think of a single good one. Final Fantasy, Pokemon, Kingdom Hearts are terrible. Don't be Wapanese and start playing good games."
I don't want to give unjust attention to anyone, so I paraphrased some common complaints as seen on forums and their ilk. Journalists and critics, while often (though not always) more reasonable and eloquent, add to the complex as well. There's always a new opinion piece telling you to favor one type of game over another (indie, Early Access, this genre or that) or giving one game the benefit of the doubt while vilifying another. The introduction of politics nudges your preferences this way and that; politics never makes anything simpler.
The Internet can be a nightmare of confusion and hate. I'm not talking about mere whining. It's not just complaining. There's an abyssal voice of negativity out there so filled with hatred that it's difficult to ignore, and that often seems like the best or the only thing to do. Maintaining your love of something can be a painfully difficult trial in the face of overwhelming negativity. Are there any other weapons available to combat this?
I don't know. I'm still learning how to enjoy things and how to deal with negativity and those that spew it who seem to tell us, like our parents when we're young, to stop having fun. I often wonder whether criticism as a whole is a little misguided. They say that nothing would ever get better if no one complained, but there must be a way to give feedback with empathy and finesse. Maybe not at all. I don't know. I ignore the hate for the most part and when it confronts me I respond with apathy: "Oh, okay, so what?" Sometimes it still hurts. Sometimes my love of something diminishes. I don't always win.
So I try even harder to enjoy everything. Some people would probably question whether everything ought to be enjoyed. Oh, okay, so what? I'm not here to suffer. I want to enjoy, and by that I mean savor. I want to hold it in the moment. Melancholy, darkness, and death can be enjoyable in their own ways, each just as poetic and poignant as those of love and joy.
I first had to find out how I enjoyed things. For some, enjoying means having intellectual discourse about Marxism in Papers, Please or the ethics of choice in Mass Effect. For others, it's talking about the history of homoeroticism in the Ys franchise. Maybe it isn't talking at all. Maybe it's writing a review that everyone or no one will read. Maybe it's cosplaying. Maybe it's listening to a soundtrack. For me, it's a savoring, a holding in the moment of the thing I am experiencing. It doesn't matter what it is; I don't even limit this to art and entertainment.
It's often just sitting and feeling. Taking it in. Really seeing what it is that's in front of me. I make it real and relevant. When I'm playing a game, I try not to wish it were something other than what it is. I try not to think about what I'll play next or what I played before. I try not to compare, contrast, analyze, or let my mind wander. There's time for all that later. I practice this and sometimes only last a few minutes, but I'm getting better. The skill of enjoying things has a challenging learning curve.
If, after all my efforts, I still don't enjoy something, at least I didn't enjoy it for what it is and not for what it isn't.
I don't enjoy everything, but I try to. There are things I don't appreciate and even things I despise, but it's wonderful if someone else likes or even loves those things. Criticism is constructive when done with compassion and grace, but destructive when fueled by insecurity and hatred. I don't want to have a conversation about what kind of games are best or most righteous. I just want to enjoy what I enjoy. It can be really simple: I like what I like. There it is.
There should be classes for all ages on how to enjoy. "The Philosophy of Enjoyment." I'm not a Professor of Enjoyment; I'm a student. I can practice the few skills I've learned, actively try to enjoy everything, and learn how others enjoy as well. As for complaint, perhaps ignoring it is enough, or, through stubborn and perhaps even relentless positivity, we can overwhelm it.