Confessions of a Professional Gamer

You read the headline wrong. Don't blame yourself, it's my fault. Add a comma: Confessions of a Professional, Gamer or flip it to Confessions of a Gamer Professional. No, I don't get paid to play video games. Jesus, what a sweet world that would be if I did. What I do get paid to do is prosecute drunk drivers, rapists, murderer (not a typo, I've only had one murder case), and other soon-to-be felons. I'm a very junior assistant DA for a desert California county with a highish murder rate, lots of meth trafficking, and can't-get-a-massage-in-this-town-because-of-the-omnipresent-prostitution-mascarading-as-legitimate-massage.

This indulgent, whiny post is about how much it sucks to be a white collar professional lawyer and a gamer.

Tl;dr: If you talk about playing video games with lawyers, nope, just don't do it, GTFO.

Background: I worked at Blockbuster Video as a teen in the early Naughts, my 30-something co-workers and I would chat for endless hours with our middle-aged manager about video games. Gaming was part of our professional lives - we rented games for free so we could discuss them with customers. But, invariably, the discussions we would have late into the night were personal ones. How that twist in the latest Final Fantasy affected us. What we were looking forward to in the next Zelda. Epic stories from recent Halo LAN parties. Part of our professional repartee was developed in water cooler-style chats, not about politics or office gossip, but about the world of Luigi, Lara, and Leon.

Contrast this with the DA's office I work in now. A couple illustrative points:

In my first year at work as a bright eyed young prosecutor, I was working with another attorney on a weird, ATM/bank fraud case. The defendant was a scrappy looking Ukrainian national who looked like he'd seen some shit. In pouring over the file, I came across an ATM surveillance video screenshot of the perp.

"Wow," I reacted. "He looks just like Nico Bellic in this shot," referring to GTA IV's weary protagonist.

"Who?" asked the other ADA, maybe a couple years my senior.

"Oh," said I, realizing my comment was probably at least somewhat esoteric. "He's the main guy from gee-tee-a four."

Puzzled eyebrows.

"Grand Theft Auto, the video game?" I offered.

The eyebrows turned angry. A sneer formed. "The game where you murder prostitutes and shoot cops?"

"Yeah," I said sheepishly and got back to work.

In his defense, GTA is a terrible video game to openly love when you work with and respect cops. Police officers are/can be awesome, honorable men and women, and a video game that glorifies gunning them down is conceptually deplorable. And yet, I love GTA. Because Bill O'Reilly is wrong; you can enjoy a video game while knowing that it's completely fictional - a game - and playing it doesn't mean you endorse the "actions" of your avatar. GTA has a lot to say about societal notions of justice and order, so there's some true relevance there. But most importantly, it's just a game and it's just fun.

Gaming has come up a few other times at work, normally inadvertently on my part. I've realized that for me, having a video game hobby and not talking about it would be like having a skydiving hobby and not talking about it. I have so much fun playing video games, wrapping myself in the plots, the characters, the adventure, that it's hard not to just share. And every time I do, I get odd looks and the lawyers I'm talking to change the subject. It's like a weird taboo that shouldn't be a taboo. Like if we made eating tacos taboo. Why would anyone do that?

On another occasion, I had a really cool co-worker and his girlfriend over for dinner with me and my wife. Sitting in the living room, waiting for the taco meat to finish simmering (yay tacos), he saw an Xbox 360 controller on the coffee table. His reaction?

"I didn't know you have kids," he said smiling, gesturing to the controller.

"I don't."

Buh-bye smile.

We had normal, adult (read: non-video game related) conversation for the rest of the night. I'm not saying no lawyers play video games, but no one I work with does. Not only do they not play, but they imply I'm at least a little weird because I do.

Ok, there is one exception to the majority "you're a video gamer? what a fucking child" mentality, but it doesn't help much. There's this really - and I say this as a geek - really geeky defense attorney who games. He loves the same kind of games that I do: RPGs, JRPGs, point-and-clicks adventures, first-party Nintendo, and other genuinely good games. And we talk about games, but more on that in a minute. The problems are 1) he's so painfully, socially awkward that, in the office politics here, I get ribbed for talking to him about anything, much less video games (and AMC's The Walking Dead and HBO's Game of Thrones - seriously, how do these lawyers not like ANYthing cool?). And 2) He's a shitty lawyer. Like borderline malpractice-level incompetent. So because of that good ol' conflation of correlation and causation, my co-workers assume that he's a shitty lawyer because he's a gamer. So if I'm a gamer too ...

No, it doesn't make sense. Yes, someone with a $150,000 degree should be able to figure that out. But if you have any illusions that that a law degree either means you are or makes you smart, look at Congress. So, thanks to their ignorance, when I want to chat with Mr. Shitty Lawyer, esq., I have to do so in empty stairwells or the parking garage like a goddamn high schooler sneaking a smoke. You'd think we were giving credence to conspiracies of back room deals here between a prosecutor and a defense attorney. Nope, just comparing notes from No Man's Sky E3 showing and dreaming of an HD Zelda.

This leaves me as a gamer in an isolated world. I haven't made gamer friends in several years, 'cause I got no wheres to meet them. My Xbox Live friends list has all of four names on it. Mr. Shitty, esq., aside, I have not a soul with whom to discuss games IRL. My musings on the level design from A Link Between Worlds are either kept to myself (my wife could care less) or are bounced off of various blog posts on Kotaku or elsewhere.

Which brings me to my final point.

I would not currently be a gamer were it not for Kotaku and other gaming sites. Here, I'm part of a community. It may seem obvious, and it can surely be taken for granted, but Kotaku provides depth and context to the gaming elements of my life. Without that context, that community, it wouldn't be worth it anymore to play video games. When I was a kid and all my friends were gamers, it wasn't the pixels on the screen that compelled us to pick up a controller and idle away the hours. It was sitting in my parent's basement, four old pawn shop TVs linked to four LANed XBOXes, our faces aglow with team death match. It was looking over shoulders and giving suggestions as to where Samus should go next. Here, in TAY and Kotaku, I can look over your shoulders and see what you're playing. I can speculate with you about gender roles in video games. I can get hyped with you about Evolve and a new Rainbow Six. And as long as that continues to be the case, I will continue to be a professional comma gamer.