I've been traveling a lot recently. Between press junkets, game conventions and plain, old business trips, I estimate I've been away from home for four out of the past eight weeks. That's a lot of time to spend on the road. Or in the air, rather.
I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of air travel. For one thing, it's painful for me. As a survivor of chronic childhood ear infections, my inner ears are so riddled with scar tissue that the pressurization and depressurization to which one is subjected inside of an airliner causes me no small amount of pain, especially in the spring, when nature's energetic bloom wreaks its own special kind of havoc on my sinuses.
Aside from the physical torment, however, the sheer drudgery of packing, unpacking, lugging and waiting around to be inspected and searched flat out wears on my nerves. I like to travel light by using only carry-ons in order to avoid bag check fees and long waits at the carousel, but this means I invariably end up traveling heavy since a fully-loaded carry-on duffel is it's own special kind of burden. So pretty much any time I fly, I'm typically exhausted and harried by the time I get where I'm going, and needing a vacation by the time I get back.
Still, in spite of the hassles, I consider the frequent travel a blessing. I've seen places I would never have otherwise, and have met people who have changed my life in immeasurable ways. It's no accident that those with the ability frequently send their young out into the world to study abroad. In Great Britain, it is still the custom for high-born children to spend their formative years in boarding school, amidst complete strangers. Even in American society, the tradition of sending young men and women "away to college" is alive and well. These customs serve essentially the same purpose: to expose tomorrow's leaders to the wonders of the world.
Perspective is power. Therefore, any time spent abroad will only serve to make one stronger. People come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and the more one is exposed to the vast variety of manners and customs in all the lands of this Earth, the more apparent it becomes that, in spite of our differences, people are inherently similar in numerous ways. For this reason alone, it is with no small amount of joy and wonder that I am able to report that, of the many things I have seen in my travels, none has yet been as gratifying as the observation that everyone is gaming.
Over the past several weeks I've seen more people at play than I could have possibly imagined before setting out on my journeys. I introduced a man playing a hacked Nintendo DS in a pub to the joy of casual game superstar, Popcap's Plant vs. Zombies on the iPhone and marveled at his joyful surprise. On an airplane between somewhere and somewhere else, I sat two rows behind a businessman playing Solitaire on his company-issued laptop. In Canada I spent over four hours playing one of EA's newest games, and watched in stunned admiration as people of all walks of life joined in. I witnessed the awesome power of sporting contests to unify crowds as large as an entire nation and as small as a street-side pub. I barreled through the desert in a dune buggy with people who'd been doing it for years, for no other reason than because we humans could and it was there. I met people who'd been making videogames for decades - literally their entire professional lives. I watched children playing hockey in the street and adults playing blackjack in casinos. I stood in line with dozens of others just to put my hands on a Microsoft Surface machine that plays Dungeons & Dragons, and elbowed my way into a crowded room just to hear a man sing a song made famous in a five-hour game.
In this age of global information overload and lightspeed data transfer, it's easy to become jaded about the state of the world, and to feel as if whatever may lie beyond the horizon is just as easy to see from your couch. And perhaps that's true, to some extent. Perhaps I'm making it even more so by writing this and sharing it with you. But although modern information technology has made it possible for all the wonders of the world to be brought, by some manner or another, into your own home, there's simply no substitute for seeing them with your own eyes.
Similarly, although it's possible through numbers and charts and Xbox Live, to get some faint appreciation of just how many people are playing their way through life and enjoying games of all kinds as part of their everyday human existence, it's simply not possible to comprehend the full import of the modern age of play without immersing oneself in the great kaleidoscope of humanity - and playing with them.
Allen Varney interviewed the great Dr. Jane McGonigal in last week's issue of The Escapist. If you want an even better idea than I've presented here about the prevalence of play in modern society, and how necessary it is to our health and survival, I can't recommend a finer article. If you want to truly comprehend the phenomenon, however, I recommend getting off your ass and seeing the world. I guarantee you'll find more people playing than you expect.