I sit down for lunch in the office cafeteria. After throwing back my sandwich, I pull my New Nintendo 3DS XL out of my pocket, turn the volume down, crack open the lid and resume my current battle in Fire Emblem: Fates. Every so often, someone new enters the cafeteria, and I stiffen slightly. I start to consider what's on the screen, who is in the party, how I'll explain the mechanics, how I'll make it sound like more than a toy.
I'm still a little ashamed to be seen playing video games.
More specifically, I'm a little ashamed to be seen playing video games at work. In real life, I brazenly wear my Splatoon t-shirt, my Legend of Zelda jersey, or even my own self-made Bioshock t-shirt. I'll openly carry my 3DS in public in the vain hope that someone in the Greater Philadelphia area is around to Streetpass with.
What's that? I'd look cleaner in a button-down shirt and slacks? I'd be spiffy in a suit and tie?
Please. I look like Al-Mother-F*cking-Capone in a suit and tie. I know I look good.
But, with few exceptions, such clothing just doesn't feel like me. It's like wearing someone else's skin for a day. I am aware that some may think of me as a man-child, but I don't care. I'm open with my interests because I spent so many years being emotionally beaten down by schoolmates and parents about my love of games. Even when everyone was loving on Mortal Kombat, I received jeers and insults for daring to insinuate that Street Fighter II and Final Fantasy IV (II U.S.) were better. So I instead choose to wear clothing that just feels like me, and the only time I notice anyone's response is when they say something positive about it.
Outside of work, that is.
Every day I go to work wearing clothing that conforms to someone else's definition of adulthood. I see myself in the mirror and all I see is someone that's fatter than everyone else, looking ridiculous in these "nice" clothes meant for beautiful people. The only way to stand out is to purchase "premium" clothing, to adorn myself in wealth-indicators – indications of a wealth I don't have, nor have any interest pretending to indulge in.
Perhaps I really am a man-child. Perhaps my insistence in graphic t-shirts and jeans is an adolescent rebellion to "the system". Everyone else looks so comfortable in their "business-casual" clothing. They belong here. They talk about normal people things. They talk about popular shows like American Idol and Survivor. They read New York Times Best-Sellers on their Kindles and browse Facebook on their phones.
They ask me what I do for fun, and I freeze.
How do I tell other professionals that I play video games? Worse yet, what do I do when one of my co-workers in another office asks me over the phone if I'm playing Fallout 4? My eyes dart around the quiet office. Any attempts to hush my voice are often futile. It carries. People will hear me. How do I explain that I am not a fan of open-world Bethesda games, but I've been playing Rise of the Tomb Raider – and boy does it run wonderfully on Xbox 360?
Previously, I would spend my lunch break browsing the internet on my phone. Recently I decided I was going to spend my week's lunches reading a novel instead: Clockwork Angels. Suddenly, lunch was no longer a monotonous break from monotony. It was a time where I could enjoy the things that make me who I am. Thirty or forty minutes of the day that were mine.
By the end that week I decided that I am too old to feel ashamed of playing video games. I can bring my 3DS to work without labeling myself as some foul-mouthed child, cursing out strangers over online matches of Call of Duty or League of Legends. I am, rather, a foul-mouthed adult who discusses the finer points of game design and narrative, and cares about those details. I am an adult, and I enjoy video games as a thoughtful adult can.
So I fight that reflex to freeze and hide my handheld when a coworker enters the cafeteria. I relax my stiffened spine. I quiet any anxious concerns over what they think of a grown man playing video games. I've spent too much of my life being ashamed of my passions. When I became an adult, I put away such childish things, so I could pull out my 3DS and kill some Hoshidan bastards.