Image: Nintendo

Soapbox articles give our team a chance to share some personal perspectives; today it's the turn of Tom Whitehead to talk about why gaming matters more to him than ever before.

I've always been someone eager to lose myself in my imagination and intriguing worlds; from childhood to the present day my biggest passions remain books and video games. I studied literature at university, twice, and have now passed a decade in the 'games industry'; I've definitely been lucky to combine passion with work over the years.

It's certainly escapism I seek; that's not a bad thing, in my opinion. Especially as you reach a certain age, if all you think about is bills, taxes and which laundry liquid is for you, it's entirely possible life will be extremely boring. It would have certainly been the case in past decades and generations that adults should mainly think about 'grown-up' stuff, but nowadays it's possible to be a functional adult that pays bills and also someone that plays and enjoys video games. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is the next game I'm looking to get pleasantly lost in; the sheer verve in every single screenshot looks like the absolute polar opposite of 'boring'. Despite the post-apocalyptic-looking setting, Forgotten Land isn’t some gritty, The Kirby-style reboot, thank goodness — it offers the little guy’s trademark candy-coloured adventuring and I cannot wait to dive in.

Alongside reading and a love for certain TV and Film franchises, gaming has been a key part of my life since I was about four years old. I'm now... well let's just say I'm been gaming for over 30 years. As a kid, games were a huge part of my world of course, though they were also very different times — no download stores or always-online living back then. Tips and reviews would come from magazines and the playground, and we'd get games for the Sega Mega Drive (for example) as birthday presents or rewards / treats. I'd play the same game for a month or two and still love it.

To say games have been vital to me over the past few years is an understatement. Few diversions are so captivating, enthralling and essential

I've argued before that, compared to those days, this is truly the golden age of gaming. Technology is the key to that, as whatever games you like — even if it's retro titles — it's never been easier to enjoy them. As I've got older I've also been less able to devote time to gaming, thanks to pesky things like work and commitments. But a key sentiment I've felt over the past couple of years is that gaming is more important to me than ever before. There are a few possessions I will cling to above all else as they help me through each day. My hefty book collection is one. My video game collection is another.

I'm not someone that tweets about concerns or troubles a great deal, nor talks about them in general with, well, anyone. Nor am I someone that buys into all that 'stiff upper lip' talk that some throw around, though I do sort of live that way. I'm the type of person that supports and encourages people to discuss problems, without being inclined to do it myself. I know all the well-meaning advice about sharing, I just don't do it.

That's fine, it's who I am, but it's also fair to say the last few years have been unnaturally stressful and difficult, and being the internalising type isn't always a good approach in those circumstances. Not only do we all grapple with our personal baggage and problems, but we've shared a global pandemic, the climate crisis and for some of us a lot of thoughts right now drift to the ongoing war in Ukraine. I'm a heavy reader at the best of times and follow current affairs closely, but keeping up with events is frequently upsetting right now, and like — I suspect — millions of others, this can affect my sleep, moods, and thoughts. That's life, right?

I even got into Pokémon this year, strange times indeed
Image: The Pokémon Company / Nintendo

My point is that, right now, there are so many issues in the wider world, and they feed into our smaller, granular day-to-day existence. As this happens I've become increasingly grateful for my books, my shelter and definitely games. To say games have been vital to me over the past few years is an understatement. Few diversions are so captivating, enthralling and essential. The sheer variety available now, catering to all budgets, is so important and has helped elevate and broaden the impact of gaming.

For me, Kirby's latest adventure is another arrival with Animal Crossing: New Horizons-style timing, a game that feels pertinent right now. It's so unabashedly cute, cuddly and reassuring that just thinking about jumping in eases my mind, just a little.

Escapism isn't a dirty word — it's a vital part of life, for those of us fortunate enough to have that luxury.