Every year, I see a whole bunch of well-meaning students who want to write their college application essays about playing video games, their talent, bliss, hard-earned improvement over time, frustrations when they just can’t beat XYZ and– PSA, please rethink this college essay topic choice, friends.
Maybe the topic feels oh-so-right to you, and you’re perplexed why I (who am all about student choice) am handing the essay back to you to revise.
Yes, you can sometimes “lose all track of time” playing your favorite video games. And isn’t that exactly what Common App Prompt #6 is asking about?
Sure, the Common App want to know about your total absorption, such that the rest of life falls away (who cares if it’s garbage pickup day?), and all that matters is your passion. Right?
That is– until you’re stumped, stuck at Level 3 (Common App #6 asks, “Why does it captivate you? “Because I need to get to level four, hello?), and throw your controller at the wall. Maybe you call your cousin for help, the one who regularly locks himself in his room for three days straight with a jumbo size Mountain Dew–You-Ever-Even-Drink-Water (Common App #6 asks, “What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”).
There has got to be more to your life and soul than this.
But shouldn’t you write your essay about what you love most? (Well, maybe!)
AND GAMING MAKES YOU FEEL ALIVE, you’ll argue! Yes, these video games are the most exciting thing to you since sliced bread (because, hey, when bread is already sliced, you can blindly pull two pieces out of the bag and put them right in your mouth!).
But it’s not a great idea to subject admissions readers to your level-upping problems and prowess. Maybe they’ll worry you’ll spend all your time at their school gaming too– versus, say, focusing on academics. Or maybe they will feel judgment about a student habit that doesn’t add a whole lot to the world.
I’m riffing here, and it has nothing to do with being for or against video games, generally. My job as college essay writing coach is to guide you toward the best topic for admissions purposes, and I say– your obsession with video games is unlikely to be a good topic.
I have had many bright, accomplished students with big goals– who devote hours weekly to their favorite video games, among other things they love. Most of us have some distraction we turn to for enjoyment or stress relief. It’s also exactly that– distraction, relief.
Reasons not to write about video games:
- Rarely is there a good story in there (despite lots of action verbs). Your excellence at the game is likely only interesting to you (and fellow similarly obsessed folks: chat with them instead?). Any storyline belongs more to the games’ narrative than your life experience.
- We rarely will learn enough about you as a person (vs as a player). The topic (prompt) is supposed to be an excuse to learn about you, a meaningful story, character trait, or value.
- Honestly, the “obstacle” of beating a level or not is not that relevant, no matter how challenging. It’s virtual, just a game. You could be doing other stuff. Onward.
- The writing is almost always predictable and cliched. Yes, of course you want to beat the game. Is that not why you play so much?
But when could you write about video games, if you were really, really sure this was the topic burning a hole in your heart?
If you can come up with a unique angle. Video games need to be merely a lens through which we learn about something else key to what makes you you, or vehicle to talk about something else you have lived through, or done.
Some Ways to Turn Your Obsession with Video Games into a better topic:
Hypothetical examples abound, friends:
- You used a video gaming habit to help you overcome social anxiety–and it worked.
- You came to an insight about something important you could do or create in real life from gaming–and you did it.
- You developed important relationships through gaming you would never have found otherwise, ones that had relevance beyond the time you spent online.
- You developed new video games yourself, and had real-world business experience.
- You had a high stakes bet for a life-saving deal that was contingent on your beating a game–and you did.
- You turned around an intense gaming habit and turned it into a new habit that added to your family or community.
All these possible topics give you something substantial to talk about from your real life. But these tweaks mean you are no longer answering Common App prompt #6.
AND I have never read a video game essay that worked well enough to keep (so I challenge you! Change my view!).
Still, descriptions of you playing the actual video games should be minimal. One sentence, maybe two.
So I advise: use your love of games as some needed down time from essay-writing (in doses, please!) but not as your topic. And if you’re the kind of person who does get so obsessed with games you “lose all track of time”– set a timer. Here’s one, the famed focus-enhancing pomodoro timer.
Help, I can’t tweak my topic on my own!
Need help figuring out if you can work your video game passion into a topic that tells us about you? Contact us for fast feedback! But be prepared for hard news. 🙂
We want to know what makes you you. Loving video games soooo much makes you like a whole bunch of other people– but doesn’t tell us a lot worth remembering.
And what your admissions reader wants is to read something memorable.
Samantha Cui says
Thank you for giving us – college applicants – advice by writing this article! Any information we can receive at this point is extremely crucial. I came across this article of yours when I was looking up college essays that talk about video games.
You made some very good points throughout: I understood and agreed with most of them. However, I found it pretty intriguing how you said you haven’t read any gaming-essays that actually worked. (And it was really cute when you asked us to challenge your viewpoint!)
Anyways, I am still planning on writing my essay on video games, only from a perspective different from the ones you talked about. Although I am a typical 5.0GPA/1600SAT student with multiple national championships, I spend A LOT of time playing video games… Especially MOBA and Battle Royale. There are so many things I gained from my gaming experience: meeting players from all over the world, developing in-depth relationships with them, establishing and leading groups/clans, help “noobs” learn, and etc.
My favorite part about gaming is the strategic aspect: there are so many factors involved! The abilities of the in-game heroes you choose, teamwork, geographical factors, your opponents’ mentality/psychology, when to retreat and when to attack… Players need to put all of these things into consideration when coming up with an in-game strategy… Isn’t that pretty awesome?
I wrote a ton of blogs with strategic plans of my own design (I uploaded the majority of them on WeChat, a Chinese social media app, which also gives me international experience!) some of them even got millions of reads, which I still can’t believe…
Anyways, I am definitely not commenting JUST to tell you that I am confident in proving you wrong… I don’t think a lot of the other gamers had the same experience as me. However, I thought that it would be cool to share my perspective with you!
Sorry for this huge comment! Cheers!
Sara Nolan says
I emailed you but of course I want to see this essay and I am sure my readers do too! Please share. 🙂