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3 Bloomington-Normal gamers explain what makes video games appealing

Ryan Tauscher, Joey Rossi and Phil Chidester
Jack Podlesnik
Pictured from left to right: Ryan Tauscher, Joey Rossi, Phil Chidester

This is the first in a two-part series about Bloomington-Normal's gaming scene, which aired May 1-2, 2023, on WGLT's newsmagazine Sound Ideas. You can also read part two (about college esports).

The video game industry is one of the highest-grossing and most popular industries in the world, accruing $184.4 billion in revenue in 2022, according to a report by research firm Newzoo. Gaming has become a common hobby among people of all backgrounds. WGLT spoke with three local gamers and enthusiasts to find out why they like video games, and what the gaming scene is like in Bloomington-Normal.

Ryan Tauscher

Video games are defined simply as playable video media, according to Ryan Tauscher, co-owner of the video games and collectibles store The Item Shop in Normal.

The Item Shop opened in December 2021 and has since tripled its floor space. Tauscher said it’s a place for all kinds of people, gamers included. But he doesn’t consider himself a full-fledged gamer.

“I’d say I’ve always been more of a game enthusiast than an actual gamer,” said Tauscher. “I’ve always seen myself as someone that helps the community of the gaming world. So I think my place is mostly in finding routes for there to be a community for video gamers.”

Tauscher said the gaming community in Bloomington-Normal has various tastes and interests.

“[The Bloomington-Normal gaming community] is mixed. It’s very cool that it’s got all these different layers. There’s so many things you can do with video gaming. You can be a gamer. You can be a collector,” said Tauscher.

Tauscher added that video games can also bring people together.

“You have a lot of people who are able to connect with their kids, or their father, or someone — even an SO, someone that has very little connection to it, and it’s something you can share with them — or someone who has a great connection to it. And you’re able to really see that nostalgia in their eyes and play with them. It can definitely unite people, it certainly can,” said Tauscher.

Tauscher himself experienced video games bringing family together. He said as a kid, he grew up watching his big brother play video games. He was only allowed to watch, but it still sparked the passion for video games he holds today.

Double Dragon II: The Revenge
Technos Japan
Double Dragon II: The Revenge

An annual event for the gaming community to come together is coming up this summer. June 24 will be the sixth annual Illinois Game Con, started by Tauscher. It’s at the Interstate Center in Bloomington. With games for sale and trade, as well as free-to-play consoles, Tauscher said it’s a way to make gaming, a hobby that can often be isolating, more sociable.

“The convention has kind of been a way that I’ve been able to bring those people together and make it a fun, family-friendly event that brings people out,” said Tauscher. “You’re forced to see each other. You hear each other talk about certain things and you get in on those conversations.”

Tauscher’s favorite video game is Double Dragon II: The Revenge, released in North America in January 1990 on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s a side-scrolling game about avenging the death of the main character’s girlfriend.

Joey Rossi

Many gamers are college students, including Joey Rossi. He’s a junior at Illinois State University with a creative technologies major, minoring in speech pathology. In his major, he's tried creating some video games himself.

Rossi started playing video games with his dad at a young age, around 4 or 5 years old. But it wasn't until high school his interest in video games really took off.

That’s when one of the most critically acclaimed video games of all time came out. March 2017 saw The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild release to the masses for the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Wii U. Breath of the Wild follows the adventure of Link, who is resurrected and goes on an adventure to save Princess Zelda and defeat evil.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever made. The game caught Rossi’s attention — and soon the attention of his friend group.

He says part of his appreciation for video games is the ability for them to become social experiences.

“I feel like a lot of my friends from high school played that game too, so it was something we all could bond over and talk about — talk about things that we found in that game, and new things we were just trying out with that game,” said Rossi.

As a student, Rossi’s life can get busy. Managing an education, social life, video games and all other aspects of daily living can become a challenge. But Rossi said he’s found a balance. While he greatly enjoys video games, he makes sure to keep it a hobby -- along the lines of how others perhaps play sports or make music together.

“I feel like, for me, it’s more of like a fun pastime,” said Rossi. “I feel like it’s something that brings me closer to some of my good friends, and I feel like it’s a great way just to have fun with people.”

Rossi said he also enjoys playing video games with friends at the Esports space in ISU’s Bowling and Billiards center, playing games like Valorant and Mario Party.

Phil Chidester

Managing the intersection of education and video games can be challenging enough as a student, but how about as a professor?

Phil Chidester is a professor in ISU’s School of Communication. Video games play an active role in his job. He said they can serve as motivation to get through tasks like grading, but also mundane tasks in life like yard work.

“Sometimes, in my own head, I think of it as a reward for getting something done,” said Chidester.

Chidester grew up in Utah. As a young student, he was involved in multiple school activities like athletics and orchestra. On field trips, the bus made the occasional stop at the mall. That’s when Chidester and his friends would grab an Orange Julius, head to the arcade and take out their quarters. For him, that’s when the passion for gaming sparked.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Rockstar Games
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

His relationship with gaming was on and off throughout most of his life. He received a Nintendo Entertainment System in his 20s, enjoyed it, but would then stop playing. Later, he received a Nintendo 3DS for Christmas. His love for gaming was back on. And now, as an owner of many consoles and games, Chidester said video games are here to stay for him.

One of his favorite games is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It came out in 2004. The game is an open world, set in a fictional state reminiscent of the western United States. Like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s a game full of experimentation. And Chidester found out that if you steal a fire truck, you can put out fires across the city. He said that’s something that can help him relieve stress.

“If I need to relieve the stress by feeling like I can make a difference in the world when sometimes the world doesn’t let me feel that way, then I’ll steal a fire truck and put fires out,” said Chidester.

Some may consider playing video games a waste of time. But Chidester, who has done academic writings about video games, said that may be so, but the games still have value.

“I like to say that whatever we do in our spare time is, in essence, a waste of time,” said Chidester. “Somebody who would think that watching movies, or reading books, or having a flower garden, or building modern airplanes and battleships is taking advantage of our time in a more useful way is something that I wonder about. And I like to have those discussions.”

As an adult, Chidester is aware he could be seen as someone who hasn’t grown up yet because he still plays video games. But he said it’s just how he does things.

“We all have our way of making our way in the world, and that’s one that I’ve chosen,” said Chidester.

Jack Podlesnik was a reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.