Foreword: This starting off as a reflective look on why I play games, but it ended up hitting a little deeper than that. Just giving you fair warning before you jump in.
If there’s one thing that anyone who knows me could say about me, it’s that I like playing games. Sure I have other hobbies like books, comics and the occasional Sci-Fi movie, but video games are very much my passion. Over the past 20 years I’ve spent many an evening and weekend playing whatever new release or classic gem had caught my eye that week, and I had plenty of fun doing so. I don’t know exactly how many games I’ve played to completion over the years, but the last time I checked (about a half-decade past) it was well into the 700s.
As a few people might know, I no longer play J-RPGs. A few months before Final Fantasy XII was released I started reading about the gambit system and how it would make the game more “fun” by removing all the little niggly bits that you had to keep track of, like healing, resurrecting party members and oh, attacking the bad guys. That got me onto thinking about what was left in the game for me to actually play, and to be honest there wasn’t much. Like grinding for xp for hours before you could even think about taking on the Dark Aeons in Final Fantasy X it just seemed like it would have been a chore rather than a game. It’s the same reason I tend to get bored with MMORPGs after a couple of months, it eventually just becomes a slogfest where you spend hours upon hours completing the same trivial task so you can get strong enough to do a slightly different task in a completely different locale, and I really can’t be bothered with that style of play any more.
I picked up an XBox 360 a couple of years ago and was introduced to the idea of achievements. They made that little OCD part inside me light up with joy and I really got into trying to max out my gamerscore on some games. But as with MMOs, achieving some of these started to feel very much like a chore rather than anything resembling fun. There was an interesting article on Eurogamer recently (http://bit.ly/frDGkw) about someone else’s thoughts on the matter while they were jumping off cliffs over and over in Fallout New Vegas so they could heal up enough damage using stimpacks to get an achievement for healing 10’000 damage. Personally, I’m sick of playing games like this. I’m sick of having to feel like I should play game x, y and z of the series just because it’s popular, or just because it’s part of a series I’ve followed and just because every source I trust tell me it’s really, really good. I’m sure it is good and I’m sure I would enjoy it, but it’s really eating into my time in a way that’s just not feasible any more.
There’s an excellent podcast out there called “A Life Well Wasted” (http://bit.ly/ZvzP) which explores the niches of gaming and gaming culture, one particular episode of which was focused on why people play games. When it comes down to it, I guess I play games for a few reasons. I play them to unwind when I’m stressed, I play them to experience an enjoyable story and have a great experience, but I also play them at times because I know I’m good at games and when I’m feeling low I really, really want to do something I know I’m good at to help pick me up. The problem is I’m starting to feel like the main reason I play games now is out of habit. It’s starting to feel like a chore, like I’m not doing my job properly if I’m not cutting away at my backlog on a regular basis.
This is not meant to be a stab at video games, or even claim that video games are in any way bad. The same things could be said of any hobby taken to the same degree, be it books, stamps, movies, football, clubbing or anything else under the sun. I’m just finding that it’s gaming that’s taking too large a role for me to be happy with any more and I think that needs to change.
I’m not saying that I’m going to stop playing games either. I’m just not going to play them because of how much I enjoyed an earlier game in the series, or because I’d be doing a disservice to not play a particular classic gem. Instead I’m only going to play games that I actually feel an interest in playing at the time, and even that I’m going to try and cut down. I’m also going to give achievements a rest too and just focus on the experience. I might go back occasionally for some of the ones that sound like they’d be fun or an interesting test of skill to achieve, but I’m not even going to bother for the ones that’ll involve hours of grinding just for a small status symbol that no-one will ever see. I’m also still going to play games socially with my friends too. If I’m at someone’s house and everyone’s playing Halo then I’m sure as hell going to pick up a controller and join in.
On a more positive note this gives me a lot more free time to catch up with other things in my life I’ve been neglecting somewhat and even have a little time left over to focus into something different. Personally, I’d quite like to start making something. I don’t have any tools or areas to work in, but I’m finding MAKE a very interesting read during my lunch breaks and I think I’m going to keep my eye out for something which doesn’t require an abundance of tools and a large work area to get working. Building the “most useless machine ever” (http://bit.ly/8dQNqw) would be a fun start with an ironic twist that appeals to me.