Video Games

I’ve been playing video games for about as long as I can remember. My dad had an Atari 2600 before we were able to afford the NES that traveled with me whether I was at home with mom or at a weekend with my dad. At some point we were able to get a second NES to live at his place permanently and that pretty much cemented the reality since then that whenever I was at “home”, regardless of where that was, video game access was pretty much assured. Eventually we got an old Game Boy too and that was pretty handy on the long road trips we took at least once or twice a year.

Once they were firmly rooted in everyday life, video games became a really big hobby/pastime for me. A large part of what I did as a kid was either playing video games or reading books. Sure I’d go out and play in the woods or at the neighborhood pool like other normal kids during the summer, but you can only do that for so long before you get tired/bored and you come home to the flickering images of Mega Man, Link, Startropics, Tetris, River City Ransom, etc. etc. I’m sure all kinds of arguments could be made, but to me, they really beat the hell out of what was mostly on TV in the late 80’s and early 90’s. They were the perfect reward for finishing your homework after school as well and I like to think that my parents were probably happy to have a few hours of peaceful time to themselves at a time.

When you’re a kid you have way more free time than you either know or want to acknowledge. Even as I was making that transition from elementary school through high school and college, I was aware that I was having less and less time available to play, but I managed to make time as I wanted without any real effort. Even in college, I was able to find plenty of time for games and I was even working a part-time job and dating  as well having the whole college experience. Thinking about it now, how the hell did I have time to sink hours into all of the PC, PS2 and Dreamcast games that I did back then? Maybe that’s when I started getting an interest in honing a ruthless efficiency with my time.

Since I’ve moved to Chicago, there have been alternating periods where I either have spend more time playing video games than I’d care to admit or just none at all. I couldn’t say what the exact reasons are as they don’t seem to be contingent on what job I have, where I’m living, whether I was single or dating or anything else I can come up with.

The more I think about it though, I’m starting to realize that part of the thing about video games to me at this point in my life is that it’s not that I don’t have or can’t make time to play them, but that I have other things that I’d rather be doing. I ride my bike, I work out, I see my friends (and godson too now), I play board/card games with friends, I read, I do all kinds of stuff that’s generally more interactive than video games.

Part of me is really resisting the concept that I’m making less time for video games as I have no interest in giving up a hobby that’s been a part of me for so long, but it does become increasingly difficult to become even emotionally, much less temporally invested in new or even old releases when the volume of stuff coming out is as high as it is right now. I’m pretty ruthless in cutting down what is even ends up on a list, but there are no less than 8 games on my Amazon wishlist that I really want to play and some of them have been on there long enough to have “Game of the Year” editions come out meaning that they’ve already either sold 1+ million copies or they’ve been out more than 18 months. Crap, I just remembered that we’ve got a copy of Heavy Rain sitting around that I’ve been waiting to play with Sylvia as she was pretty interested in the story based on the demo. All this doesn’t include the downloadable games that come out frequently enough that there’s generally one every couple of months that I hold onto a demo in the hope that I can convince myself it’s worth my time to spend even $5 on a game that I likely won’t get to an end that I’m satisfied with. It’s all a little overwhelming to think about sometimes.

Something else to consider is that most of the games I’m interested in aren’t any shorter than 20 hours to finish and with the current generation of games that have trophies/achievements, there’s an extra layer that gets me to play a game more. Generally speaking, I do get a lot of enjoyment out of a game chasing down whatever it is that I need to get a full set of trophies for a game, but that has the side effect of taking longer to finish a game. Some games I’ve just given up as I know that the skill and time needed to accomplish this is beyond reasonable sanity or patience. I enjoyed the story and the first run through the game, but do I really have to grind for hours on end in Demon’s Souls for one specific enemy for one specific component just to craft a weapon you’re not going to use in a game that’s pretty hard already? Just for that little *ding* and icon popping up? No thanks, even if it is borderline addictive. Others are totally worth it though. Getting the last few trophies for Just Cause 2 felt great, even though I’d finished the story itself some 30 hours prior. The more challenge/fun involved and the less of a grind it is, the more likely I’m going to want to stick with a game till what I’d argue is the true end. Once you hit the point that the game has essentially told you there’s not much else to do, it’s easy to disengage and move on to the next game, assuming you have the time.

It’s funny rereading everything that I’ve written about this as I’ve inadvertently laid out pretty much the exact reasons and causes for why I don’t have as much time for video games. That said, I’m not upset about it, or at least not enough to really register. Sure it’s kind of sad that a hobby that I really enjoy isn’t something I can spend the time with that I used to, but I’m pretty happy with my life as it is. I think it’s just strange to me because reading and video games are the only hobbies that I’ve had and maintained for as long as I can remember and the reading at least still gets time even if it also has ebbs and flows. If you think about it, how many of us have hobbies that we’ve been largely engaged in for at least 20+ years. That’s a long time! Of course we’d be more than a little wary about even the slightest prospect of losing what could easily be considered part our ourselves.

Maybe that’s a bit too over the top, and besides, who knows what will happen with the inexorable march of time? I like to think that everything works out alright in the end anyway, even if it might not be what you want to begin with. I think I have some free time tonight. Maybe I’ll start to try and beat Ico in under 2 hours tonight. *ding*

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