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It's a feeling that never fails to come upon me as the dawn of a new year approaches. I step back and take a look at the game or two family members were kind enough to gift me at Christmas, I ponder the ever-growing backlog of titles both physical and digital just waiting to be played and I finally have to wonder: Is this the year I step away from gaming?
There's something about Jan. 1 that gets everyone thinking about grand, sweeping changes in their lives. We start making resolutions, and we may even live up to a few of them. We start to reminisce about the past 12 months and wonder what the next 12 have in store for us. We wonder how we can make the next year, as well as ourselves, better.
I realize that those past two paragraphs combine to make it sound like me without games would somehow be a better me, but there's a very good reason for why that is. I'm in my early 30's, which means I grew up in the 1980's, when video games were just coming into their own. It was a magical time when you could boot up the Nintendo Entertainment System and you could go on an adventure with Mario, Link or Samus. I'd say something curmudgeony like “Those were the days” but, let's face it, not much has changed for the Big N after all these years. They still rely on the same formula with the same cast of characters and, you know what? That's quite alright.
Anyway, with video game consoles becoming more commonplace, my generation's parents saw those crazy machines that you plug into the television as little more than expensive toys. And, to be fair, that's basically what they were at the dawn of the era. I'm not saying that adults couldn't have just as much fun with an NES, just that all of those simple graphics, upbeat chiptune tracks and endless beeps and boops didn't exactly scream “I am a sophisticated piece of machinery that can be enjoyed by all ages.”
So, yeah, I grew up in a time when game consoles were seen as mere toys and, no matter when you grow up, “toys” are things you are expected to grow out of. By middle school, everyone I knew was playing video games. Once high school rolled around, it was officially seen as one of those nerdy pastimes; something only loners did or guys and gals who had simply not grown out of them yet.
“Aren't you a little old to be playing video games?” Those words were never really spoken by my own parents (They'd actually play with my brother and I from time to time), but it was definitely something that I heard on a regular basis from classmates, teachers and other adults who visited the house and saw me entranced by something like Metal Gear Solid on the OG PlayStation. What's funny is the fact that games like MGS were some of the first to come along and make the argument that more adult experiences could be had on these devices but, by then, our culture's minds was made up when it came to video games' place in the grand scheme of things. That is, to say, in the toy box.
Obviously, the 90's kicked off a huge change in the general perception of video games, which was further strengthened here in the early stages of the new century. I'd argue that most people (at least of my generation and younger) have come to accept games as a legitimate form of entertainment not unlike books or movies. Sometimes they're goofy as hell but, then again, so is The Big Bang Theory or a Will Ferrell movie, yet nobody is questioning their validity.
To put it more simply, I grew up in a time when games were seen as something you were supposed to grow out of, and that's a mindset I still can't seem to shake to this day. As much as I beat the drums for games as a legitimate form of art and entertainment, there's still a nagging voice in my mind arguing that it's time to put them aside and shift into more “adult” hobbies like, um, gardening or, uh, businessing?
To this day, some of my older colleagues like to tease me about the fact that I still play video games. At the very least, they can't seem to avoid that sarcastic tone when speaking with me about them. They'll ask me about a game their kid is playing or a commercial for something they saw on TV and then roll their eyes as I explain it to them. They'll bring up a news story they saw about games and then battle a grin as I try to discuss what is happening in the industry. Knowing that I write about games, the question I hear most often is “How much 'news' can really happen in that industry on a daily basis?” Don't bother explaining that games are a bigger industry than movies, with more teams working on projects than could possibly be reported on, because that's when their eyes start to glaze over.
So what's my usual defense when someone asks me why I still play video games? Without asking them what they do with their own free time, I usually say that I simply can't imagine going home and tuning out for three hours of television on a nightly basis. That tends to get a look of embarrassment or guilt because they grew up in a generation when television was the silly little distraction and, barring any other interests, that's what they likely do when they get home from work. Not so subtly explaining that my hobby is no more of a waste of time than their own usually brings the conversation to a screeching halt.
Still, smug moments like that aside, I can't help but hit this time of year wondering if it's time I, at the very least, throttle back on gaming. It's not something I'd ever give up, but I'm one of those people who feels like they need to experience every damn drop of it. I'll fly through Dark Souls II in a hurry to move on to Bravely Default or the latest Battlefield. Rather than take my time with games and really let myself sink into their worlds, I move from one to the next in a state of fear that, if I don't keep playing at that rate, I'm going to miss out on something important.
It's silly, I know, but it's how I feel. I'm too busy thinking about what's coming next, or what I have sitting in the backlog, or what I simply missed out on, to really enjoy what I'm playing in the now. Clearly, giving up games is not the answer. It's something I love and something I do not just because I'm paid to write about it. But maybe this year's resolution should be to take more time with the games that I have and really enjoy them.
My family hit it out of the park this Christmas, surprising me with copies of GTA V and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Those are two games I specifically side-stepped because I knew how long they are and how deep they'd sink their hooks in. In other words, they're two games I didn't play because I feared I'd enjoy them too much and, thus, miss out on even more games in the interim.
Clearly, that's not the way a person is supposed to be experiencing their favorite hobby. Here's hoping that's something I can work on in 2015.