motd.co: Games on Vacation

I’m currently staying at a friend’s house in Indiana. I lived with him here for a year and a half (well, in a different apartment for all but the last month and a half of it when he bought this place) so coming back to staying with him has a weird “home from college” sort of feel to it. I’ve been able to see friends and relax a bit in a space with central air, big sky and the convenience of big box stores with sprawling aisles and bulk food items. We’re eating poorly, I’m staying up late, and we’re playing games.

I don’t really play many games in New York. I can’t figure out why but for whatever reason I’m rarely in the mood to play a computer, video or board game. I have ongoing games of the card game “Ascension” on my iPad that I play asynchronously against people I know over the course of the day every day and I usually have some time-wasting iOS game that I fiddle with when I’m on the train or in line at the grocery store; currently that’s a silly Temple Run-style game called “Subway Surfers.” But multiple games that I really like have come out since I’ve moved to NYC and I haven’t felt a drive to play them; I’m constantly exhausted and the mental energy required to make progress in the games is just not what I’m looking for when I could be reading, watching a movie or TV show, or watching Magic: the Gathering livestreams instead.

Playing games, though, has been the primary identifying factor of my leisure time for probably 15 years. In middle school I knew I liked video games but falling in with a group in high school whose primary activity was playing video (and traditional) games kinda cemented my place in “nerd culture” or whatever you want to call it. Our shared culture was in Nintendo, Square, Hudson, and Capcom’s history; we pushed mainstream games to their limits playing things like Perfect Dark and Super Smash Bros for thousands of hours and maxing out stats in Final Fantasy games but also learned about and treasured oddball titles like the ones available during the Dreamcast and Gamecube’s heyday, adopting references and surrounding media (especially music) into our lives and all we talked about.

At one point in time after school I was playing a LOT of games. I bought new video games on a near-weekly basis, I followed blogs that exposed me to new indie titles but also discussed the merits of big-budget games and I deal-hunted for the right price on mainstream games that could keep me up on what the average person was seeing and experiencing in games. I taught myself to look for the details, to enjoy the mechanics and debate the place of narrative in interactive media. I went to conferences and wrote on a “video game blog” and considered my ability to advocate for particular games and why people should play them to be an identifying factor in my life, that that was a role I could fill for many people in my social circles.

I’m not sure that I got burned out on games so much. When I play a good game I still really enjoy it, although it isn’t often that I want to play one for more than a couple hours at a time anymore. For some reason I’m just not drawn to play them most of the time. When I am, it’s like nothing ever changed— I find games that test my mechanical skills and enjoy the challenge of finding the right timing or maneuver to complete its grueling objectives. I have found that I have less time for, and interest in, the kind of “big” games with sweeping narratives and character building and cutscenes and plot twists and all of that. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m making an effort to spend that mental energy on movies, which I find to be a really powerful medium, and books, a love affair with which I have been reigniting since kind of “falling off” from doing non-required reading during high school and college after growing up an avid reader.

I think in general the unwillingness to engage with games has something to do with my general mental health which has not been at its peak for the past couple of years and which only in the past few months have I decided to actually do something about. I’m not sure when things will be better but I’m hoping that when they will that I’ll have the energy for games again in a way that I used to. I find their ability to test me and surprise me in new ways awesome. I want to understand those strengths better and bring them into what I do with the web and software in general, not in a direct way, but with the spirit and playfulness that games seem so good at.