As a kid, games were my world. I would sit in the glow of our now-ancient Amiga 500 for hours, engrossed by 16-bit sprites bouncing around the screen with primative animation. Only a 4- directional joystick and one button? No problem! Games like Golden Axe, Shadow of the Beast, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Castle Master and Bubble Bobble were my jam.
This hobby followed me through to adolescence. When my family bought their first PC, I remember excitedly clicking on the Games folder in the start menu, only to be disappointed to find the choices were card games like Solitare and Hearts. It didn’t matter, I played the hell out of them anyway.
And when one Christmas my brother and I unwrapped a Nintendo 64 with Goldeneye, I was a lost cause. We would spend entire evenings playing split-screen death matches, gunning each other down with sniper rifles, AK-47s and rocket launchers until our parents were forced to impose curfews on how long we could play for. I made sure to use every minute of my allotted time.
Slowly our game library grew. I remember the sheer elation on Christmas and birthdays when I’d be gifted another epic like Banjo-Kazooie or Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time to sink my teeth into.
Around the same time, our PC got upgraded and I began to play deeper, more complex games like Deus Ex and Baldur’s Gate 2. The family computer’s hard drive was soon filled up with these classics.
And when Nintendo released their follow up console, the GameCube, I had my money saved well in advance and bought it the day it appeared in the store.
But somewhere along the way, my interest began to wain. The games and controllers began to collect a fine film of dust and I would rarely buy a new game, even though I now had some cash to do so thanks to a part time job.
So what changed? Was it just typical teenagehood? That I was now more interested in hanging out with my friends, drinking and chasing girls? Had reality overtaken the video game world in my interests?
Certainly when I went off to University, socialising took up the majority of my free time when I wasn’t studying. I didn’t even bring a games console with me, though I still enjoyed late night, alcohol fuelled sessions of Mario Kart and Halo in my friends’ dorm rooms on occasion.
There were a few exceptions over the years – Batman Arkham City drew me in with it’s stylish recreation of the world of one of my favourite comic book characters. Portal 1 & 2 mixed witty humour with action and gave a great sense of satisfaction from problem solving. Plus they were both short, a bonus for my now minimal attention span.
I even managed to complete the first Dark Souls game, though I think I just took it as a challenge to finish what was heralded as one of the hardest games of that particular generation. It felt like a call-back to my Amiga days, when games were brutally unforgiving, shoving the “Game Over” screen in your face time and time again. I would defeat it!
But other than these titles, I struggle to think of any game in my twenties I played through to completion. I finally caved and bought a PlayStation 3 late into the console’s lifespan in order to play Grand Theft Auto 5 online with my friends. But within a month or so it too was gathering dust.
Hoping to re-ignite my gaming nostalgia, I purchased a flash-cartridge for my (still functioning!) Nintendo 64. With a bit of computer wizardry, I could download the console’s entire game library to one cartridge, plug in and play. Not only could I play those classics that had entertained me over 10 years ago, now I could play all the games I missed out on as well! But I just found myself scrolling through a vast list of titles, unable to settle on any one game for longer than 5 minutes. Most of the ones I had loved as a child had not aged well. The controls felt dated, the graphics that had been almost photo-realistic at the time were now laughable. They were still enjoyable, especially in brief multiplayer skirmishes with friends, but there was no way I was playing for hours at a time like I used to.
And so I came to the conclusion: Games just weren’t the same anymore.
It could be your typical case of I just grew up. But games were now a (reasonably) respected medium and there was no shortage of adults playing them. Many of my friends were still enjoying the latest releases and purchasing the newest consoles the day they appeared on the market.
Now I have the disposable income to purchase any console and game I wanted, a freedom I dreamed of having when I was young. But to do so seems unscrupulous. I feel like I should be doing something more constructive with my time, though I’m still happy to while away hours binge watching shows on Netflix or reading the Game of Thrones novels multiple times. Nothing constructive there.
In fairness, videogames do require much more commitment than a film or TV series. To see the ending of a game, you’ll likely have to play for 10+ hours and see the same content over and over depending on how often you die. A film can be enjoyed to completion in an afternoon. A TV series or book can be started and stopped at any time and does not require any skill to finish. By nature, videogames are a challenge as well as a story. This makes the medium of games unique, but also that much harder to commit to. You might get a sense of accomplishment at the end, but rarely any transferrable skills. When looking for a form of relaxation and escapism, it’s understandable why non-interactive entertainment just seems easier.
So I came to the realisation that I needed to change the way I played games. I also had to carefully pick and choose games that suited my desire for instant satisfaction accordingly.
Enter DOOM. The modern update of a first-person shooter series I had briefly played on my Gameboy Advance many years ago. DOOM (all caps please), didn’t waste time with a drawn out plot or complex gameplay to learn. You are the DOOM guy. There are demons from hell. Here’s some guns. Go kill them.
The simplicity appealed to me. So did the game’s play structure.
DOOM doesn’t require you to memorise any information or figure out where to go to next. Just blast one demon in the face with your shotgun and move on to the next. Combat becomes almost like a Guitar-Hero rhythm game, you never stop moving or shooting, except to occasionally get your hands dirty with a close up melee attack.
Each new checkpoint can be reached after about 5 minutes of intense monster slaying. After that I either switch the game off, or do some other brief task (household chores, answer some emails, maybe browse Reddit for a bit), before returning to the game world for more carnage. Rinse and repeat. After about 4 months I’ve still not finished the game, but I’m making progress one small satisfying bite at a time.
I’m hoping I can apply this approach to most other games. I’ve already had success with the Lord of the Rings hack and slash-fest Shadow of Mordor. Ten inutes play is usually enough to complete an objective, slay some Orcs and scratch my sword and sorcery itch. Sports and fighting games tend to be suited to this kind of short-burst play too.
My conclusion: video games are a great form of escapism, but entertainment should never feel like a chore. Just like you shouldn’t continue a TV series you’ve soured on or finish a book that’s lost your interest, life’s too short to allocate time to video games if you’re not gaining any enjoyment from them.
I think dismissing video games entirely because you feel like you’ve grown out of them would mean missing out on some truly great entertainment. It just might mean finding the right type of game or adapting the way you play to suit your schedule.
For me, games will probably never become the hobby they once were (the controller comes out maybe once a fortnight). That’s ok, I’m in no rush. There’s a huge back-catalogue of titles I’d like to try and they’re not going anywhere. The acclaimed Witcher 3 has sat on my computer desktop for months, I not sure if I’ll ever find time to delve into it’s 70-plus hours worth of content. I like to think when I’m old, retired (haha!) and with more free time maybe I’ll be able to dedicate 2-3 hours to gaming sessions. Until then, I’m happy slowly nibbling away at what’s on my plate.