Two years ago, I was a fairly one dimensional gamer. I enjoyed 4X games on the side, enjoyed PC FPS and RTS… but my heart and soul belonged to MMOs. From punching the wall when dying one too many times in Everquest as an emotional 17 year old, to dumping a girl over World of Warcraft at 24, I was dedicating–easily–30 hours a week to MMO games. Yikes. A second job. That didn’t pay.
Then I burned out. And suddenly, I had free time again. I filled it with other video games, of course, but also structured my personal life better. It was no longer a rush to get home, shovel food in and get raiding. I had thought that perhaps I had finally grown up. I was no longer showing up to work as late as possible to make up for another late night of WoW. My free time was no longer beholden to a guild.
Fortunately, that changed when Halo 3 came out, and I realized that I hadn’t grown up as much as I thought. Late nights have again started cropping up, mainly because my play schedule rotates around two friends who can’t play until their wives go to bed. I find myself groggy at work and craving caffeine of some sort a few days a week. Perhaps I still am (thankfully) an undisciplined child.
But at the end of the day, real life has started to take its toll. Work has become a compelling focus of my life, empowered by an amazing job that eats up hours (and requires travel). Taking care of myself as the waning metabolism of the mid 20’s hits–exercise, hitting the gym, etc, competes with gaming time more than ever. And yes, kids in your early 20’s, the metabolism does slow down at 25, and goddamn does it suck. These little tradeoffs make me wonder–is this the beginning of the end for me as a gamer?
Ask me two years ago where I think I’d be gaming, and I’d probably tell you things wouldn’t change. But they have. The good news is, I’ve adapted to my new schedule in some very gaming-positive ways. I finally broke down and bought a DS. All of my work travel and the desire for a strong-batteried time killer sent me down the path of Nintendo (aka Satan). Although my game collection is rather limited, including FF6 (buying it for the hojillionth time), Magical Starsign and now Etrian Odyssey, my hope is that there will continue to be reasonable RPGs for the system which don’t make me overly use the gay stylus. Civilization Revolutions, when it hits DS, may join the collection as well.
I’ve found a social way to MMO, without selling my soul, through Eve Online. A unique skill system which doesn’t require me to play to advanced, combined with ridiculously cheap gold farming has allowed me to reap the benefits of playing an MMO without losing my sanity. It is a special case, and one I play quite casually. But I enjoy it nonetheless.
My biggest mainstays of gaming right now, DOTA and Halo 3, are both played with my friends. I’ve realized that what’s become most important to me is social gaming. I play DOTA with several remote friends, and it’s the way we keep in touch. Maybe we’ll evolve to something new, but it seems to be the only game we all have in common at the time. So we play it, I think, more for each other’s company than anything else. I have historically hated first person console shooters, yet my roommate plays Halo 3 religiously, and I wanted in. Then it turned out I was decent at Team Slayer, and the old competitive nature set in. If I don’t guard myself, I end up playing a little too much. But at least it’s with real life friends.
I enjoy Guitar Hero, but now I enjoy Rock Band even more. Why? Because my non gamer friends, who shudder at the thought of being an adventuring night elf or spaceship pilot are absolutely addicted to these games. The girl I’m currently dating loves to sing (she’s sung anthems before major sporting events, for the record), and although she hasn’t played a video game in years, has no problem picking up the microphone for a songs. The thrill of converting a non-gamer into gaming– even if for one game fills any hardcore gamer with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure, probably similar to the thrill Romans got out of crucifying Christians. Or feeding them to lions.
Looking at all of these things, what I find most exciting about my changing gaming habits is that I’ve found a way to make gaming complementary to my life, as opposed to destructive and invasive. MMO end gaming was too consuming. It’s a “young man’s” game–for people in college or just out with endless time. Or maybe for someone who’s a total loser. Sure, I made new friends, but it cost me too much. That sort of behavior is what freaks out non-gamers, parents, and spawns hilarious South Park episodes. It stereotypes gamers with a reputation that is perhaps deserved. Sure, plenty of people can play in moderation, but plenty of people can’t.
Today I game smarter. I’ve reached out into portable gaming with a vengeance, because it fills the time I spend commuting, both by land and air. Time that would be dead to me otherwise is reclaimed by a passion I’ve had since I was 3. I’ve realized that friendships–be they with gamer friends, or non-gamer friends, are what matter to me most in my life. And I’ve found games in all instances, ranging from hardcore Halo 3 to casual Guitar Hero, that bridge that gap and allow me to game and have fun with my closest real life friends. And as a geek and gamer, that makes me incredibly happy.
Is Golden Jew having an emo “coming of age”? Maybe. I’ll let you know when I’m done cutting my arm gently. Like any recovering addict, I fear I will discover a new MMO that annihilates my discipline and life balance. I could be teetering on the edge of virtual oblivion. But I like to think that I’ve hit, at least for myself, a gamer-life balance that lets me try a new variety of games for a variety of situations. I know I’m not the only one who’s found this place, and I wish it was something that was written more about, as opposed to the usual anti-video game bile and drivel. So in 2008, let’s aim for two things: letting people know video games are healthy, and the re-legalization of non-race specific slavery.