Monday, March 16, 2009

A Letter to Gamers Concerning Gaming

Dear fellow gamers,

Since I lost my job nearly a month ago, I’ve noticed a few changes in my life. Specifically, what I’ve chosen to do with all the new free time during the day, alone. Had you asked me a week before I was laid off what I would do with my day if it was all up to me, I probably would have said, sleep, watch TV, and play videogames. And for a little while that was the case. Along with the chores I had set out for myself, there were pockets of the day devoted to laziness and gaming in that order. But that changed.

The longer I went without work, the less and less I even thought about playing something. The last few days I have only turned my XBOX on to watch movies from my laptop on the TV and talk to my friends. I just don’t want it anymore. The very idea of playing a game, a modern game actually, just kind of makes me wrinkle my nose.

Maybe it’s a phase, maybe it will pass, but there is a big part of me that hopes it won’t. A part of me that is whispering in the back of my head, “Finally, now we can really get something done.”

I wrote an article for Gamers With Jobs a little while back called “A Fundamentals Flaw.” In it I played devil’s advocate a little bit and compared gaming to alcoholism and substance abuse. Trying to point out that the line between those categories is so thin it’s practically transparent. Now, as my day is laid before me and I am the one who chooses the agenda, I think of gaming, and I can’t help coming back to the comparison.

I’m not sure exactly when I started using gaming as distraction and escape from reality. Maybe from the very start. But, that is what I’ve been using it for. Yes, it’s fun. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, it’s satisfying. But so are a thousand other things I could be doing. A thousand other things that wouldn’t allow me to so easily and totally forget where the hell I am or what the hell I have to go through on a daily basis.

I was literally living a lie. Purposely, with full understanding, and for pure pleasure. Letting myself become so immersed and hoping that when my brain records the experience it would forget the HUD and the controller and the subtitles and it would be a real life memory. I wanted the experiences from the box to be real for me, so I just kept pushing in deeper and deeper hoping to wedge myself into the rabbit hole permanently.

The first sign that I might be coming out of a decade’s long haze was the guilt. The horrendous nagging in the back of my throat when I’d look at the box plugged into my TV and think, “I really should be gaming.” It’s not the first time I’ve had thoughts like that, but, it was the first time I’d ever had a repulsive reaction to them. I SHOULD be gaming? No, no I shouldn’t. I SHOULD be doing something I want to do. If that’s gaming, so be it, but right now it’s not. And I shouldn’t make myself feel guilty about that.

It’s stupid. It makes me feel like a stupid person, and that directly flies in the face of all the things I do on a daily basis specifically done to trick myself into thinking I’m NOT a stupid person.

This idea that I was somehow falling down on the job infuriated me like it never had before, and it forced and ultimatum into my brain. I can either have one real life that I live, or, hundreds of fake ones that I play. Dramatic, yes, but I’m a dramatic person, and that’s the way it has to be.

I’m not completely oblivious to the correlation between my lack of gaming going along with my new lack of a hell hole job, but, if I don’t feel like playing because I don’t have to go back to that place again, that just seems all the more damning for gaming as a past time. Forgive the replacement, but, if I had just written a letter about how I had finally quit drinking after losing my shitty job you’d be congratulating me.

“That’s fantastic! I’m so happy for you! Your wife must be thrilled! Keep it up!” Hoping the entire time that a new job won’t see the relapse of my dirty old habit. And I’m right there with you.

Of course, I can only speak for myself on this one. People are different, so they can handle things in different ways, but, speaking for myself, I have had other vices. One I can control and another I’ve had to quit. And as far as the results of quitting go, gaming has had almost an identical result as when I cut down on drinking and quit smoking. I feel better, there’s less strain on relationships, more time for my own projects. Life just gets a little easier.

There is one big difference between those vices and gaming, though, and I think it’s very important to point out, because it could be the distinction that disqualifies games from this entire argument. I quit smoking, but I didn’t quit gaming. It just became unappealing to me. Suddenly and for perfectly reasonable reasons. Anyone reading this who has ever quit cigarettes knows that the act of becoming a non-smoker is anything BUT sudden and perfectly reasonable. They would also know that there isn’t ONE day you quit smoking. You quit smoking every day of your life after the first day you succeed. Each sunrise is a new opportunity and refusal. It gets routine after a while, but, it’s still there. Always. Tugging at your shirt tale.

The lack of gaming hasn’t been anything like that. I just had a change of heart. I don’t want to do it anymore. It just seems silly to me lately. Like someone handing me a hula hoop and thinking I will be perfectly entertained for hours with this device.

Another difference is that I haven’t had to find something to take the place of gaming. I chew gum like a spokesman for Wrigley’s when I want a cigarette. But when the gaming stopped my other interests rushed in like the Red Sea collapsing around Yul Brynner.

I’m watching TV shows that I’ve wanted to catch up on or start. I’m watching movies from 2007 and 8 that I missed. I’m reading again, like actual books, with paper and everything. And I’m writing all the time.

I made this goal for myself a couple years back that I was to try and write at least 500 words a day of anything I felt like jotting down. Absolutely anything. 500 words. Less than half a page most of the time. And it was lucky if I hit that in a week sometimes. I would have bursts of inspiration and take down a big chunk of something. But my graph of work was one of great peaks and valleys.

Lately, it’s been an ever rising plateau of carpel tunnel inducing compulsion. Multiple projects at once, writing for no person or entity in particular, entertaining the slightest brainstorm with at least a full page of notes. I’m writing like I did back in middle school only now it’s a little less kindling and a little more passable as human speech.

But, of course, I’ve had these kinds of epiphanies before, about lots of different things. And in the end I just end up doing whatever feels right. A feeling that WILL change constantly through my lifetime. So hopefully in a week or a month when I have a new job and a new set of ridiculous responsibilities, I won’t have a new set of games to play. But I probably will. Actually I fully expect to be right back into it by the time I put this letter out on the internet.

I understand that right now I’m in a transitory period, and that state of being usually creates new perceptions of life. I also know that “new” perceptions aren’t the same thing as “correct” perceptions.

I guess I just want this on record for the period of time I still feel like this. To state that since I’ve stopped playing videogames, the feeling that I’m wasting my potentially short life isn’t gone, but it’s substantially lessened. I want you all to know, especially myself when I read this in the future, that while I don’t demand that you throw out your games and start laying out venison on the highway while wearing leather clothes, I do implore that you examine how they fit into your life. They are fun, and sometimes they take away the pain, but so does Oxycodone. And you wouldn’t make time each night for that, would you?

Just food for thought intended for a group of people that pride themselves on their obsession with removing themselves from reality, posed to them by a card carrying member of their group. It’s not enough for me anymore to just like something. I need to know WHY I like it, and if I don’t know those reasons, or don’t like those reasons, then change should be a priority. Whether it will be, whether I even still want it to be now that I’ve written all these words down, hell I don’t even know.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
Can’t ever remember if it’s better to be on a wagon or off of it.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

Sounds sort of like a love/hate letter.

And even if you get back into gaming, that road you paved had good intentions.

I enjoy your posts, by the way.