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The Strange Joys of Not Gaming

posted on December 14th, 2010 by jake

Video games have always played a large role in my life. Some, my wife included, have drawn the conclusion that video games take up too much of my time. I’ll freely admit that I have a problem. It apparently could be worse since I have never played Shenmuie or however one spells that awful transliteration and if I did I would apparently love it so much it that it would devour my very being. So I got that going for me.

Thrust into a position where I have no television, no console and a laptop that struggles to run The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I find myself looking from the outside of the gamer community in. Having spent a few months in this position, my primary result of electronic entertainment deprivation is this: Being cut off almost completely from video games is weird. Really weird.

Stranded in the Middle East, I find myself unable to keep up with video game news or events. I have no idea what was released last week or what will be released next week. Fallout: New Vegas, one of my most anticipated plays of the year, is still not in my possession. I have not read any reviews of it nor have I seen any videos. It will remain out of my possession for the foreseeable future.

Months ago, I wanted to play New Vegas so bad it hurt. I wanted to experience all of the new things offered in one of the most familiar and beloved game worlds I have ever set foot in. I desperately desired to jump on this bus and ride it for as long as it would take me. And yet life goes on. I don’t actually know if I am missing anything by missing this bus.

Entertainment, it seems, is just entertainment. I’m not really having withdrawals from my digital addiction. I don’t have the passion or the love for video games that I had only months ago. I could go right now and buy New Vegas for my computer and have it shipped here within two weeks. But I haven’t done that, and I doubt I will.

There is something very First World about video games. They are an enjoyable way to escape the monotony of day-to-day life in a stable and sterile living environment. Video games are very much a product or symptom of suburban living. I normally enjoy the Fallout games because I can step out of them at any time. So what happens when you actually find yourself trapped in a violent gun-filled desert wasteland filled with horrific abominations?

For me, the illusion becomes too close to the permanent. This is certainly not a universal truth.

On my last deployment overseas my unit had a healthy and thriving LAN FPS group that played at least two nights a week. The games that they enjoyed the most were the most realistic shooters, ones with familiar weapons and settings they had actually experienced. They were well-versed in the lingo of the games they were playing. I did not have any desire to participate.

Respawning in awesome. It is also a fictional concept that allows for bravado and hubris that would otherwise end badly in a more permanent environment. For those who did rock the FPS games last time, it was a way to blur the line between the laws of entertainment and the laws of horrible reality. Fake death was a source of fun and a way to relieve stress from the ever-present threat of real death. That tightrope was eventually snapped. A rocket cell moved into our AO and suddenly very real weapons systems were disrupting the enjoyment of very fake ones.

The group slowly just stopped getting together. Their immersion was shattered for good. Being shot at in real life is far more exciting than it is in a video game. But excitement is not always a good thing.

Even bubbly cutesy video games lose their lustre when surrounded by abject poverty and almost unfathomable violence. Simple graphics and clever game mechanics just don’t seem so neat. Time becomes a precious commodity when one’s permanence and worth to the universe as a whole comes so starkly into question.

I still find some time for Oblivion, because the worst experience in war is one of trapped boredom. Oblivion is different enough from my reality, if only just barely. Fireballs and demons and concrete lines between good and evil make it a fun way to escape the vast sea of gray areas, shifting alliances and roadside death that hangs over Iraq. And I end up reading the books lying around the game world much more than I did before when I played it. Fantasy worlds wrapped in fantasy worlds with simple endings.

I think my ambivalence to gaming is more of a symptom of how I handle the stresses of life rather than it is any sort of blanket statement. And, as I adjust more to the current realities of my situation, I may very well change back to what I was. It isn’t just video games I have walked away from. Movies and television have both suffered similar fates. Music, for whatever reason, has not. I think I am currently searching for things that speak more to my soul and less to my pleasure centers.

When great change and enormous weight are placed on some, they dive into fantasy. Others lose all passion for it. Right now I am firmly in the latter. And it feels weird, to be sure, but it also feels really good. Fantasy is a great way to escape, but it offers very little in the way of positive things to hold onto.

I do not look forward to getting back to my PS3 or my Wii. I look forward to getting back to my wife and kids, my friends and family. I look forward to going places and meeting people and having conversations worth having. I miss the taste of rum and the joy of going wherever I want whenever I want.

I do not miss my video games. And that is so weird to type.

I’ve spent a lot of my time working on finishing my book, and I have succeeded. Go check it out at www.thecircusnovel.com if you feel so inclined. All proceeds go to a good cause, because creating a positive difference in this world seems like the most important thing I can spend my time doing right now. Then when done with that, maybe just this once go out and do something you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. Or just go get a cup of coffee and drive around and enjoy your freedom to leave your console at any time and do whatever you want. Or start a book that will be even better than mine. You know you have it in you.

There is nothing wrong with gaming, nothing at all. But there is nothing wrong with doing other things, too. Find a balance. Rock it to its rocking conclusion. Try to change the real world as much as you’ve shaped the fake ones you love so much. Or don’t. It is all gravy in the land of biscuits.

3 Comments

  1. Cunzy1 1 said on December 14, 2010:

    Hey Jake, nice post and I agree a lot with what you are saying. For me, playing video games is the only time of the day I’m not working for somebody else.

    I spent some time in Africa, I took a DS along but never felt compelled to play it apart from at airports. God airports are the most boring thing in the world.

    Part of me does feel sad that although sometimes I think gaming is more than just escapism, sometimes it is just escapism. Escaping the routine without lifting a finger.

    Insightful post, certainly better than all the other shit on here recently.

  2. christian said on December 15, 2010:

    Maybe I should take a break then.

    This is the kind of post I love, even if it makes me realize I’ve done nothing with my life.

    This is similar to when people get away from the internet for a period of time, and actually feel better. Some of the comforts of home can be nice, but we let them take over. Most people feel better when they take time off from the ‘net because they start to see the real world again now that they’re away from the virtual world.

    There was a time, as a student, when I could very much play at least SOME type of game every day of the week. When I could no longer do that, I got hot and bothered about it. I had to step back and understand that the reason wasn’t that I was simply “busy”. A lot of my time was instead devoted to other forms of entertainment, or honest to goodness social interaction. It did a lot of good. Gaming becomes less stressful, and less costly, when you make it just one part of your life, which you may or may not get around to all the time.

  3. Marie said on December 15, 2010:

    Wow. Your comments on gaming as a clear product of living in first world suburbia really made me think. It really does speak to the stability of our lives here that we could spend so much focus on something so intensely leisure (as in, having no tangible end result- even my papercrafting has, at least, a tangible end result).

    It’s always boggled me that deployed soldiers would choose to play FPS’ together, but I guess I had somehow never considered how it would be like life without the scary permanence for them.

    It is inspiring that all of you can continue in a land so alien. And by alien, I’m not referring to the fact that it’s another part of the world with a different culture and language. I’m referring to “alien” in its entire change in personal safety, something that we can take for granted and which is core to Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. It’s undoubtedly difficult for the natives, but it’s impossible for me to imagine making that transition from living in a place where you can safely walk down the street to living in a place where that simply does not hold.

    I wish you and your colleagues all the best. What you do is incredible.

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