You might have seen that recent post from Master Dane on all our favourite games for 2015. I wrote a piece for that, but while writing it I realised I was a fraud.
Looking at other people’s picks, I realised I hadn’t played most of them. The biggest releases of the year passed me by like a Sunday afternoon, and I realised that I’d lost sight of what being a gamer was all about. Playing games. A caution to those looking for my usual helping of trolling, we’re going personal here. We’re going deep.
The dangers of gaming obsession
I have one of those obsessive personality types. One day I’ll decide I want a Smart Watch and I’ll spend the next three weeks researching every brand and model, devouring reviews, checking pricing at various online stores and reading forums.
Then after those three weeks I’ll lose interest and not even buy one. Which in this scenario makes sense, because Smart Watches are stupid and pointless. Trust me guys, I’ve done the research.
This personality type naturally sucks me into competitive games. So when I sat down to write about my favourite games of 2015, I had to wonder if I’d really played anything that wasn’t Counter-Strike. Then I remembered my Doom mod obsession which lasted a couple of weeks and sporadically recurred, and I earmarked the Wolfenstein prequel as one of the few “single-player” games in the last five years that’s managed to sustain my attention long enough to actually finish.
This isn’t new though. I’d say ever since I discovered the original DotA and got a stable internet connection, I’ve strayed further and further from conventional gaming, forsaking the latest and greatest to spend every waking hour playing whatever I’m currently obsessed with.
The tipping point for me was one I’ve discussed before on this site – League of Legends. There was a game where I became obsessed with climbing the rankings, to the point where I wasn’t really playing to have fun anymore. I would spend an entire Saturday grinding games and if I didn’t win those games, I’d feel full of regret and despair at the time I’d wasted, wishing I hadn’t played at all. Gaming shouldn’t be that way.
Once I had this epiphany, I deleted the game, and it was quite easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My life was no longer controlled by how many hour slots I had to fit in games, or obsessing over ranks or being unable to go to bed without getting at least two matches in.
Not long after that, I discovered Counter-Strike. Now Counter-Strike got a pass from me, and still does to some extent, because the local community is mostly awesome. People don’t flame you for having a bad game, people play together reasonably well and there isn’t this rabid obsession with winning – win or lose, you still enjoyed the game.
It was everything I liked about League of Legends – the competitiveness, the ranking system, the engaging gameplay – minus the toxicity and despair that comes with losing.
And yet, it was essentially the only game I played in 2015. Maybe that’s not inherently bad, but it does come with that certain obsessive element that can have a negative impact on your life. Instead of going out with friends, you play a couple of games. Instead of doing your work, you play a couple of games. 2015 was also the busiest year I’ve ever had work-wise, so I found myself slipping in these games wherever I could and neglecting things like proper diet, relationships, exercise. Not good.
Returning to an old friend
Some time away from Counter-Strike and a little perspective has done a world of good for me, however. I still love the game, I still play it, but now I play other things too. If I’m tired at 10pm, I go to bed – I don’t force myself to play a game or two so the day somehow isn’t “wasted”. If a friend asks me to go out for a drink, I go. And I’m always glad I did. If I get home and have an hour spare, I’m okay with using that time to tidy up the house or watch a show – I don’t need to use that hour slot anymore.
And, like the prodigal son, I’ve returned to an old friend – Diablo 3. Actually calling D3 an old friend is a bit disingenuous, when the game first came out I was extremely disappointed. After a significant part of my adolescent life playing Diablo 2 over and over again, discarding D3 after only a couple of weeks was painful.
But, as it turns out, the game is awesome now. The auction house is gone, the balance is better, multiple patches have added more content and more sweet, sweet loot and the game’s “Season” approach keeps things fresh and interesting. The story still sucks, but it doesn’t matter – I’ve fallen in love all over again.
The simple pleasures of marauding through mobs of monsters and collecting loot, completing quests and levelling up is intoxicating. There’s something great about being able to play for twenty minutes or two hours, being able to quit whenever you like, not caring about winning or losing or what your rank is.
D3 has made me appreciate what being a gamer is again. It’s not always about strategy and streams and subreddits. It’s not all e-sports and podcasts and competitive edges. It can be all of those things, but it can also be relaxing, it can be casual, it can be like reading a book or watching a movie, it can be something you do because you want to and not because you have to.
I’m going to buy The Witcher 3 next. And Tomb Raider when it arrives, and that fan-made Half-Life game, Prospekt.
I’m going to play all these things, and enjoy them – even if (when) I suck. I’m going to be okay with going to gym instead of playing them, I’m going to sleep when I know that I need to and I’m going to see my friends more.
And I’m never going to play League of Legends again.