I am constantly making lists for just about everything I do, and my gaming habit is no exception. For most of my life, I have kept lists of the videogames I wanted to play. Any game that interested me, whether I played it for a while, or just read or heard about it, and whether or not I could play it with the hardware I had didn’t matter; these were simply lists of any game I would conceivably like to play in the future, figuring that at some point I’d get around to all of them, thus establishing a sort of library, a list of experiences I’ve had.
The fact that I used to sit in my room reading magazines or browse the internet dreaming up all the videogames I was going to play is some serious bored suburban white male privilege shit, but dream I did. Videogames fueled my imagination in much the same way books did and my head was always swimming with epic tales, magic and beautiful, impossible landscapes.
While I enjoy the act of play itself, part of my love of gaming was wondering about the experiences I could engage in, what vivid worlds there were yet for me to explore. These days it’s more about plain, boring reality, what with a full-time job and other goals and activities in my professional and social lives. In my youth the only thing preventing my gaming habits to becoming basically a full-time gig was school and the limited access I had to games due to being on a child’s salary. Now I have a full-time job, an apartment to take care of, and my parents refuse to move to Baltimore to do all my laundry and cooking so I have that to deal with too. And yet my list still grows, despite having a very limited amount of free time and still being on a child’s salary. Gaming has essentially become a source of anxiety for me. The list has gotten so long and my fear of missing out has begun to supersede my actual enjoyment of playing a game. I feel as if I no longer sit down to enjoy a game, but I frantically try to complete everything on my list, fearing whatever time I spent on one game was time I wasn’t spending with another, possibly better one. How am I supposed to go to my grave a complete human if I have not even played Braid yet? Huh?! Answer me that!
Especially in the last two console generations, there have been a lot of changes in the world of gaming which made my list of longed-for experiences expand greatly:
- New emulation tools which allow gamers to play games from any console with a single machine, requiring much less investment and much more convenience than it would to buy all the separate systems.
- A trend for expanding gaming experiences as much as possible to give customers the most “bang for their buck.”
- Increased processing power and software development tools, which increased not only the breadth of what was technically possible in videogames, but also the ease and rate at which they can be produced
- Expansion and development of the internet, which opened the door for:
- More expansive online gaming
- Extensive gaming communities, providing meta-gaming experience and thus more depth to a game’s experience
- The coming-of-age of the independent game development community through online communities and digital sales venues like Good Old Games, Steam, XBox Live and the Playstation Network
- Those same digital sales venues offering huge lists of games for affordable prices and immediate access
The overwhelming breadth of choice is a common issue in our society today, a by-product of the quick development of data networking and available access to different media and experiences. When everything is available to you, how do you choose what you spend your time with? And what is important about the things you <em>do</em> spend time with? With so much out there that you could never possibly experience all of it, how do you justify spending any extended amount of time on any one thing? These are difficult questions to deal with for a person with a completionist mentality, which was partly nurtured through my gaming habits…you ain’t shit until you get to level 99, collect the best weapons, beat all the side quests and hidden levels/monsters, mod the game so that every action is harder than passing a kidney stone and beat it with solo Cait Sith.
Now there are really good games coming out all the time, and just about everything you could want becomes available at some time or another through a Steam, GOG or Humble Bundle sale. Having access to basically any game I could possibly want was, I once would have thought, the dream. Isn’t this how I imagined my life going when I was a kid without any thoughts about how I would feed myself the next day? Wouldn’t I have considered having the capability to play almost any game I could ever want the perfect life? I used to lay in my bed staring at the ceiling and imagine the perfect immersive gaming setup. I thought of a large screen flush with my wall across from a host of comfy bean bag chairs, a secondary screen in the ceiling above my bed for late-night sessions and drawers of consoles, cartridges and controllers rolling out from hidden compartments in my walls like some “Hey Arnold!” shit. Videogames were a deeply personal experience for me, and I imagined myself in a private world where I would have the freedom to explore and experience all gaming had to offer.
Maybe it’s the ennui of everyday living; maybe my tastes have changed since I was a kid; or maybe it’s the fact that Death is giving each and every one of us the constant stare-down and I’m now thinking that maybe spending up to eight hours at a time holed up by myself in front of a screen is not the best way to spend my puny, short existence and that maybe I’ve wasted a lot of my time. At any rate, gaming just doesn’t feel the same anymore. Perhaps part of the reason is I’m becoming jaded with gaming, overly critical and rarely impressed. The main reason is that I’ve let gaming become a to-do list instead of the captivating experience it once was to me. I’ve moved from a gaming model based on depth, where I would spend many hours with a single game, to one based on breadth, where I’ve been trying to play as many as possible, ending up enjoying just about none of them.
Gaming used to spark my imagination and I would get carried away, lost in the worlds of the games I played, exploring everything there was to offer. Lately I have had a difficult time fully experiencing games. I constantly check my progress rates and evaluate if I’m “having enough fun” to justify spending as much time as I am on a certain game, worried that the next game on the list might be more worthy of my time. I also began asking myself if my gaming habit as a whole was worth it, or if it was something that I ought to outgrow at this point in my life. After all, surely there are more noble or useful ways I could be spending my time, I thought. Why not devote myself to studying, or creating art or music, or volunteering, or…anything, really? How much of my life, I started thinking, have I <em>wasted</em> on playing videogames?
So I’ve decided to explore my questions head-on through a writing project. I came up with a plan to play all the games that I still wanted to and write about every single one, using as a guiding light the questions I was asking myself about gaming:
- Why are videogames special to me?
- What makes videogames worth or not worth the time I spend on them?
- What have I learned from gaming or how has it influenced me?
- What, to me, makes a good game and what makes a bad one?
I created a file on my Google Drive entitled “The Last Games List You’ll Ever Need,” a decided contrast to the endless scores of lists I had before. This, I decided, was my master list, and I would either get through it or give up on gaming altogether.
I’m undertaking this project because I love gaming too much to let it become a source of frustration and self-loathing. I don’t want to simply decide that gaming was a poor use of my life and cut it out, because that would mean rejecting a huge part of myself. Videogames have shaped who I am, how I think, how I perceive the world. I don’t want to quit it, I want to understand it, and I want to know more about why I enjoy playing and what that means to me. I’m determined to let videogames open up my mind again.
– – – – –
It’s not likely that there will be any sort of regular updates, as some of these essays may be quite long and take a while to write, while others will be shorter. It also depends on my gaming progress.
Here is my in-progress list. Games can and will be added and removed along the way. Highlighted games are either undecided or considered for removal.