Recently, I've been having a little bit of an identity crisis. For reasons that will take too long to explain, I've found myself in a place where I'm not really sure what I do or do not like any more. This applies to everything, not just games. Do I really like soccer? What about UFC? Am I really into the fantasy genre or is science fiction more of my thing?
Not wanting to fall into the trap of the extremes of opinion that Millennials fall into, I'm aware that while some of these will be very cut and dry, others will be a matter of degree. It's perfectly okay to just be kind of interested in something.
However, that doesn't mean that problems can't arise. As a working adult with responsibilities, there is only a certain amount of free time that I am afforded for leisure. It's virtually impossible to fit in everything you're interested in, and acting on mild interest can often have consequences.
Backlog. It's a word that many gamers know. Games you've bought but haven't gotten around to finishing or sometimes even playing at all. Mine was fairly ridiculous. It really hit home when I received the latest Xbox One update: 101 games installed, 121 ready to install. And that was just on the Xbox.
I realised that there was just no way in the world I was ever going to have enough time to play that many games. Even if each game was 10 hours -- and I had things like The Witcher 3 in there, so that's being very conservative -- if I played for two hours every single day it would take me three years to finish them all. That's not counting multiplayer titles, and it's not counting adding more to the pile. It was ridiculous.
Truly an embarrassment of riches.
So I just decided to consider them a sunk cost and decided to trim them down. I was honest with myself and uninstalled everything that I wasn't going to play and then hid everything from my ready to install list. I managed to get the number down to 60 games. Just under a year's worth of play at an average of 10 hours.
Still, there was a problem. When I sat down to play games, I couldn't decide on what to play. I'd spend ages hovering over each game thinking that I would boot it up, and never actually commit to doing so. What would come first? Did I want to really start it now if I could only spend two hours? Should I try and tackle these games now just to get them out of the way?
Wait a minute... get them out of the way? At first I thought I was suffering from overchoice and was simply trying to work out how best to spend my time. But then I thought to myself that surely I shouldn't be looking to just get games out of the way; shouldn't it all be about enjoying myself? If I'm truly having fun, surely I should want the experience to continue?
That's when it hit me: I didn't actually want to play these games, not really. If I did I would feel compelled to sit down and play them, I would look forward to doing so and would even go out of my way to set aside time to make it happen. But what was happening was that I had bought into the wrong ideas.
I had too much to play because as a gamer, I felt I should buy and play all the latest and greatest games, the ones that everyone else is excited about. I was falling for the hype, whether it was coming from marketing departments or other gamers. Everyone else is excited, everyone else is getting it, everyone else is on board, so I should be too, right?
Time to apply the breaks!
We are social creatures. We don't want to feel left out. It's why fads happen: people rush to join the fray and then things die off when the enthusiasm runs dry. Likewise, there's a certain thrill getting caught up in the excitement of an upcoming game, much like Christmas, and there's a certain satisfaction at a primal level that occurs when you purchase it. But much like Christmas, after the initial gratification things drop off very quickly.
I realised that the problem was that I was a compulsive shopper. I wasn't buying the games because I wanted to play them; I was buying them because they were hyped up and I felt compelled to join in and be part of the excitement.
However, because I didn't truly want to play these games I never really got very far in them. It was hard to motivate myself to play them because I didn't enjoy them. It was really like a chore. I was just playing them because I felt guilty about spending money on them and I needed to get my money's worth from them. I was literally sitting there, pushing buttons but not having fun just to check something off a list. Finished Batman: Arkham Knight; expense justified.
I had limited time and I was wasting it doing things I didn't really want to do.
So I decided to really cull everything with gusto. I thought that it would bring me some peace of mind. I sold my 3DS and my Wii U and brought my collections down to what I thought were the keepers, the games that I felt I truly wanted to play. Goodbye The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V! I tried to get into you, but you just weren't my thing. I ended up with about 25 games across both remaining platforms that I actually felt like I wanted to play. Problem solved, right?
GOTY for many, but I couldn't get into it.
Unfortunately not. I hadn't solved the first problem: I had still acquired too many games and didn't have enough time to play them all. I mean do I sit down and play No Man's Sky or Destiny? What about Madden? Mirror's Edge: Catalyst? Hatsune Miku? Uncharted 4? What about the Nioh and Titanfall 2 betas? Not to mention there was still the looming prospect of what was coming down the line. Even if I was super-stringent about what I was going to purchase, you're still looking at about six games for the rest of the year.
Worse, I owned two consoles that, for all intents and purposes, do exactly the same thing. Sure, there's a handful of exclusives for each, but nothing that I'm sure I couldn't live without if push came to shove. Surely it would be better to cull even further and get down to the essentials for everything.
But when it came to actually making the decision, I couldn't. I mean it's hardly Sophie's Choice, but I just couldn't find myself committing to a decision. I struggled with it for a while; I stewed on it for ages as it occupied my mind. I eventually realised what was happening: every time I went to get rid of something I was filled with feelings that would prevent me from moving on. Maybe it was nostalgia, memories of fond times with the franchise or brand, or maybe just the feeling I would regret it if I let it go.
I went around and around in circles until I thought I was going to go mad.
And then I watched something on YouTube that changed my thinking. It was a TED talk about minimalism. Two people talking about their lives before and after unrelenting consumption. One of them talked about how he boxed up everything in his life as if he was going to move, even his bed and his toothbrush, and then gave himself three weeks. In those three weeks, if he pulled something out of the boxes because he needed it or wanted to engage with it then he knew it was bringing value to his life. At the end of the three weeks, anything that he hadn't pulled out of the boxes was deemed to be something that wasn't bringing value to his life.
Sometimes, less is more.
I thought to myself about how that was exactly what I needed to do. I had reached a point where I didn't know what I really wanted any longer. So I would effectively reset myself, remove everything from my life (metaphorically, for now) and then reintroduce it as I had a need for it or the urge to use it.
With video games, it was simple: if I truly wanted to play a game then I would make time for it. Otherwise, I was still falling into the trap of being enamored with the idea of something and holding onto it for the wrong reasons.
I'd give myself more than three weeks, for sure. I think a period that short was brave if not impatient. But I realised I would have to be honest with myself and that if in two months I hadn't found the urge to play something then I probably didn't really want it as bad as I thought I did.
Nor would I simply just play lots of games in order to fit them all in. One of the things I'd also come to realise is that gaming had become my default behaviour. I would come home from work and that's what I would do even if I wasn't really chomping at the bit to play video games. No, I would only play video games if I wanted to. If I didn't, then it was time to fit in some of the other likes and interests that this will also help me narrow down in terms of importance to me.
In terms of new purchases, I would truly reflect on whether I wanted something before bringing it in to my life and I would be happier to wait before purchasing. How badly did I want the game? Was it dominating my thoughts or was I simply interested in it because it was there? Was I keen on it because it truly spoke to my tastes or was I interested in it just because it was the big game for the season and everyone was raving about it? If it was the latter, then I would learn to let it pass me by.
A collection this size is not an embarrassment.
I would also be honest with myself when I had finished a game. Would I ever really truly play this again? If so, sure, keep it. We all have things we like to revisit every now and then. When I'm feeling glum, one of my favourite films to watch is Predator. It makes sense to own it on Blu-ray. But there are many games that I know that are like the rest of the movies I've seen in my life: I only need to experience them once. When I'm done, it's time to move on and just keep them as a fond memory. I don't need to keep the game to keep that memory around.
In regards to having two consoles, it became clear as well: the exclusives that really mattered would reveal themselves to me because they would be the ones I would play first. Even if I wanted to play the other ones as well, the priority became clear. And on the off-chance that I didn't want to play any of the exclusives, well then I guess I could just flip a coin.
And so that's where I've found myself. Not flipping a coin, but emptying myself and slowly refilling it with the things that truly matter to me. It's both terrifying and calming, exciting yet also calming. There's a knowledge that I'll be freeing myself from needless consumption and expenditure while also maximising the amount of enjoyment I get from life. Sure, it might mean that I only end up with a handful of things in my life, but that's fine with me because it means that I'm enjoying everything to its potential and not spreading myself too thin. It's not a crime to have a collection of four video games.
My only hope is that it will be successful, will teach me better habits, and make me a happier person in the long run. I'll be sure to report back on that one. ;)