Video Games and Me: I Can Quit Any Time

I have a complicated relationship with video games. They’re an excellent source of interactive stories, they can take me away from my problems when I need some breathing space, they can make me feel powerful, and they can help bring me together with people I’d otherwise have nothing in common with. At the same time, they take up a lot of time because they’re easy indulge in, they make it harder for me to write because escaping via gaming is easy than escaping via writing, and they can make it difficult for me to do the self-care things I need to do but do not want to do (like paying bills or eating properly or getting daily exercise). Managing my time investments when it comes to video games is always tricky and I probably fail more often than I succeed.

When it comes to video games, I tend toward extremes. Most weeks, I don’t play at all because there are things I need to do every evening like write blog posts, try to work on a book, pay bills and do chores, or take some time to let my mind calm down without anything else stirring it up. The weeks I do play tend to be in the middle of the month when bills aren’t due and usually involve me doing nothing but playing video games in my free time. When I manage to play on only same days in a week, I still stick to extremes. I’ll either not play at all during a day or I’ll do nothing but play video games during a day. I’m not very good at only playing for an hour or less before moving on.

I have well over one hundred games I’ve never played, thanks to Steam. That’s not a sizable amount, compared to many, but I haven’t actually bought a game I didn’t intend to play and, when I go scroll through my Steam library, I still want to play all of the games I’ve bought. However, there’s never enough time. If I want to work a full day with a little bit of overtime, I’m out of my apartment for 10 hours. Mark off another two hours for meals and hygiene,  two for blogging and social media (trying to build a twitter following is no joke), two for working out or exercising (and related clean-up), six for sleeping, and I’m down to two hours. Only two hours for whatever fun thing I want to do, for working on a personal project (like a book), or for doing chores each day.

That’s all the time I get in a day unless I cut down on sleep (like I did during NaNoWriMo), work less (which is also a thing I did during NaNoWriMo), or forego all responsibility in favor of taking as much time for myself as I can (which I did last night). This is why video games tend to wind up being entirely ignored or done to excess. It feels so good to leave everything behind and just play until my eyes feel sticky with exhaustion and I’m blinking at my cell phone’s display as it tells me that I will be getting up for work in three hours. Even now, I have to struggle to focus on writing this and not turning on my TV so I can play some Breath of the Wild or Skyrim on my Switch. I have to exit all of my game applications when I write because the call of Overwatch or my recent Borderlands run-through is too strong to entirely ignore when all I have to do is right-click an icon to start up a game.

I’ve made a habit of making the tough decision to ignore my desire for immediate satisfaction or reward in favor of doing what is best for my life in the long run. Loan payments get made, extra money gets tucked away for paying off loans, and I make myself work an extra hour or two every day so I’ve got enough financial padding to make it from month to month without worrying about being short for all of my bills at the start of every month. All of this practice goes out the window as soon as I start playing a video game. There is no stopping at a set time, or playing for only an hour. The best I can do is play only one match of Overwatch, but that’s generally only possible when I’m feeling burned out on my favorite PvP game.

Extremes work pretty well for me. I’ve made 79 blog posts in a row because I’ve made a rule that I’m not allowed to miss a day for anything. My most-successful diet was done by removing most food from my potential menu and allowing myself only certain meal plans so I made sure I got a balanced meal along with basically my target number of calories. 100% committed to whatever I do with no wiggle room to make excuses or try to justify taking a break. “Taking a break” is how every period of working out eventually fell apart. Playing no video games or nothing but video games seems to fit right into that habit. New games are my “taking a break” moments that result in me doing nothing but playing the game for a while. I played Clustertruck for 5 hours the night I bought and downloaded it. All I had planned to do was open it up and fidget with the settings, to see if I could donate it to the Steam arcade we’ve got at work.

The only game that doesn’t really cause the same problems is Pokemon, but I feel like the only reason it doesn’t is because I’ve conditioned myself to quickly fall asleep while playing it in a reclined position. I don’t have to worry about staying up too late playing Pokemon when I literally play it so i can fall asleep right away most nights. Rumor says there’s going to be a new Pokemon game for the Switch, so my conditioning will think it is different enough to let me play it for more than ten minutes at a time once it has come out…

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