Time Keeps On Slipping

A while ago, I worked a 9-5 job with “expected” overtime.

More often than not, I was “expected” to pitch in some additional working hours. This meant I had fewer hours in a day to dedicate to gaming, but somehow I still managed to finish my fair share of games (and even string together a few words on most of them). There was a time when I was really dedicated and helped out with a mate’s LAN event, from set up to tear down. Damned if I was going to let a pesky job get in the way of my passion.

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to try teaching English in Japan, and I followed through and did just that. One thought that came to mind as I went through Immigration was, “Oh. My. God. Just think of the oodles and oodles of free time I’ll have to play all those games I started but never finished. Assassin’s Creed 2. Red Dead Redemption. That DLC for GTA4. Crackdown 2. Super Street Fighter IV. Ho. Lee. Shit. I’m going to be in gaming nirvana.”

Cue 9 months later. My work hours are far more relaxed, and my responsibilities are minimal. I get paid well and I’ve got all my consoles here, and a new rig built from scratch. But I’m no better off than I was in Australia.

New distractions have appeared in my life. Social events are far more commonplace. I’m travelling more. I’m studying more. I’ve met a girl and am spending more time with her. The more things change, the more they…something something.

I initially tried to make headway on the games I missed out on, but they were replaced with other newer, shinier titles. GT5. Killzone 3. Crysis 2. Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Bulletstorm. Shogun Total War 2. Call of Duty: Black Ops. Portal 2. Soon, my beloved backlog of older games looked less and less appealing. They were like pets I didn’t have the heart to look after anymore, forgotten and neglected, all but flushed down the toilet.

I believe such is the case with gamers as they mature. The abundance of free time and the need for more distractions are replaced by daily commitments and obligations. Dedicated gaming time is scarce and hard to find nowadays, like a diamond scattered in broken glass.

It doesn’t help when developers and publishes inundate us with new games on a constant basis. The popularity of gaming has increased since back in the day, and there’s big money to be made in this industry. Competition is fierce and cut-throat, while the customers are unforgiving and unrelenting.

The market knows this. Developers and publishers know our time is precious. They know we want to fully maximize our time away from our responsibilities, our children, our work and our bills. They know we want to be sure we’ll be entertained during those scant hours. Isn’t that why we read reviews and visit Metacritic?

So they entice us. They promise the world; games that will last forever and a day; games that are new and captivating and just like the last one but different in all regards; customizable; extendable; enjoyable. Photoshopped screenshots. Numbers upon numbers added to the ends of game titles. Identical formulas. Safe bets.

The ability to purchase their products is greatly streamlined – one can purchase games without the need to physically leave the house. Consoles offer services that are (for the most part) painless and straight-forward to use. Consoles are becoming more mainstream by the day. (My mother recently wanted to purchase a Wii simply because my aunt had one.)

So, in this tumultuous sea of sequels and high budget titles and previews and interviews and hype and gaming shows and collectors’ edition pre-orders, all of them screaming out in unison for my attention, trying to draw me away from my day to day life, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.

I just can’t keep up. It’s like drinking from a fire hydrant. I barely have enough time to get my money’s worth out of a game before a new one barges through the wall like a jar of Kool-Aid, screaming “OH YEAH” while attempting to steal my wallet. Borderlands was a game that got great mileage from me – I think I sank about 50+ playing hours into it, single-player and co-op. I haven’t even touched the DLC packs yet. How many other games could I have played in the meantime? How am I going to keep up with those gaming Joneses?

I take fewer risks as a result. I struggle to get into indie gaming. Braid and Shadow Complex were the two titles that really stood out for me, and that was because they were fluid, captivating titles that were based on proven mechanics and were well received. Would I be willing to invest time and money into a title that I haven’t heard of, in lieu of another title that is the sequel of a game I enjoyed?

Steam doesn’t help, either. Purchasing game packs containing several popular games at a heavily discounted price is more than tempting, but there’s the lingering thought in the back of my mind – “The time it will take me to finish these games will probably amount into scores of hours. Hours which I probably don’t have. And by then, there’ll be a hot new thing coming out, and everyone will be talking about it…everyone except me.”

It is just me? Am I the only one who feels like they can barely finish a game before three more take its place, like some terrible Hydra? Is there no hope in being a well-rounded gamer who has experienced a wealth of titles, unless I quit my job, live on unemployment benefits and spend the rest of my natural life trying out all these hot new releases while my waistline grows and my muscles atrophy? Should I be punished for taking my time in a game, martyred for enjoying the dialogue and the thoughtfully composed mise-en-scène in a cinematic because it means it will take me more than 4 hours to finish a 10 hour campaign? Are we truly that insatiable that we need a brand new release every 3 weeks?

I don’t know what to do. Short of managing my time more effectively, I’m not sure what else there is I can do. The wave of new games will continue to wash over us, an unrelenting tide that foams and bubbles at our feet, constantly stimulating, always calling out for our attention. I’ll have to be more selective in what I want to play. Mortal Kombat does indeed look hilarious and quite enjoyable, but Portal 2 will probably have a more lasting impression on me.

Maybe I should take up crocheting instead.

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