My Experience with Gaming

19 June 2022

I wanted to write about how my perspective has shifted in regards to video games. Don't get me wrong - I still love games and I find value in playing them when I'm too stressed to focus on anything. But some switch within my brain flipped at one point and my relationship with them changed.

I should start by explaining my former relationship to games. Originally, games for me were fun, but I didn't have the time or ability to start seriously playing them until I had my first full-time 9-5 job. At this time, I was elated that I would be able to spend so much time in the evenings and weekends on whatever I wanted, which happened to be: gaming.

During this time (the next six years basically), I would spend entire weeks spending a single game with as many hours as I could possibly squeeze into playing them. In fact, once I hit a certain number of hours I could almost feel it turn into an addiction and I would wake up with a craving to play.

I looked forward to them all day at work, spending my breaks reading guides or other things about the game so I could improve my gameplay. It was pretty much everything I thought about.

When I would get home, I would savor playing them, even as the hours flew by as if no time passed at all. No matter how much I played, I always wanted just a little bit more.

In a way it was nice, because I would enjoy and look forward to playing games so much that it would make me actually stay up late, something I hadn't done since I was a teen. It made me feel "alive".

Beyond the impulse to actually play games, there was a lot going on mentally as well. It was as much of an escape from reality for me as it could possibly be. When I lost interest in or completed a game, I was on a perpetual mission to find the next game that would make my brain happy in exactly the right way.

Finding the perfect game was like scratching my itchy brain in all of the right places. It wasn't easy, and sometimes I lost interest way sooner than I'd have anticipated. I was stuck in a loop, one that repeated often.

I think games were more significant to me than I would let on. There's also the whole thing about video games (which I still struggle to put into words) - the fact that in a video game, you are "working" toward something you want, and you actually have a chance of getting it if you play by the rules. Unlike real life. (And I note that many games nowadays are 'pay-to-win' and I want to make it clear I'm not referring to these.)

Playing these games helped instill a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in myself. I was more than happy to use my free time toward something like this.

But... when I wasn't playing games, I was usually pretty unhappy. And that's the thing about games right? They only really matter when you're playing them, when you have the game open - and then when you close it, it's gone.

Here's where everything changed for me, though.

A little over a year ago, I started actually making stuff (outside of video games) that I enjoyed working on, felt proud of, and gave me an end result that existed in real life which I could be proud of. These things could have been anything, but for me they were mainly building websites, learning to code, and writing.

I didn't pick up these hobbies because I thought they would help me get a better job, or because I felt like on some level I "had" to do them. They were things I'd always wanted to do (and even previously tried to learn for the aforementioned reasons).

Doing these things brought me a fuller, much different satisfaction that went deeper, and lasted much longer than accomplishing a goal in a video game.

When I first had this change, I didn't play many games for a while, especially not to the extent that I did before. I did go back, eventually, to working games into my regular schedule. It's only been a little over a year since then but I haven't spent an entire day from dawn to dusk playing a video game (a feat I am quite proud of, lol).

The games that I have picked up since then, I've enjoyed but - I find it difficult to make the same mental connections to the game itself that I did before. Before, I didn't have anything to compare my experience playing games to. Now I do.

When I approach video games now, it's mostly when I'm tired of doing everything else. It's a hobby to take part in when there's nothing better to do. I still feel a sense of satisfaction from playing them, but I can recognize how shallow that feeling is now, compared to the alternative.

Sometimes I find myself wanting to play a particular game, but I don't, because I know the time I spend in that game will amount to much less than even a fraction of the time spent on efforts that actually mean something beyond a game that disappears when you close it. It's easy to say this, and I've even read similar things before - but it's something I couldn't fully understand until I experienced a more fulfilling satisfaction.

Games have the potential to make some of us feel like they're the only way to see our work manifest into meaningful goals. Sure, the goals aren't very objectively "meaningful" since they are pretty meaningless outside of the game itself - but it's meaningful to us, it's something we want to achieve that we have the ability to achieve. When we achieve our goals, no matter how small or insignificant, it "lights up" the happy parts of our brains, giving us a sense of achievement.

The biggest realization for me was that, after having my brain "light up" because I had (for what feels like the first time) shifted to creating things in real life that brought me real satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, that didn't end when I turned off a game.