Why Is It So Hard To Keep Playing Video Games?

How did I do it?

When my Super Nintendo arrived I remember playing it during the Christmas holiday. Nine hours a day. Every day. For two weeks. I had no reason to stop, no responsibilities. My Mum once rattled my bedroom door making a big fuss about how I should go outside and play and whatnot, but this was Scotland. It was winter. It was raining every single god damn day of the holidays. I had no reason to go outside in that grim, sodden landscape dotted with ominous cloud cover. Screw that. I had me a Zelda to rescue, an M. Bison to beat up, Mario Karts to shellac.

Video games image from Shutterstock

Fast forward 20 years and I find myself in a rare situation, as close to childhood as possible. My wife and child, in Melbourne for 10 days. The house: clean as a whistle. Work commitments: nada. Friends to visit? Bugger that. For the next two days I was as close to childhood as I'd been in a decade. No responsibilities, a brand new video game in sleek cellophane. A whole weekend to play it.

What was this stupid feeling? Why was I... hesitating?

Across the city of Sydney, to the south, my brother in-law (and Kotaku tech wizard) Ben White was in a similar situation. His wife had accompanied my wife (they are sisters) to Melbourne. Ben was also all alone, with the same game and the same intentions. Video game intentions. On Monday I asked him how much he played — the answer astounded me.

Friday 7pm until 2am. Played Grand Theft Auto V.

Woke up: 10am. Played Grand Theft Auto until 2am again.

Sunday: 11am till 11pm. Grand Theft Auto.

Ben told me that his weekend had three waypoints: bed, couch and kitchen. The kitchen for food. The bed for sleeping and the couch for video games. He played with a ferocious intensity, with a terrifying consistency and sense of purpose that I simply could not match.

My schedule was more like this...

7-8pm. Faffed about on the internet.

8-9pm. Exercised for some reason.

9-10pm. Played Grand Theft Auto V.

10pm: went to bed like a complete lightweight.

My Saturday contained a little more gaming, but not much.

Woke up, 7am. Had breakfast and went climbing until 11am. Came home, did a little more stupid exercise.

Why am I not playing video games? THIS WAS MY CHANCE. I AM SQUANDERING MY ONLY CHANCE!

After lunch I decided to play. I got a good hour or two into the game. Grand Theft Auto has never been my favourite series, but I was enjoying myself. Round about 2.15 I started looking for reasons to stop...

"Maybe I should watch that AFL Grand Final thing?"

AFL? Jesus Christ I don't even give a single rat's ass about AFL, why in the name of Beelzebub's butthole was I seriously considering watching it?

But watch it I did. Then I did some chores. I cleaned up some of the house, I restrung the acoustic guitar I never play, I played a little more Grand Theft Auto and then I went to bed. At 9.30pm.

Adulthood has done something strange to me — I have internalised something. When I was younger I didn't have this problem, but I have somehow internalised the idea that video games are something to be done sparingly, in moderation — or something to be done in reward for something. It's a difficult concept to shake.

It's an idea I can trace back as far as high school, when I used to reward my good study habits with sessions of Goldeneye on the N64. I did this throughout my academic career. One hour of exam practice, 30 minutes of video games. It worked well for me, but back then it was a conscious choice. Nowadays? It's something I'm barely in control of. After 30 or so minutes I start looking for something I should be doing: dishes that need washing, laundry than needs drying. It's ridiculous.

My brother in-law Ben can switch it off, but I can't. He's a different breed. I struggled to give a video game my full attention for more than an hour at a time, but he could disappear into that universe at will, watch the clock hands rotate endlessly and feel nothing. I wonder if it'll ever be possible for me to play video games like that again. I just don't know. There's a guilt that makes no sense, built up through years of a brutal, mind-altering campaign to make adults believe that video games are a waste of time; that responsible people should be doing something more constructive with their time. I think that's utter crap: I think there's a time and a place for a sustained, stupid video game marathon.

That time was the weekend that just passed — but I squandered it. And I'm not sure why.


    Had the same feeling today. The dreaded spectre looming over you of wanting to be... productive...

    Found the solution. Convinced myself after an hour that everything was on track and there was no other possible thing to do, and managed to sit down to two hours of Grand Theft Auto V.

    Pfft, I've been wishing for the last 4 years to quit going to the gym for more gaming time!

    Absolutely. For years I've always been told to go and [do some kind of chore] the moment I turned on the TV to play a game. So eventually I just stopped doing it, and stuck to browsing the internet where for whatever reason I wouldn't raise suspicion. I became conditioned to be too scared to play games while there was someone around that could see what I was doing.

    Even though the pressure is off nowadays, I still find it hard to make myself play something instead of just sitting on here doing nothing. When I do, it feels great though. It's just hard to get to that point.

    Edit: Stupid triangle brackets being eaten as code.

    Last edited 30/09/13 3:13 pm

      well i recently got married and moved out

      i thought it was going to be blissful: go to work, come home to waifu, play game, sleep repeat

      the reality is ive become obsessed with doing chores, going to gym after work and then that leaves little time to do other activities that are important, so you end up sleeping late orbuild up a to do list

      i have been spending the last 3 months trying to cross off the To do list

      ....basically i have been trying to get around to play some battlefield 3 for 3 months

      i basically own a $3000 gaming desktop to surf the web, answer emails and pay bills

    I feel your pain @markserrels
    Back in January I dropped almost $3.5k on the biggest kick-ass gaming rig I have owned, I was in gaming Nirvana
    March comes and my gaming is interrupted by work relocation activities
    April, still a little tired from the work office relocation
    May..... June.... July..... etc.....
    Its now October eve, and I don't think my gaming beast has seen that beautiful blue power light on since pre-office relocation

    I have lost my gaming mojo, and I don't know how to get it back!

      Gaming mojo.

      I lost that after I platinumed Metal Gear Rising on PS3. I think it burnt me out.....

      I am hoping the PS4 will recharge me!

    I sir, am like Ben.

    I used to game ferociously (SNES/N64 through to every pc game (noting especially counterstrike) /Xbox/360 etc) and hammer all the new games as they came out. It's pattered off over the years and about 2 years ago I just accepted that it's just how it is.

    This all changed with GTA V... it sparked my fever. I had a 15 hour session the other week and have been trying to push life's commitments out of the way to play it. I'm about 55% through and have probably sank about 30 hours into it. A pretty solid effort considering I've probably gamed 30 hours over the past 6 months.

    Maybe Mark's just scared that if he plays games too much he'll start not liking it. I get to play games a few hours a day and I really look forward to it. I think I've conditioned myself to feel that if I play too much I'll somehow lose that joyous feeling I get when I sit down and finally get to play.

    I too have the same affliction. And I can only relate to what has been said in previous comments that it is a stigma forced onto us by some previous (nagging) hangup of "there is something more important to be done".
    I am currently on annual leave, have had my holiday and still with one week left to chill - however I haven't touched a game! I get that 'guilty' feeling and can't shake it - I think the only way maybe is to loose some inhibitions and down some alcohol first, then get into a good gaming session ;)
    I'll see how that goes!

    When I have unlimited free time and a broad range of games I can play, I'm usually too tired and lazy to want to do anything about it. My wife keeps me on track. If she's ahead of me in a game I feel compelled to keep up. If she's finished, she wants me to finish so we can talk about the ending.

    As I get older I find games are a more social experience. I am not playing to challenge myself. Even the most trivial setbacks have me cursing red-faced at the TV and vowing my eternal hatred - these fits of immaturity are unbecoming a 30 year old man but I never claimed to not be a complete dickhead.

    I'm playing because that's what my friends are doing and that's what we talk about. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy games. When I get in my groove 12 hours of play is nothing. But it takes the right motivations, the right conditions, the might mood to get me in that groove. I don't have time for a lot of games so it's harder to get me to commit. Most of the games I've played this year I have abandoned after an hour or two. I promise myself I'll go back, but I probably won't, even if I magically conjure up the time. Sorry Dead Space 3, I'm sure you're great, but you're too much of a time investment in something that's pretty similar to something I've already done twice in the last 4 years.

    On the other hand I couldn't be torn away from The Last of Us. Part of that was the excellent characters and narrative that kept me hooked unto an otherwise average picaresque adventure with a pretty standard plot and repetitive enemies. I think a bigger part of it was this is the game everyone else is playing right now. I HAD to keep going.

    I think the last time I ploughed through a game completely of my own volition was probably 2011. I don't remember exactly what game that was. Maybe Skyrim which I technically picked up in January 2012. There were a few good 'uns that year.

      The last game I came close to that level 'underpants for whole weekend' status was Skyrim. I just disappeared into that world. What a great game that was.

        Skyrim was my last great gaming "love affair" too
        300+ hours on Steam

        I'm currently going through that right now. Somewhere in the 80-90 hour region at the moment. Keep thinking I should get started on that main storyline, but then I get distracted by something shiny (or, more likely, some dark, dank cave or mine) and run off after that.

        I actually made a conscious effort to get to the marker for the next "main" quest in Skyrim last week. It took me 3 nights of play just to get to the marker because I kept coming across new places to explore.

      I know the feeling - I think you, Matthew have hit the nail on the head when it seems to be more about weight up time investments now, there's just so many games ready to be played for even free these days that you now basically weigh up everything every time you choose to play a game... should I play this or that or do something else entirely? - Oh I have yet to earn these last few achievements... you end up procrastinating and choosing nothing.

      You really just need to stick with great compelling games - The Last of us and GTA V are prime examples of them. All these ios/android games have just become so mundane it's almost like it's made you sick of all the crap games out there even the ones on consoles and Steam.

    This happens to me more and more the older I get. I have such a pile of unstarted/unfinished games, yet whenever I get a chance to seriously log some time with them I end up doing a hundred other things. Or playing Spelunky. Damn you Spelunky! (Though I finally got to the Temple the other day - yay!)

      I was like this with Trials. The games that feel like a small investment are always the ones you invest the most into.

        Yeah I've been spending far more time in Arcade games lately trying to get 200/200 or 400/400 on the older ones before Xbox One arrives.

      Also about to board a flight from San Fran to Sydney, so come at me Spelunky! (Though I should probably try to finish Gravity Rush...)

    I seem to be a hybrid of Mark/Ben. Given the opportunity I'll sit down and play a game I'm excited about for a few hours, but I tend to feel like crap afterwards. Oddly enough, putting someone else in the room with me fixes this problem. If I can find the chance to get around to a good mate's place to game for a few hours, I still feel like I've achieved something. Namely: socialising.

    I have been the same way since last year Mark. I love gaming but it just somehow went decline the past year. Maybe work commitment and projects causing me to not game? I find myself doing nothing and just surfing around 9gag simply to waste time.

    I've developed the same problem Mark. I can pin point it to when I bought my house, cause now there is always something around the house that needs doing, repair work, gardening, cleaning, business related work, all pushes gaming further down the line. At the moment, I'm in the middle of renovating, so yeah kinda makes sense that it would take priority over gaming, seeing as I don't want the process to drag on and on, but then again I've always been of the 'do the work first then muck around ' frame of mind, even through school, but I always had time to fully immerse myself in games, so much so I could memorise the levels and know all the best ways to get the upper hand.

    I think it comes down to how you view responsibility, I view it as getting what needs to be done, then have it, but even if I had nothing to do I dare say I would still feel as if there was something else I should be doing instead, which is a shame, because I really wish I could immerse myself in the wonderful worlds game designers have created for us to enjoy.

    I have to say I'm a little like this - I sit in front of my big rig and just look at the screens. Fart around on the net, just constantly saying to myself, I need to start one of the numerous games I keep buying - same with consoles and handhelds. So many games to play, I think I just have too much choice. But when I do start a game I enjoy it, but I'm like you I don't usually play for as long as I use to. I don't even have any responsibilities - I have all the time in the world in fact, but no. I've actually been into making games look pretty through mods and tweaks etc, and then moving on to the next one.

    Every so often I finish a game though. The last of Us, Lost planet 3, Spec-ops. But I spent days and days recently, adding 200+ mods to Skyrim and now I want to play that (I already sank 190+ hours apparently) although I'm starting again - but I stop myself because I want to play all the new games I've got.

    Also I've gotten into this habit of buying indie games and early access games - to support them and play them. But I never do. I guess in a way I've just lost that sense of fun and losing oneself in a game - it feels like I'm forcing it. Maybe I need to be less hard on myself, remember what gaming use to be like.

    I'm like you with GTA - other then RDR, I've never gotten into Rockstar games. I almost have a phobia of open world games - the thought of how big a world is brings the completionist in me to tears. But like you I picked it up and I just played like I didn't care about stuff, did whatever I felt like at the time and giggled like a little school girl when I randomly punched people on the street.

    That inner child is still there Mark, he's just overcome with gaming options and also repetitive gaming experiences. Kids like surprises, and when have we really been surprised by a new game? I wouldn't even try to remember.

    Jesus Mark, the next step is writing for the AFR. You best sort that shit out.

    I'm the same but with music. Throughout uni I'd be ordering new music all the time (no downloading for me back in the day) and there wouldn't be a day that went past that I wouldn't listen to 3 or 4 albums and maybe a disc or two of the Simpsons. Now I just don't have the time or when I have the opportunity, I don't make the time.

    With gaming, it's hard for me to get properly engrossed in a game. Total War, rarely finish a campaign. Fallout and Elder Scroll saves, not finished. Civ 5, give up half way through. GTA, we'll see how far I get on V. The list goes on. I just get so distracted by different games, maybe a form of gaming ADD, that I don't really complete a game before moving onto the next game that I feel like playing. The problem with my Steam account is that I keep adding to the damned thing through the sales. I keep wondering if it'd be a good idea though to play through my games alphabetically. The Witcher will be waiting a long time before I start it again for the umpteenth time without getting very far if I do that.

    With the PS4 though I've got my excitement levels for gaming back again and will most likely be at least completing each game I get for it.

    Is it guilt you reckon? Feeling like you should be doing something else with your time? Something more 'productive'? I've gone through phases like that.

    GTA is the first game in a long, long time where I would wake up the next morning on my bean bag, in my underpants with Doritos crumbs all over my chest and empty cans of Pepsi Max littering the floor.

    It's harder to find a game that really captures your attention enough to end up in a state like that.

    I'm struggling at the moment. I am hit with guilt as soon as I play for more than 20 minutes at a time. I think of all the things I should be doing instead and as someone who is trying to break into film/3d I always feel like playing games is a waste of time. I love games and reading about them and seeing them but can't shake the feeling when I play.

    I float in and out.

    But It hink that's to do with the looming next generatino of consoles. I still sink in for good few hours though depending on the game.

    I think once the Xbox One and PS4 arrive I'll sink back into my 8 hour sessions. I have the whole week post-Xbox One launch off so I'm sure I'll go stupid then.

    I usually get a new game and put a good 3-5 or so hours into it in one sitting straight away, then just fade off after that. Maybe an hour or 2 a week, or a little bit here and there. I usually have a lot of stuff to do outside of my normal 45+ hour day job, most of all is the freelance illustration stuff, which is kinda fun/kinda work, but waaaaay more important than games.

    Since thursday night i've probably put about 15 hours into GTA5, I'm really liking it so far, but can already feel the novelty wearing off. I actually had to force myself to work on some new art on sunday, which i'm happy i did, but that is a rarity, normally I put freelance work/art stuff ahead of anything else.

    And then there are the times when i play skate 2/3 for no reason for a few hours instead of finishing games from my pile of shame...

    I was a bit this way until I started playing DoTA 2 in January... Now it consumes my life in a way even no MMO ever has.

    Reading this was therapeutic. In recent years, the love I've had for games has certainly lessened. I play maybe a few times a week, about an hour each time. Do I have enough time to play? Sure I do. I'm not swimming in free time, but if I could fit in a gaming session everyday. But there's this voice in my head that tells me that I should be doing house work, or homework. That I should be productive, and go outside. I thought I was simply falling out of love with games, but that didn't explain the gleeful feeling I still got when I did play. I guess it's just part of growing up...*sigh*

    I don't really have that problem. My problem is too much responsibility, not enough time. And when I finally get some time to sit down and play, that clock seems to go into overdrive. I can go from 9pm (when everyone goes to bed) till 2am, solid 5 hours of gaming, look at the clock and think holy shit, it's only been 1.5 hours. Oh well time for bed, gotta go to work in 4 hours....I'm 34 now. But my body can't cope with the lack of sleep like it used to when I was 16, but I still do it anyway, otherwise who else will play GTA V?

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