Is it just me, and my own personal circumstances, or is the games themselves?
The fatigue can often feel overwhelming. In this job there is a weight of obligation. You should have played, or at least be aware of, most major video game releases. If someone mentions a game it can be tough to casually say off-hand, ‘oh I haven’t played that yet…’
“You’re the Editor of Kotaku Australia and you haven’t played The Stanley Parable/Faster Than Light/BioShock Infinite/[Insert Game Here].” People get angry about these things on the internet.
Sometimes you get home after 10 hours sitting in front of a desk writing, talking, thinking about games and there just isn’t enough headspace to even consider playing them. That’s just the reality.
But still, I would play them. I just wouldn’t enjoy it. I would dread, procrastinate and then ultimately endure it.
This isn’t me complaining about a job that I love, a job people would kill for. This is more of a confession: at some point during 2013 I think I truly, honestly, stopped loving video games.
It was a culmination of circumstance. There was video game culture - being exposed to some of the seedier elements of it with the embedded sexism, racism, homophobia, insecurity and general online aggressiveness that seemed to permeate every segment of discussion. As a consumer of games this is something you choose to engage with. There is debate and discussion but always the possibility of retreat. You can flat out ignore these issues and simply play the games themselves. That choice hasn’t always been available to me and slowly but surely it became difficult to separate that experience from the games themselves, which led – I think – to more resentment.
Then there were my own personal life circumstances. I am married, I am a new Father. I was (and still am) getting less sleep. Household chores increase exponentially, free time is halved. When your little bundle of joy finally goes to sleep you clean the house. When you stop cleaning you have an hour or two with which to relax. You turn on a video game like Assassin’s Creed 3 or Skyward Sword — games with hours of padding, games that can feel legitimately dull on a moment-to-moment basis and treat your time like an infinite commodity. That’s when you get a little bit angry. That’s when you decide to turn off the console and fall asleep on the couch in front of Game of Thrones.
So the games themselves have to take their share of the blame. For a while there it felt as though ‘AAA’ video games had reduced themselves into something of a focus-tested melange, a bland, blended paste containing the same elements, the same mechanics, the same everything. We were punching, stabbing, shooting, jumping ourselves into a lifeless hypnosis. Even the games I was supposed to be excited about – like BioShock Infinite or The Last of Us – fit into this category. I was supposed to be excited about doing the same thing I had been doing for the last three years because it was framed with interesting dialogue.
Sorry, just couldn’t do that.
But then, somehow, the malaise lifted.
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely when it happened. I had enjoyed a handful of video games throughout 2013 (actually, just one: Luigi’s Mansion 2 on the 3DS) but to genuinely find a reason to play video games again, I had to drop out of the release cycle and simply play something that reminded me why I fell in love with video games in the first place.
So I played Metroid Prime.
‘The games industry has had 11 years to make a better game than Metroid Prime,’ I thought to myself. ‘What’s taking them so long?’
Then Wind Waker HD was released. Another game that reminded me why I loved video games. Replaying Metroid Prime was the spark, but Wind Waker was the experience that rekindled the fire. The feeling of playing something I genuinely loved, combined with the ‘newness’ of the remastered experience reminded me that games could feel engaging. They could feel culturally relevant. I remembered that I actually enjoyed playing video games. That it was something I wanted to do.
Everything changed. Almost overnight.
Before circumstances had to align. I would find any reason to not play games. Not enough time. Need to exercise. Need to clean. Now I was finding reasons to play. I was making time for games. ‘What do I have to do to spend more time playing Hotline Miami on the Vita?’ ‘I’ll just get a quick 30 minutes of Pikmin 3 in whilst I’m waiting for the soup to boil.
When the new consoles came out I was cynical. The PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One embedded themselves into my entertainment unit, but my heart didn’t flutter the way I expected it to. But then I started playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, out of sheer curiosity. Time passed. I checked the clock. One hour – normally the point where I would try and think of something more constructive to do. Nah, just a couple more missions. Why not.
The dishes piled up. I’ll do them later. Balance had been restored. I was procrastinating chores instead of the thing that was supposed to be my chosen hobby. Somehow, I had fallen in love with video games again.