How I Fell Out Of (And Then Back In) Love With Video Games

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.


Comments

    I love videogames, but changes like microtransactions really tell me that they don't want my love.

    I was hoping this was going to turn into a tale about how you were converting to BOARD GAMES.

    Oh well, there's still time.

      I am too dumb for board games.

        Trust me, that isn't possible.

          No, Mark has a point. When @freezespreston and @sughly play board games with me I honestly can't concentrate. You might not think they're complex, but my mind doesn't work properly when I'm socializing. Too much energy spent trying not to cower in the corner. Can't do the basic maths of D&D, can't grasp the simple rules... it's odd! D:

          Last edited 05/12/13 2:17 pm

        You should see how dumb @trjn is often and then think about how you're smarter than he is. Plus most board games are just putting trains on a board.

    I feel the writer's pain. I to have had my first child and your time just disappears. Being a 29 year old lawyer I thought I was time poor before, but its funny how a child just eats up your time and energy in ways you cannot explain.
    I fee your frustration of games treating your time like an "infinite resource". I was talking with a colleague about Killzone Shadowfall, and complaining about the inability to save whenever I want. I played the second level probably 10 times just because my time is constantly interrupted and inevitably the console would be forgotten and turn itself off. He eventually agreed with me that it was unacceptable considering how time poor the adult audience can be.

      this is why i think i have gravitated towards handhelds. there is only the special occasion (usually actually planned) now where i can get 2-3 hours of uninterrupted time let alone gaming time. with the vita and 3ds i can play anywhere and pause instantly and not worry about save points unless my battery is almost dead

      i have been longing to use my kick ass sound system for pretty much the last year. by the time i can sit and relax it is 8 or 9 pm and i am sure as hell not waking my daughter up with a loud movie or excluding my wife by playing games on the main TV.

      I also went through this this year.
      there just wasnt anything that could hold my attention. nothing that felt new.
      i would say that far and away my 2 favorite games of the year are Luigi's mansion 2 and Zelda a link between worlds

        You just described my exact situation! I am buying some wireless headphones soon to not wake up my son, but I think a Vita will be next on my list!

    Sounds familiar as my interest waned after seeing the brutal disappointment that was Dust 514... I dropped off gaming, got booted from the clan for lack of interest, son moved to LOL and I've got no clue what to do next.

    Got a massive pile-o-shame of single player games so might have to try some there to see if something works.

    I was hoping that now-next gen would light my fire, but still waiting...

    I've seen this happening Mark. I doubt that I would have had any right to say it at the time, but I felt like it was clear that you were falling out of love with games, and it was sad to see.

    I think it happens to most people at some stage, and nobdoy can blame you for going through it when the amount of dramas and issues floating around the industry are things that you have to process for a job every day. I'd imagine that when your job is to analyze games (and the industry), then some of the magic is eventually going to fade. It would be hard to shut down the objective part of the brain and just enjoy the experience for what it is when you know all of the politics and dramas behind everything.

    I can't blame you for falling out of love with games, but I'm definitely glad that you've come back to it.

    (tldr, welcome back, now get back onto Dark Souls already)

    Last edited 05/12/13 1:20 pm

      Seriously, the month where I played Dark Souls exclusively was one of the best months of gaming I ever had.

    I'm so scared that I'll get burnt out with games when I start reviewing full time (or as close to full-time as you can get). I guess that's the chance you take when you turn a hobby or passion into a job.

    I theoretically love the big sprawling Skyrims and Red Deads....but sometimes I throw them in the tray, look at the laundry list full of 'things' I have to do in-game, and just think "Man, this is a LOT of stuff to get done, and it's gonna take a LONG time...."

    So I end up just playing CoD or BF cos I have have instant fun now....or even worse, watch some rubbish I don't even care about on TV.

    It's terrible, I know.

      I'm exactly the same. Sometimes, when thinking about what I have to do in a game or how many hours I need just for the main story, I just can't be bothered. I'll do it later. Then I waste that time looking at nothing in particular on the internet, or watching nothing in particular on tv. Of course, eventually I get around to the games, and it's not until I'm playing them that I think "why did I put this off?" I think everyone goes through slumps, though with every slump I get into I worry that I might just be outgrowing gaming... T_T

        And every time you think that, you become closer to your name....

          I know. I can live as a soulless shadow, but the worst part is...I would be a boring grown up in a pant suit! D: Probably a beige pant suit to reflect my new boring and dull personality and existence... T_T The horror! On the plus side, I'd have more money...gaming is expensive.

      I did this very same thing last night playing AC black flag I zoomed the map all the way out and just said that's freaking massive I'll probably never finish this game. But I'm going to try it loving the pirate battles nothing on next feels as good as going to take out one ship and by the end youlook at the mini-map and notice you took out 6 ships have a wanted lvl of 2 and their are 2 pirate hunters coming for ya.

    Yeah, I had this for quite a while, before Red Dead Redemption came along. I was playing next to nothing for a long time, and got RDR on a whim, and as I was being escorted by Bonnie on horseback along the rocky cliffs at sunset, there was a strong thought there where I remembered why I liked games to begin with.

    Really liked the framing of these cultural issues around the industry too being factors. I think I've unknowingly fallen into this, a kind of shame and embarrassment to be part of it all, and backed away from playing as a result too. 4.5 stars!

      The culture thing I can understand too. This is on a much smaller scale, but when I used to post on Adventure Gamers I got so sick of the attitude of some of the people there, the constant dismissing of any thing new and just the general feel of the place. Caused me to stop playing adventure games cause I associated that attitude with the genre itself.

      Last edited 05/12/13 1:39 pm

    I don't have a kid or the level o personal commitments that keep me away from games like you have Mark, but I do find that sometimes I do experience that fatigue and I'm not enjoying my games like I should. I think it's because I was forcing myself to play games, and keep up with new releases.

    While I have a pile of shame on my 360 and PS3 and a huge list of not-yet-installed steam games, I am trying to treat the new console cycle as a fresh slate. I am only going to try to only buy games I am actually going to play when I have time to play them, and I am going to enjoy them for as long as I can. If I get lost in their worlds and play them for a month, that's fantastic. If I play it through once and I am done, then that's ok too.

    That way I will stop feeling guilty about games I only played for a little while because I didn't have the time and will probably never go back to because there's other stuff to do.

    I expect this resolution to last until around the time a Mass Effect or Fallout game comes out while I am still in the middle of playing Destiny every night.

    Last edited 05/12/13 1:40 pm

    I actually went through a pretty similar sort of issue this year and it was a combination of hopping off the release cycle treadmill and re-playing a game I love - Okami, in my case - that got me back into everything again.

    I completely understand where you were at, Mark (without the baby part). Once I left GameSpot after 5+ years and joined Mindscape, I don't think I even turned on my PS3 for the first few months. I took a break and did a variety of other things. Sure I was still exposed to games daily through work, but that was different.

    After doing new activities for a while, I started playing again - I think it was Spec Ops: The Line a few months post-release. Once I clocked it, I went back to doing different things but I gradually wanted to play more games, so I did.

    Here I am now, with what I feel like is a healthy mix between gaming and my other interests. Sure I wish I had more time to game, but I also wish I had more time to go camping, train, or further my education.

    When you're exposed to something day in and day out, like a lot of people in our industry are, I think it's easy to get swamped. Though that's not to say it'll happen to everyone. However, by doing different things you'll get a new perspective on things and that's never a bad thing.

    I have this theory that people who are successful in one area of their lives are always successful in other areas, so it's important to me to have a few different things goes on.

    I have those highs and lows. I usually find that my disinterest is cured by going back to one of the classics I love like Chronotrigger or Super Metroid or some such.

    What I am finding though, is that I can't seem to commit to epic gaming sessions any more. No more Civ binges. I just can't seem to keep my attention span locked on for long enough. Maybe i'm going senile... :/

      I was quite the same a little while back. Hell, I got to the point where I couldn't even play a game for an hour before growing tired of it, even my favourites like FFVI, Wind Waker, Metroid games and such...
      Then I got Xenoblade. Instant cure.

    I've found myself in a very similar place the last year or so..
    Child number 3 arrived last year, so between family, housework and employment, I don't boot up the PC until after 10pm. I loved Skyrim, but at about level 30 I looked at my quest log and decided that I just don't have time to work though all of that. I got my legendary cloak in WoW, and decided I just couldn't face the grind any longer. My not yet installed games list on Steam is longer than ever too..
    I look back over the games I've enjoyed the most over the last couple of years, and it's been those little games you finish in an evening or two that have been my absolute favourites. Portal 2, Braid, Defence Grid etc. I can jump into them and get my game on, and shut it down the moment little Jack wakes for a bottle. I can play for an hour, and achieve something, then go to bed so I don't wake up too bleary eyed for work.
    I still love gaming, and the delight in my 14 year old sons eyes when we crank up a lan game reminds me of my own enthusiasm for it, but I just don't have time for the long grinds anymore. Unfortunately the little gems like the games I mentioned above are lost in an ocean of rubbish indy games, buggy unfinished EA titles, multiplayer shooters where I'll be instantly killed on spawn by kids my sons age and games demanding weeks of play to get anything out of.

    I'm lucky these days to get 1 hour in a month for gaming due to a 1 year old that doesn't sleep until 10pm average and needs constant entertaining. I wouldn't change that for the world though :)

    You've made me want to actually finish Luigi's Mansion 2 now Mark lol, the one game that I actually had time for during the hectic year of work, work, and more work, thanks to it's short but satisfying levels. Too bad my Steam, PS3 and PS4 library will get in the way now....

    This was a great article and rung so true for me. Thanks for posting :) i think a lot of people are beginning to feel the same way. I am just sick of being treated like were just cash in the pocket to game developers.

      To be fair, its not the developers, its the publishers that drive these things.

    I'm feeling the fatigue atm, it's been a year of half arsed release buggy+try to patch later releases with the levels of pointless hostility in gaming culture reaching a new level of stupidity combined with flamebait articles framed as news in abundance.

    Gaming should be like sex.

    Marathon sessions of all-consuming intensity and attention, as many hours as you can find for it til you're turning up late to work, bleary-eyed but satisfied. And if you can't give it that laser focus and passion? Just don't do it. No half-measures, no routine. The games will still be there, waiting for you, eager to devour the hours you'll give them.

    Uhm. There's probably something else to be said for having a list of hundreds in your library, keeping several titles on stand-by; a selection of the highest-quality, the most enduring, your not-that-great but secretly guilty pleasures, or the newest-and-as-yet-unexplored, to cater to your wide-ranging and mercurial tastes... But the metaphor probably falls down there, for a married man.

    Wind Waker HD was sort of a turning point for me too. It was the first time in a long time I'd been really excited to play a Nintendo console game. I went start to finish without the slightest bit of nostalgia. It didn't make me feel like back when I first played it, it made me feel like I was playing a new awesome game, like how I felt back when I first played it. It wasn't about taping into my memories it was just a kick ass game in a genre I love on a console I'd only recently brought.

    I think for a while I just got numb to the hype. Every game was described with adjectives I've heard over and over and over and over until they lost all meaning.

      Now I'm thinking about it I think some of that may have stemmed from the recent fixation gaming has had on indy titles. It's like being sent on blind dates with a never ending parade of Manic Pixie Dream Girls. I want good, new ideas and all that sweet design stuff, but I want it from games with more substance than 'retro'/low budget charm.

    So many are echoing similar sentiments - this was the year we got saturated with AAA titles, when hype was more often than not more marketing in disguise, and it became too much.
    Too much of the same thing getting thrust our way, while I started to find that towering pile of shame was also reaching its limit.
    Steam sales lost their edge since I'd already bought so many games that I'll never finish. The realisation that I now own more games that I can probably get through in my lifetime is a tough one, but it makes me ask of any new title: what is different? What can you offer me that is a new experience? How much can I trust what I'm hearing about that new release that will still be said in 3-6 months? (*cough bioshock infinite*)

    Here's my confession - I haven't finished a single damn game this year (unless Pokémon is counted for the time being). And realistically, how much have I really missed out on the big releases?
    It has been a very dangerous year for AAA fatigue, marketing cynicism and cheap game saturation. I look forward to a more positive 2014.

    It's having your first kid that does it! The last game I played while my wife was pregnant was Wind Waker (to completion) that was in 2003 and from then until December 2008 gaming was just a curio in our house other things took precedence. My wife was a bigger gamer with all those Popcap PC games and the likes of Singstar.

    What changed in Dec 2008? Quite by accident (or kismet) I bought a copy if the heretofore unknown to me Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. I was a (lapsed) Nintendo gamer prior to that - playing GTA I suddenly realised what I'd been missing by ignoring the other two consoles. A year layer I bought a 360 and I haven't stopped since!

    I still haven't found a game that I can be excited about playing since I finished Nier... That was quite a while ago now. I'll push through some games for maybe an hour or so here and there, but I'm not captivated. I'm not not focusing on other things at the same time, and I'm not thinking "I'm having a good time right now!"

    Until Nintendo can start pumping out some good console games (there's definitely been some good handheld ones, but they're just that, handheld games), I don't think I can bring myself to care about games anymore. All I play now is Geometry Wars on my Xbox, and Hill Climb Racing on my ipod pretty much.

    Give me an open world racing game that isn't Need for Speed. Give me a good new racing game for PC (Project CARS is coming, eventually), give me a new Metroid game (I loved Other M, I'm not even picky!), a new 3D Zelda game, another action RPG with an incredible story, another console Paper Mario game more like 64/1000 year door than recent efforts. Just... give me something memorable. Everything that's come out lately just seems like it's completely disposable. It's done, never gonna think about the game again. There's no love put into it, it's completely formulaic.

      A fellow Nier player/lover! I just put the soundtrack back into my playlist and all the fond memories came back. (Not to say the game didn't have it's fair share of problems...)

      The old games that I whip out whenever my passion seems to die are Chrono Trigger/Cross, Tales of Phantasia, Breath of Fire 3 and Grandia.

      Re: open world racing... The Crew. You're driving around a map that approximates the entire USA - it's the first 'next gen' title I reckon that does something actually next gen

    I just want to say that I really love your articles, Mark. As a new father myself, I've felt exactly the same way throughout this year, drifting in and out of love with games and struggling to find the time and motivation to play through my backlog. I've thought at great length about writing about video games myself but I'm scared I'll fall into the trap you've described of getting burnt out. Nice to know your interest in games has returned and you're back to doing what you love.

    So to sum up, yer all gettin' old.

    let's be honest here, you quit smoking weed for like 2 weeks..

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