It was Friday night.
For the first time in a long time I had the house to myself. No wife, no friends, no kids. No nappies to change, no dinner to sort.
I whispered it quietly, like this moment was a delicate silence that could break any second:
‘I could… [gasp] play a video game.’
But something else was different. A feeling I haven’t felt in almost 10 years.
‘I could play… any video game I want.’
Hello, please allow me to re-introduce myself. My name is Mark Serrels and I’m the ex-Editor of Kotaku Australia. Last Monday I became Managing Editor of Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Kotaku. Alex Walker is your new Kotaku overlord. I’m certain he’s going to do an incredible job replacing me.
But this all means one thing: technically, I’m not longer a games journalist. Technically I no longer have to write about video games.
I don't have to write about video games.
It feels quite liberating to write that.
Let me get one thing clear from the outset: I don’t have to write about video game, but I most likely will. Because I love writing about video games. I’m writing about video games right now! I always considered my job an absolute privilege. I always felt incredibly lucky to be in a position where playing and discussing video games was a major part of my remit.
But there was always one teeny tiny little drawback: I never truly felt free to play the video games I wanted to play. Not really.
New games are released practically every day. Conversation moves quickly and, as Editor of a games site like Kotaku Australia, I always felt compelled to stay current with that conversation.
For me that meant playing video games that people were talking about right this very second. It meant that, when I was home and had some spare time to play video games, I couldn’t chill out and re-play Super Metroid like I’ve been meaning to do for the past three years. It meant I couldn’t finally finish my Bloodborne New Game Plus. It meant I couldn’t re-visit Wind Waker HD like I’ve been meaning to.
Because when you’re a married parent with two young children, time is a precious resource.
“You’re the Editor of Kotaku and you haven’t playing this brand new game?”
That’s a comment I’ve had to read and digest more frequently than I’d like to admit.
It’s a comment that’s made me abandon games I love, in favour of some brand new shiny thing. It’s a comment that’s forced me to stick with games I clearly wasn’t enjoying, just so I could have at least a fundamental understanding of its universe and culture.
It’s a situation that’s at least partly responsible for the diminishing amount of pleasure I've gotten from video games – especially over the past couple of years, where I was beginning to feel particularly drained by the cycle.
But it’s worth clarifying: this was a pressure I put on myself for the most part. It didn’t necessarily have to be like that. Video games are evolving and Kotaku’s coverage is evolving with them. Sure, we write about new games, but we also write about old games – sometimes we even review them.
People are still playing Destiny. People are always playing League of Legends. People have been playing World of Warcraft for as long as I can remember and they’ll probably be playing until the Rapture (or some terrifying, rogue meteor) comes for us all.
Me? I could never quite let go of the pressure that I should be playing new video games.
That is, until now.
On that Friday night I looked at my games collection and I allowed myself to ask one important question. ‘What video game do I want to be playing right now?’
That felt really nice.
And then it felt overwhelming. There was just so much to choose from. Should I finally give The Witcher 3 another bash, should I finish Metal Gear Solid 5? Should I play Metroid Prime? How about trying to platinum Dark Souls 3?
Then, like the most boring human being in history, I ended up playing Overwatch.
But I suck at Overwatch, so I stopped.
Then, a random choice. Grow Home. A game I fell in love with. A game I excitedly played for one night, wrote about, and never returned to. Grow Home: clunky, weird, forgotten to a certain extent but unabashedly and personally loved by me. A gaming experience I wanted to have over and over again, but rejected due to time constraints and that overwhelming pressure I placed on myself to be ‘current’.
Goddamn it felt good to be playing games for the sake of it.
It felt good to the point where it almost feels wrong to be writing about it now, in a professional capacity. But I felt compelled to share — to share that choice, that moment where I remembered precisely what video games are for.
I’ve spent so much time writing and thinking about video games: as cultural artifacts, as statements, as an excuse to write this post or that post; as a funny video on YouTube, as a focal point for drama. In 2016 video games are all these things and more – much more — and that's a good thing.
But I had forgotten that video games are there to be played. I'd forgotten that video games exist on their own terms.
Grow Home had been sitting on my hard drive all along. It hadn’t changed. It wasn’t different. It hadn’t become any less interesting. It was just sitting there, waiting to be played, and finally I made the decision to play it — to allow myself that indulgence.
I had forgotten the pure, unfiltered joy of video games, and Grow Home – thankfully – helped me to remember.