The Pure, Unfiltered Joy Of Playing Video Games

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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.’

Bliss.

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.


Comments

    Guilty on two counts:

    I often lament why we aren't seeing the team here perform for us like circus animals and write about the cutting edge. I should stop that.

    I also run into what Mark talks about here. A lot. The last thing I want to do after a busy work day or week sometimes is video games.

    Case in point - Witcher 3. I held off on this game at launch. Upgraded my PC with over a grand's worth of hardware to run it smooth. Bought it in January. I pretty much haven't touched it since February.

    I need to take a course to re-learn everything, as it applies to my actual state in my actual playthrough. Can't exactly watch or read a guide for that, or at least not in this case.

    What am I doing instead? I'm playing Deadly Premonition (the art gallery) even though I started that game two years ago. Its problems and foibles are many, but damn it I love this mongrel of a game. Oh it just crashed on me again, bless it.

    I love the feeling of finishing up games that I've been playing for a while and then being able to choose a game from my (substantial) backlog. It's delicious.

      Me too! Which is why I am still chipping away at DA:I, and then who knows Far Cry 4? Beyond Good and Evil? Dishonored?

        I'll always throw a vote a BG&E, bless it's slightly clunky heart

        Got pretty far in Dishonored then a few years (and a few Windows re-installs) later I have no idea where my old saves are. The other day I decided to finish it once and for all so I started from the start again and I feel like a kid again. I have no idea why I never got around to finishing this (probably too obsessed with some bad MMO at the time) but I'm loving it. I'm actually getting that feeling where you're sitting at work thinking about going home and playing it. Haven't had that in years.

    Maybe I'm being hopelessly naïve - but if I ran a video games news site, I'd allow my games journalists some time during work hours to play new release games to help them do their jobs. I can see how your personal free time and work time could easily blend into each other when your job is something hobby-related.

    A lot of the time I just sit around not feeling like playing games. At most, I might fire up Fallout Shelter or something and watch my little people work to their dooms.

    It must absolutely suck feeling this way. Thank frack I'm never having kids and I don't have to critic video games for a living. Already deal with enough anxiety just being a human on this planet let alone adding it to my favorite past time any more than the usual "am I letting the team down?" crud.

    Last edited 08/08/16 2:03 pm

    I recently clicked over 5 years on steam. I originally got steam while waiting for Skyrim to be released, and bought it straight away. I put 130 hours in (apparently) and then just stopped. Never finished it. I did the same with Morrowind and Oblivion. I have never finished an Elder Scrolls game.

    2 weeks ago I loaded up skyrim and started again. I get maybe 30-90 mins to play on a given day, maybe a little more on a weekend if I'm lucky. I'm determined to beat it this time, and the DLC's.

    See you in a few months.

    I feel like people forget about this with movies as well.
    Instead of just going to the movies to have fun, they are thinking about the discussions later where they can talk about the relevance of it, compare it to the other movies and dissect it endlessly.

    Whenever I want to remember how much fun video games are, I fire up Star Raiders, and just have a damn fine time.

    Congratulations on the new gig Mark, but I am going to miss your video game columns, pretty much the only ones I really read on Kotaku; for the record, I enjoyed the ones most that weren't really about current games :)

    Last edited 08/08/16 1:52 pm

    Congrats on the new digs.

    I'd just like to take this moment to say a big THANK YOU to @markserrels for everything over the years. You have truly brought some joy to some otherwise crumby work days. I agree that @alexwalker will no doubt provide us with some outstanding articles in the future (he has already proven himself a massive asset to the site), but the way you see things and the way you can convey them in such a relatable manner was a real gem. So much that I would often find myself smiling whenever I would see a new article posted by you even before I knew what it was about.

    Thanks again mate, its been great.

    I totally get where you're coming from with available time vs opportunity cost of playing games, my games library is so overwhelming right now (backlog and otherwise) and my time is so booked (currently doing some work at 10pm to make tomorrow go smoother!) that finding more than a few minutes for gaming is a miracle

    What I don't have is constrained choice though - spent some spare time on Sunday playing Titanfall a game that is still very much alive and kicking and still lots of fun!

    Congrats on the new position Mark, you've very much left your imprimatur on this website which for me was mildly interesting before you rocked up and is now a daily destination for its mix of news and often thought provoking discussion about my favourite hobby!

    Kudos!

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