My Love For Video Games Is In Recovery

I stopped being the Editor of Kotaku Australia a few months ago and now, with the benefit of time and distance, I don't mind saying it: after six years working on the site, I was burnt out on video games.

It feels like a strange thing to admit -- a difficult thing to admit, almost silly. Writing about video games for a living was -- and still is -- a dream job for me, but it didn't really survive first contact with the enemy.

Children, marriage, household chores, exercise, work. All those things.

'Enemy' is the wrong word of course. The correct word: responsibility. There's nothing wrong with it, but it placed me in a weird spot. I lived in a world where video games were simultaneously an indulgence but also something that needed to be done. I had very little free time and video games became just another obstacle. Another chore that needed completing if I was to do my job as Kotaku Editor effectively. In a bizarre sense video games became a burden and it affected how I played them, how I thought about them, how I judged them.

It's something we don't talk about much. Rightly so, because it's self-indulgent and right now I am absolutely being self-indulgent, but writing and discussing video games professionally undoubtedly has an impact on how you interact with them. It changes what you enjoy. It changes the reasons you enjoy them. It changes the type of games you play.

You value originality over polish. Because you've played a million different video games and instantly notice when they feel generic. You are hyper aware of this.

You underestimate the impact of annual tentpole launches. You're over Call of Duty despite the clear fact millions of gamers aren't. You underestimate the importance of value and bang-for-buck. You look at a game like The Witcher 3, with its hundreds of hours of content. You literally get cold sweats.

You look at a game like Firewatch, with its cohesive, tightly woven story and (most importantly) short playthrough time. You breathe a sigh of relief.

You play a game like Dark Souls. It feels different from any other video game and that feels glorious. It feels like playing video games for the first time.

You find it difficult to get enthusiastic about another Gears of War game, even though it objectively looks pretty cool.

You talk about indie games a lot.

You have zero distance.

You have a certain level of self-awareness, but that doesn't necessarily halt the burn-out. It doesn't stop you from complaining about the video games you don't like, the moments that irk you. It doesn't stop you from constantly venting about Kinect on Twitter.

My love for video games is in recovery.

Now that being 'current' isn't necessarily a job requirement, I've found it difficult to motivate myself to play video games. Quite often I'll turn on my PlayStation 4, I'll flick through my library of games for 15 minutes before somehow gravitating towards Netflix. Quite often I'll end up emptying the dishwasher instead.

I didn't anticipate this. I had expected a sense of liberation. I expected to gleefully bound through the meadows of my back catalogue like Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music, frivolously indulging in the games I wanted to play, but never had time for. "I'll replay/finish Metal Gear Solid 5!" "I'll play Bloodborne DLC!" "I'll get good at Overwatch!"

That didn't quite happen. Old habits die hard. To this day I still feel anxious about 'wasting time' with old games. I haven't touched Metal Gear Solid V because it's such an oppressively long game. I finished Grow Home because I knew I could knock it over in a night. I'm still affected by the choices I had to make when writing about video games was my full-time job.

I wonder if that will ever change.

I have to believe it will. I certainly hope it will. I desperately want to get to a stage where I could happily, comfortably play one single (possibly old) video game for a sustained period without feeling like that time was wasted.

But I'm not quite there yet.


Comments

    You underestimate the impact of annual tentpole launches. You’re over Call of Duty despite the clear fact millions of gamers aren’t. You underestimate the importance of value and bang-for-buck. You look at a game like The Witcher 3, with its hundreds of hours of content. You literally get cold sweats.
    You look at a game like Firewatch, with its cohesive, tightly woven story and (most importantly) short playthrough time. You breathe a sigh of relief.

    This sounds like me, and I don't write about video games for a living.

    Last edited 05/10/16 11:43 am

    I had a similar experience.... got burnt out on gaming..... but also it just wasn't compatible with my lifestyle at the time. Getting married, having 3 kids - all tolled up led to a few years "sabbatical" from PC gaming (I still gamed - but more social gaming.... Facebook/mobile/wii etc.). About 2 years ago however I treated myself to a new gaming PC for my 40th birthday! :)

    What it did do however is give me a wealth of great games to play! Mass Effect 1,2,3 back-to-back. Dragon Ages 1 and 2 (then pretty much 3 a couple of months after 2). Batman Arkhams galore! :) Was a fun time! :)

      how good is Mass Effect? probably one of my top 3 most enjoyable gaming experiences ever.

      You went from no gaming time due to kids to being able to smash through the Mass Effects, Dragon Ages and Arkhams back to back!??!

      What did you do? Pack the kids off to boarding school or sell them for medical experiments or something? :P

        Lol - As much as I may wish that sometimes - no ;)

        Kids bed time = play time! :)

    Word.

    This happened to me. It's still happening at times too.

    I had a sabbatical from games after the last few big games came out for the N64. I was into PC too, but apart from 'grazing' on my library of that period I didn't go near new video games until the advent of the Wii.

    It was the Wii that brought me back, really.

    Study, work, life, family, it was always these things that did it. I gravitate away from the 'hardcore' mentality but it's still necessary to have 'the most popular console' of the time because invariably that's where a) the most games appear and b) that's where your peers will be.

    I don't harbour any deep affection for my PS4, I only got it to play Bloodborne really. That was eighteen months ago at that game's release. Now I've got a hard-drive that's too full with games I don't want to delete because I haven't gone near them yet. That's the sort of stress and anguish you can't readily describe to just anybody.

    In my circles, I'm most definitely 'the games guy'. When others get involved with games for the first time in a while or they want to ask me about certain games, I get a second wind.

    Some examples, from over the years:

    Wii Sports
    Music games
    Day Z
    Rocket League
    Obviously Pokemon Go

    It's a mix of crying out for something atypical, that goes against the grain; but also being a missionary, an ambassador for what games can BE.

    I was so-so on Minecraft, but my niece and nephew discovered right when Youtubers as we know them now became noticed - now everything is Minecraft.

    Mark talks about zero distance, this is similar to what I think about games-dom in general. Sort of an orbit in a solar system.

    If the sun is videogames, I'd be on perhaps Mars at the moment. Not necessarily Mercury, simply because of the sheer time-factor. Someone like my brother who loves the CODs/etc and the discounts PS+ gives him, he'd be on about Saturn.

    A guy I know who lives and breathes Pokemon Go, but is relatively clueless about the rest of the space, Neptune.

    We all orbit this central star, but at different distances and speeds.

    Interesting perspective Mark; I have been reading the articles here for years and it's good to see behind the curtain so to speak about how your experiences influence the writing; nothing wrong with taking a bit of a break and recovering; hopefully you get back into the games for enjoyment, not only for work!

    I understand where you're coming from. I ran a gaming channel on YouTube for 2-3 years as a hobby. Whilst it wasn't my job I did have a raft of loyal subscribers that were always keen for more. My most popular series was Minecraft (surprise, surprise) but I grew tired of Minecraft after a couple months and it felt like a huge chore to plan stuff, login and do it and keep up a happy sounding voice while I was at it.

    Even playing a game like Dark Souls which I love became a chore because I set myself the goal of 5 videos per week and after a while it felt more like I was playing to tick off the 5 videos rather than playing to enjoy the game.

    Playing a game for fun is different to playing a game because you have to. Luckily for me it was just a hobby and I dropped it when it became too much to keep going. I get tempted from time to time to record games I'm currently playing/having fun with but I never quite end up hitting that record button.

    the other part that you didn't mention as much is the responsibility of wife/kids/job etc means you have less time for games. When it comes to games with lengthy campaigns etc I find I'm less likely to play them as it'll take me months, short games and more of them tend to be the normal trend. That said I'm playing WoW again now since Legion and am still loving it.

    Last edited 05/10/16 11:55 am

      I can relate to this. I have a channel that focusses on a single franchise and as a result, I get burnt out from time to time. My love is there, but when I feel that I'm making content for the viewers rather than myself, I stop. I initially had a goal for frequent content but I let that go a long time ago. I just recently had a few months where I didn't post anything. You see subs and views drop but I decided when I started this that I wouldn't let that change my behaviour. I also play other games and enjoy them so it's good to have that balance.

      I also found that streaming was a good way to break up the YT content, it's a different more relaxed format and requires far less planning.. at least when I do it!

      I remember meeting an Aussie streamer at an event once and she talked about 'having to' make content on a particular game and it was clear she was burnt out. She was trying to make it more than a hobby an she saw it as something she had to do. What people expected. It was hard to watch because I guess I had the luxury of a good job so could just play in this space without all that pressure.

        Yeah, streaming is a good point. I did that a bit from time to time and my viewers said the streams were better than my videos as my personality came across more live. However, being in Australia isn't the best for streaming and I was pretty limited on what I could do.

          I hear you. I'm now on FTTP since I've moved house but prior to this year I was unable to watch, let along upload at sufficient rates.

    I still have a passion for games (and writing about them) but I feel like a lot of cynicism and jadedness is catching up and I just... don't care anymore? The games industry is an interesting beast, but when you've got developers beating a dead horse because it still makes money, it just makes you wonder why you keep trying when it seems like no one else is...

      It's not just that they're beating the dead horse it's that they're afraid not to beat the dead horse. It's really painful looking at a game where you can see that the design team had good ideas, but ultimately played it safe on the core of the game. You see all this love in it get totally eclipsed by the fact they needed to be sure that it'd sell well.
      I mean I understand the financial obligations of producing a game but it still leaves a bad feeling in my stomach.

    I have to agree but with a caveat. Children are expensive. Money only takes me so far so a game like Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid 5 are god sends. I could play them without worrying i would pauper my family or put my needs ahead of theirs by buying half a dozen shorter games a month. I wont be running around for hours picking up collectables but will be doing something that furthers the story. With my time constraints i played Witcher 3 for a while year and only finally put it down. An hour a night was it for me.

      Buying games on sale and having a backlog helps save money too. I've bought most of my collection on sale or through PS+ and have a healthy variety of games to choose from at any given moment. I feel sorry for people who only ever play the latest releases and complain that after that there is nothing to play.

        Yeah, my backlog has got to the point where I barely buy full price games anymore. The only one I've bought this year is Uncharted 4. I'll get Battlefield 1 at launch, and that'll be it. The rest of the time I'm working through the backlog. By the time I get even close to clearing that out, something else I've had my eye on has gone on sale so I buy that cheap and into the backlog it goes.

          I know. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet when you're stuffed to the gills and they bring out new and different dishes. You end up looking like Mr Creosote: http://blog.art21.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/mr-creosote.jpg

    This is actually what pushed me towards console gaming after years of being a PC gamer. I got so sick of keeping on top of hardware, trawling forums for fixes, and driver updates, trying to squeeze more frames and push the boundaries of my rig. Now I don't care and park my arse on the couch, and the PS4 just works. I work long shifts and night shifts so I don't have the time to play a lot of games or to mess around with them. I only have a gaming laptop these days mostly for PC exclusives. Since then I've found I'm enjoying games quite a lot more.

      Having switched to console gaming about 7 years ago, I was dismayed when I had to try and fix a malfunctioning audio driver on my PC. Took me about an hour, during which time I could have been on my console. MS is trying to bring PCs and consoles closer together through Windows, but I think there is still a way to go.

    I think partly how I keep from becoming burnt out on video games is to try and be a picky bitch when it comes to playing anything new. I probably only play and finish a handful of titles each year these days, obvioulsy not something you can do if you're reviewing games for a living.

    It's not a consious decision I made to avoid becoming burnt out playing games but more a result of not having ample amounts of time to play anything. The only game released in 2016 I've finished that springs to mind is Doom. Recently I've started spending a little more time with my 5yr old daughter teaching her how to play several games like Mario 3D World. I actually get more enjoyment out seeing her play these games than doing it myself though a little frusting at times when she finds it funny to go jumping off ledges. That's when you need to go find some housework to do and let them play by themselves for a bit.

    I had a similar experience when I got a job in NZ with the Tabletop Wargaming company Battlefront. It was a dream opportunity at the time, and I'm glad I gave it a try for 12 months, but in the end, immersing myself in the hobby all day at work meant there was very little desire to actually play when not at work. Nor was it enough to keep me from my friends in Oz.

    I also ran a pro miniature painting company for 4 years, but again got to the stage I was hating doing even my own painting projects. Something had to change.

    Now I work an admin job that bores me so completely I'm still not sure if I made the right decision. But what is sure, I'm loving the above hobbies more than ever ... on my own time.

    The new plan is to get to semi-retirement as fast as possible and maximize the amount of time doing what I love, without it seeming like a job. 3 years to go :)

      That's basically me and game design/programming. I absolutely love doing it but it's not something I could ever do as a job. I'd much rather work a job that's just an ok job and find happiness in other parts of my life.

        Not to mention the ok job often pays better and is universes more secure ...

    This happened to me when I was a games (and part time TV show) editor. It wasn't as bad with the games (because due to me being in Aus and the site being in the UK, I only ever reviewed a bit of stuff on Steam), but with the show I wrote about, my gods, it wrecked that for me. I was not able to watch an episode without thinking about how I'd write my synopsis that week. I'd take notes while I watched. Then I'd watch it again immediately after, and write the whole time, stopping and starting until I had finished (invariably well over 2000 words each episode, often closer to 3000). When the show went on break, I was so glad and I determined not to write about it any more. It took me a while to enjoy it again!

    I think the same will happen for you - it will take time to get that love back. But at some point, your mind will reconcile and you'll feel like it's an enjoyable experience to play games again. In the meantime, it's okay to feel like you do.

    I can agree with some of these sentiments. I been playing games a long time. Pretty much since playing Rockford (a boulder dash clone) on a 286 computer when I was a kid. What it's given me is that I'm pretty sensitive to a game's flaws, having a vast library of experiences to compare games to, but if it's a game that's mechanically satisfying and has an interesting art design, I play it a lot. I played Dark Souls for a looooong time.

    As you get older have different priorities then you used to have, but you also grow to have particular tastes.

    Even as early as last week I looked at my library and felt like I didn't want to play anything at all. Nothing excited me. Then X-com 2 came out and I decided that I loved video games again. Then I played it a bit more and still felt that malaise creep in.

    The reason for the malaise is I think back and compare it to my favourite X-com game, Apocalypse and remember all the great stuff that game did. Alien hybrid and android soldiers straight off the bat. An interesting city. A tactical system that encouraged careful play because destroying architecture reduced your profit margin. The ufo capture missions, where you had to carefully keep it intact to research everything on it, including art asset tiles like "alien surgery bed". And then I look to X-com 2, which encourages a faster play, and has no alien interrogation and a pretty dull global map.... X-com 2 is by no means a bad game. In fact, it's great, but because of previous experience, I can't help but feel it's wanting. It's me, not you, X-com.

    Last edited 05/10/16 1:23 pm

    I got into video games around the age of 11 or 12. Played for about 2-3 years on hand me down consoles from cousins and then finally on PC. Then studies and then work got in the way plus I couldn't really pester my parents for a new PC. Came back to it 10 years later cuz I randomly googled Tomb Raider in 2015 and saw they were still making those games and I suddenly had a very desperate itch to play Tomb Raider Definitive Edition. Further searches told me that Rise of The Tomb Raider is also coming out in 2015 but only on Xbox One. That's how I ended up buying the AC Unity Black Flaf Xbox One bundle. AC unity was the first game I had played in 10 years and it showed me how far games had come.

    Almost two years later I can feel the pressure of the pile of shame and I feel dismayed when I start up Far Cry 4 and the splatter of collectibles and side content across the map. Don't get me wrong when I start playing, I enjoy myself thoroughly. It's only when I think of how much there is to be done in game that I feel a sinking sensation. Most of the time my philosophy is to try each kind of mission at least once and then gun through the story unless I like a particular kind of side mission. The first game I remember paying extra attention to side content was AC black flag. Just attacking those sea fortresses was fun.

    Now I keep telling myself that no matter what games are coming out, I should remember that I am enjoying playing FC4, and a few months later the new games will be cheaper anyway. It's not like I need to diacuss the new games with anyone cuz none of my friends play games. Who am I kidding? I don't have any friends.

      Yep I'm similar,
      Was gaming on PS1 and PC back in the day. Completely stopped and picked it up again 2013. It was Skyrim that got me interested so got me a ps3. Then I found out the makers of Crash Bandicoot were still around and TLOU and Uncharted were out. Then I got a PS4 and Xbox One and I have alot of games from this and last generation to catch up on.

    Sounds very familiar - "passion turned obligation." I loved programming through high school and uni, grew to love games over the same period, finished a degree in Software Engineering. Anyone would think becoming a game developer would be my dream job - it's not. I consciously avoided that path (and anything that would bring gaming into my work life) - I could see that it would eventually affect how I viewed games. Landed a pretty neat job building data-oriented systems, and it fuelled my passion to explore new technologies, but after a while, it completely burnt me out on hobbyist programming - I ended up with a head full of "wouldn't it be cool if...?" and no will to implement any of it. Now I'm working more of a sysadmin/database programming role, I'm finding my passion for little side projects slowly returning, and have built a few little command-line apps interacting with Bungie's Destiny APi to do some things that the existing third-party apps I use don't quite do.

    Some people say the best job in the world is to do what you love... not always the case.

      My story is pretty similar, except I never considered that game development would not be my dream job. It still kinda is. But I never managed to get into the local game companies with nothing behind me and ended up falling into starting a software development company with other people from Uni (mostly data-oriented systems for clients), and we've been doing that ever since.
      I have so many ideas in my head for things to build in my spare time, but just have no motivation to do so. It can actually be quite depressing at times.
      I also have very little time to dedicate to gaming these days, and even when I do have time I go through phases where I feel like I want to play something, but don't have any idea what, despite my enormous humble-bundle-fueled steam backlog.

      I am interested in your ideas and would like to subscribe to your mailing list.

      Or, I'll just ask you later 'cause this sounds cool.

    the gaming community lately has put me off gaming big time. so much entitlement and so much 'we can make a better game than an devs ever' on every single game I follow and have done for years. the 'lets complain about everything and appreciate nothing' approach to life. No thanks. I am done with those people. I love things despite of their flaws or sins.

    currently of all the games I owe and could play I just recently bought Elder Scrolls Online on PS4, even though I could play it looking really pretty on PC with full mods etc. There is just something liberating about the lack of important UI stuff, lack of in game detailed reporting, lack of communication that makes all it so refreshing. It really shows where my head is at lately. Ridding myself of all that fluff and just getting lost in a gaming world, story only, removed from all the min/maxing. removed from all toxic behaviour.

    Gamers have become waaaaaay too serious and way uptight. It used to be about escape, a way to escape the toxic people in real life, for me now I find in general online communities are the toxic people I deal with daily.

    Last edited 05/10/16 2:13 pm

      That's why I'm a 100% single player campaign guy. I don't allow other human beings into the experience to ruin it for me...

      Noticed this too. The Steam forums are full of absolute hate and vitriol around any release and exemplify this behaviour. PC gaming communities seem so wrapped up in this PC master race bullshit that they're just hostile places to be most of the time (at least the big ones). Not that console communities are much better: MY MAGIC BOX IS BETTER THAN YOUR MAGIC BOX. I'm tired of constant criticism and telling me that Game X is bad because it didn't do Y (which it was never going to do) or because it's the same as Game Z except it isn't. Now I just play games and enjoy them for what they are.

      Shit games are shit games and should be called shit games, but we're becoming hypercritical, particularly of the AAA sector. Not sure why we're heaping praise on the latest 8 bit indie platformer with a message, man! when they're basically a dime a dozen these days and doing the same shit as the AAA sector.

    I have loved motorcycles since i was a kid. Worked in the industry for 10 years and same thing happened to me. Started doing other things on weekends. Now I've left the industry, I'm loving my bikes again. Never make your hobby your job I think

    I get it. I've had an incredibly intense 24 months - divorce (after several years' separation), getting married, back issues that kept me off my bike for months, serious physical health issues with my wife that triggered her into depression, last year nearly losing my sight and winding up with better vision than I've ever had (THAT was a roller coaster), a cancer scare, and a 12 month project at work that involved 60+ hour weeks and a lot of weekends.

    I have a lot of games that just haven't been played. I've finished a few here and there in short bursts of effort, but the constants over the last couple of years have been Pokemon Y on my 3DS when I'm travelling, Elite: Dangerous and Destiny. The latter two have a very important pair of features in common - they have large communities and I can chat to folks I know while I play, and they're very easy to pick up for a couple of hours and put down again. They're giant time sinks (I have nearly 8 WEEKS in Elite since 1.0) but if I miss a few days or a few weeks I can just carry on where I was.

    Got some serious leave coming up. Will spend some of it gaming for sure. :)

    Thank the lawd for Walker!

    For too long Serrels' contributions to Kotaku were only tangentially related to gaming... Climbing in this, UFC in that, wistful love of Prime, Hurr Durr "gamer marketing", the struggles of *not* playing (Go, DS3, Metal Gear, anything?!). -- What are you playing this week? Oh he's talking about Mario and his child *again*

    Thankfully!! Since Alex has joined the team we've had some excellent pieces on pro graming (compared to Mark's CoD/LoL finals "I don't get it"), gaming cons, board game reviews!

    I suppose *I'm* just wistful for the days of Wildegoose - there was some gaming stories you could sink your teeth into!

    Jog on Serrels,

    I like video games but board games imo are way better especially today where can choose from party games that are great to play with your family, to Euro's, to heavy economic games, to dungeon crawlers all the way to war games recreating the epic battles of the past present and future. Many are incredible solo like Mage Knight and most if you can't play face to face can be played online for free.

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