Gaming can be the perfect escape from reality. For many, it’s the activity they turn to when life gets tough or change is in the air. But what happens when you suddenly find yourself struggling to game? When you look at your shelf, or a whole library of games, and nothing seems right for you? Feeling burnt out on games is perfectly normal, and you’re not alone if you’re currently struggling.
It’s important to recognise when you need to walk away from any hobby, and gaming is no exception. But because gaming is such an all-encompassing hobby, the signs of burnout can be harder to notice.
Friendships and relationships often revolve around gaming. It can bleed into other hobbies, like watching YouTube or Twitch. It can even become part of your wardrobe. It means dealing with gaming burnout isn’t as simple as just ‘not playing games’. In some circumstances, it can feel like walking backwards through a minefield while leaving a part of yourself behind.
For tech reporter Oskar Howell, walking away from games means leaving friends behind, too. “I find myself just avoiding games, which typically means I avoid my friends online too,” he told Kotaku Australia over Twitter. “It’s the community spirit that keeps me gaming, but if I’m not playing a game with them that keeps me in the loop in the conversation, I end up being on the fringe.”
Walking away from gaming isn’t always simple, particularly when service-focused games are involved, but in some circumstances it’s entirely necessary.
In the midst of coronavirus, our work lives have become increasingly intertwined with our private lives. It means separating your hobbies has become more difficult, and that gaming, particularly on a home PC, can feel incredibly monotonous.
But it’s not just a problem unique to the pandemic.
Social media ‘forces’ us to play games
In the time of social media, there’s a pressure to keep up with absolutely everything in gaming. ‘Spoiler culture’ leads some to feel like they’re missing out if they’re not playing the latest game — and when there’s so many games releasing, it’s nearly impossible to catch up with them all.
Couple that impossible goal with the additional pressures of a full-time job, overwork and an overall lack of spare energy in a global crisis, and you have an untenable situation. It can get hard to squeeze video games into a daily routine, and forcing the issue can make playing them feel like a chore, rather than an exciting hobby.
“From a traditional point of view, coming straight home from work into video games means there’s no time to really adjust and take yourself out of the online rush,” content creator Matt Tilby told Kotaku Australia via Twitter DM. “You just feel drained, going through the motions until you play the next title, not really able to engage yourself fully in it.”
That “always on” mentality has major, negative impacts for mental health — and it can strain your relationship with games. If you find yourself in that position (or turning to the internet to complain about it), this is the time when you need to walk away. It’s okay to walk away from games.
Sometimes you need to admit to yourself that it’s not working, and that you no longer find joy in a particular hobby. It doesn’t have to be a permanent state of affairs, and it doesn’t have to be a definitive line in the sand — but everybody needs a break sometimes, and you should never feel like you have to play games.
Gaming burnout is something we should talk about, and the overwhelming response I received on Twitter proves just how prevalent these feelings are.
Twitter users reported feeling “pressure to keep up” and there being “too [many games] to wade through”. They also experienced a lack of motivation, anxiety about finishing games, too little time, feeling overwhelmed, FOMO driving them away, no longer having games made “for them”, a lack of excitement and being constantly paralysed by the thought of what to play next.
Video games often require a high level of energy and dedicated hours of gameplay to get through them. It’s not the same as simply putting on a TV show or film and settling back, they require an energy and passion that isn’t always there.
“I often don’t have the mindset or mental capacity to actually play,” content creator Jeremy Bratetich told Kotaku Australia. “I find myself more and more playing because ‘I should’ as oppose to because ‘I want to’.”
Twitter user Cale felt similarly. “I think about how much I want to play [my extensive Steam library] and how much effort is required to enjoy them,” he said. “Game burnout feels like, ‘I want to have fun and play all these amazing titles, but the effort required to is too much right now.”
“It’s very strange to describe the feeling burnout specifically relating to games,” host Joshua Appadoo said. “It’s like a feeling of existential dread or emptiness in the pit of your stomach. It just doesn’t feel like any game will quell that emotion.”
Changing priorities also play an important part in how we approach games.
For Gizmodo Australia editor Tegan Jones, working full-time forced a total reassessment of her hobbies. “New open world titles that I once would have been so excited about now just fill me with a sense of exhaustion,” she said. “It’s often easier to just jump into older games that are like a warm blanket of protective comfort, or to just not play anything at all.”
Games should bring you joy. That’s what they’re for. If you’re not feeling it anymore, it’s time to reassess your priorities.
How to avoid gaming burnout
For comedian Ruby Innes, it was a past relationship that brought on feelings of gaming burnout.
“I got dumped like two or three months ago and literally could not pick up a video game since then,” Innes explained to Kotaku Australia. “I only just started playing again though, because each time I’ve had this kind of slump, there’s always been a game to pull me out of it.”
For Innes, Underhero was her saving grace, and it helped her overcome her slump.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes — a game that sparks a unique thought or connects with you in a personal way. Short games can be a fantastic way to get your mind re-engaged with gaming because they require minimal effort and time dedication.
Oxenfree, The Binding of Isaac, Firewatch, Slay the Spire, What Remains of Edith Finch, After Party and Omori all came strongly recommended from the people I talked with. Personally, I also found A Short Hike, Stardew Valley, Murder by Numbers, Paradise Killer and Part Time UFO brought me out of long-term gaming slumps.
But if even the idea of playing a new game turns you off ,and you can’t quite make the leap back to gaming yet, there are other things you can do to reacquaint yourself with video games.
The first and most important tip is to take your time.
We all love video games — but in the same way eating too much chocolate can make you sick, you should take gaming in moderation. If the thought of starting a new game makes you feel resentful, tired or bored, leave it alone. If you start a game and it doesn’t click with you, don’t force yourself to continue. Return it if you bounce off it hard. While this applies differently if video games are part of your job, it’s still important to look after your mental health before anything else.
There’s so many other things you can do to distance yourself from video games for a little while. Several Twitter users said reading was a great way to break the burnout cycle because it’s such a different activity to gaming. Avoiding social media can also help.
Another tip is not buying games just because they’re on sale. If you only buy a game when you really need one, you won’t be overwhelmed with what’s available. Having a long backlog is the quickest way to burn out on games because rather then enjoying them because you’re focused on an end goal or the idea of “finishing” your log.
If you’re focusing too much on the future, you won’t enjoy the present. You can’t live in the moment if you’re constantly thinking ten steps ahead. Don’t focus on “next”, don’t focus on “future”. Concentrate on now, and let everything else fade away.
Above all else, remember: video games are supposed to be fun. If you’re not feeling it, it’s okay to walk away. Everybody needs a break sometimes, even from gaming.