Hobby or Obsession?
Ever since my mum bought me a Sega Megadrive (Genesis to US folks) when I was five, I have been enamoured with video games.
She is a smart one, my mum. She realised very quickly that if given the choice between a birthday party or a new video game, I would choose the latter every time. What that says about me I try not to think about.
Yet I don’t think she considered how big of a role they would play in my life. Now, as I march steadily towards 30, I sometimes wonder whether that impact has been for the good or ill.
I have always been a person with an overactive imagination. I could be reliably left alone in as a child to make up imaginary worlds, dramas, and stories with just a bunch of toys. The possibilities that lay in video games must have captured that love of different worlds and experiences.
The Megadrive turned into a PlayStation, and then the PlayStation turned into a gaming PC. I would regularly be up until 3AM on school nights playing games online, my face illuminated in the glow of a cathode ray monitor. Obviously as a teen you’re more resilient to the effects of such prolonged sleep deprivation, but more than once I fell asleep in lessons.
I would even on special occasions, usually during summer holidays, spend the entire night and into the morning playing games. I would log off at 5AM, head down to the local shop and pick up a six pack of Red Bull to keep me up through the day – you guessed it – playing video games.
While I don’t necessarily think that video games have done anything to ruin my life – I never really let them impact my social life, dating life, health etc – when I look at the 2,000-3,000 hours I have spent playing Football Manager in my life I can’t help but wonder what else I could have been doing for 125 days of my adult life. Perhaps I would have just spent it watching TV, or perhaps I could have been learning a language or getting better at playing the guitar?
Honestly knowing me, it would have been the TV.
That’s why I try not to judge myself too harshly for the time spent playing games. After all, I started writing as a way to create my own stories in the worlds I played as video games. The first piece of semi-serious writing I did was a 75,000-word novella set in the world of Warhammer 40k – a hobby I had picked up from playing video games.
Yet I still so easily slip into those habits. I could quite easily still spend an entire Saturday playing Football Manager, Total War, or FIFA, facetiously getting annoyed that I’d wasted a day at the end of it. But if I had fun, was it wasted?
But then, am I remembering my past too harshly? As a teen I still had an active social life with plenty of friends, I travelled, I read, I played sports. At university I did the same. I was hardly a shut in. So what’s the problem?
There’s something of a routine in it, and it’s come as a shock to me to realise that I sometimes just play games because I have always played games. It’s what I do when I have nothing else to do. It fills time. I began to wonder if I was more an addict than I was a consumer.
It’s why I have decided recently to try and play games with friends, or at least with some objective in mind. Not just to mindless click “continue” on a game of Football Manager or have something to do while I half-watch a series I’m not that into on Netflix. A hard curfew stops me from slipping back into those teenage habits.
Perhaps this is all a part of a second stage of growing up, countenancing the continuation of a hobby which is still deemed one for children or teenagers? Though when I am deep in a video game, transported to another world, feeling that rush of exploring the unknown and immersing myself in fantastical stories, it make me think that if this is part of growing up then maybe I don’t want to.