Picture this: you’re sitting with your friends at your favorite place to drink, chill out, or chill out and drink. One of your buds mentions something that reminds you of a video game that a number of you have played. You all start talking about the hours you spent mindlessly grinding/dungeon crawling/farming items/completing so-and-so special set of Insert Name Here. You engage in the Ritual of True Gamer Devotion (“I clocked in 60 hours on that thing!” / “OH YEAH? WELL I DID 99:99:99!!!”). Then you all talk about another game in the same fashion, and then another, and then another.
Sound familiar? Let me go on a limb here, and assume that you’re either in college, freshly graduated from college and happily(?) Funemployed, or already working. You’ve hit that point in your life when life’s getting in the way of, well, life, where you’re buying All the Games that you tell yourself you’ll play Eventually, but you can’t quite seem to get to it – and then that shelf of yours just keeps getting bigger. Sometimes, when you DO get to sit down, you do one run through the main story and pick at some side quests, promise yourself you’ll do it better next time, and then you never get to do it. You end up picking up another game. Rinse, repeat.
On the other hand, you could be that gamer who has a Forever Game, kind of like a Forever Boy or a Forever Girl. Regardless of how busy things get, you always find time to put in some hours here and there until you’ve finished the thing, and then you do it all over again, sometimes at the cost of picking up other titles. Still others have that short list of games they loved when they played them the first time around, and decided to give it another shot – only to realize “Well, shit, why did I like this thing in the first place?”. Granted, the flipside of that is going back to a game after years and seeing things that you never really noticed before.
Why does this always happen to us? Does this happen to any other hobbyist? Are there just too many games out there already? Is gaming something we’ll all end up outgrowing? I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to any of these questions (beyond the second, because believe me, any self-professed bibliophile clutters their shelves at home with All the Books but only ends up reading about a fourth of them), but I will chip in my own two cents on the matter.
The reality that all gamers are confronted with is the simple fact that gaming takes a lot more time and effort than pretty much any other hobby out there. Games are immersive by nature: even the humblest of app games can destroy lives by hooking you in with that “I’ll just do one more round” appeal that they tend to have, and most console and PC games can suck you in with a story, a fantastic world, or side quests that target the hoarder in all of us. Life, though, demands your hours just as much as games do, and the more Life Things (school, work, other hobbies, a significant other) that you have to do, the less time you’ll have to allocate towards losing yourself in a game. We all develop our own “coping mechanisms”; I’ve outlined some of them above. Eventually, though, the gaming only stops when we choose to let it stop by prioritizing other things over the good old fun that we used to have with our handhelds, our consoles, or our computers.
There is also the fact that games are now getting released across the board at a phenomenal rate. I don’t have the figures to prove this, but if I was to speak from personal experience, I have never seen games so readily available regardless of where you’ll play them in my life before, and I’ve had at least nineteen years in my 29-and-counting lifespan to see the shift. Yeah, there’s a lot of crap on the market, but there are also a lot of really nice titles out there too. Take those new and shiny things, combine them with some of those age old classics from your wilder yesteryears of gaming, and you have a Problem: when the hell are you going to be able to play the new stuff, and when will you be able to go back to the stuff you loved so much?
I don’t think that games, overall, end up losing their luster with time, or with old age. I do think, though, that personal priorities shift, hobbies change, and for some of us, gaming will simply stop factoring into our lives. I also think that gaming, as an experience, changes with time, because doing that scary thing called “growing up” always gives you a new perspective. It’s not a matter of saying that “older games are better” or “there are way too many titles out there”. If you keep on looking, you’ll eventually find something new to play that suits your tastes. Alternatively, you could stick to what you’re familiar with and go back to titles that you’ve played before, or titles that you bought Way Back When but never got around to. I’m pretty sure that it’ll be worth your time, or it will, at least, be instructional.