Growing up, I was your stereotypical bookworm. I carried a book with me everywhere I went, and even snuck in stories when I should have been paying attention to other things. I couldn’t get enough of reading.
Then university happened, and I stopped looking at reading as something that was fun and more as something that I had to do to succeed or to be a more well-rounded person. Almost needless to say, my love of reading eventually dwindled.
In its place, I began to play more video games in my free time. Now, as I’ve written about before, I’ve always loved gaming. It’s just that it was, for me at that time, a secondary hobby to reading. When I began not to read as much, however, gaming became my primary hobby.
I like platformers, as they were my introduction to video gaming (Mario Bros. 3 on my sister’s NES was the first game I ever played), but my tastes changed to JRPGs pretty quickly once I had my own consoles. I was probably drawn to this type of game because of its propensity for novelesque storytelling and moving portraits of characters suffering through various travails and challenges. I also liked that no matter what you did (most of the time), you would progress in some way.
It became a bit addicting, seeing the little numbers go up and up as I battled through epic, interesting stories. Final Fantasy, in particular, was my jam for a long time. At that earlier point though, I was still in love with reading primarily, so while my love for JRPGs (and gaming in general) was growing, playing them was still a secondary use of my time.
Later, as gaming became my primary hobby at university, I started paying more attention to gaming fandom and online discourse. I learned that some games, especially amongst JRPGs, were part of a “canon” of wonderful “masterpieces” that I simply had to play, a what’s what of essential gaming. Among these games were series I had heard of before, like Dragon Quest, and others I had not, like Suikoden. I made it my mission to play them all.
And now we come to today. I teach high school and middle school students, and part of how I connect with them is through my knowledge and love of gaming. But lately, something feels off: I often find, when I’m playing a game, that I’m playing it less because I enjoy it, and more so that I can be part of the discourse, either with friends, my students, or just in terms of keeping up with gaming articles and forum posts.
I don’t play everything, of course. I’ve never cared for shooters, and racing games outside of Mario Kart have never held my interest. I don’t care about horror games, and visual novels bore me more often than they entice me. So, besides the occasional platformer here and there, I mostly just play JRPGs... long, often laborious JRPGs.
I’m almost 30. As mentioned, I teach, which is not exactly a job that gives you a lot of free time during the school year (summers are nice though). And it seems like JRPGs these days are long for the sake of being long, as if the bloated run time will counteract against the generally niche place the genre has held for a while now (while I know it has grown in public esteem in the last few years, overall I think it’s still a bit niche compared to the sales of other types of games) by virtue of the sheer volume of gameplay on offer per title. I think back to games like Final Fantasy IV, which took me about 25 hours to beat, or Chrono Trigger, which took about 20 (I only finished one ending, and was satisfied), and then look at something like Dragon Quest XI, which took me 116 hours and, while I thought it was very good, didn’t feel any better to complete than those earlier, shorter titles did.
The real kicker lately was the PS5 reveal event. I watched the whole thing, and wasn’t excited by anything except the remake of Demon’s Souls, a game I’ve already loved and finished on the PS3 years ago. The event made me realize that gaming, at least AAA gaming as highlighted in the event, is going places that I just don’t care about and am beginning to think I don’t have time for.
And then we get to my backlog. In my last post, I listed my backlog and the rules I’m following to get through it. To some extent, I’m still planning on doing so. But, to be honest, many of the games on that list were bought back in my college days because of their “canonicity” rather than from a genuine desire to play them. And the thought of playing games just to check them off of a list rather than to do something fun in my free time is beginning to wear on me. Basically, what I’m saying is that lately gaming has become for me what reading had become in university: a chore, supposedly for my own edification.
Do you ever feel this way? Please keep in mind, I’m not saying gaming is terrible, or even that I’m going to stop playing video games, just that I’m taking time to re-evaluate my relationship with gaming and with my motivations for playing video games.
TLDR: For a while now I’ve felt like I’ve been playing games because of some “duty” to complete “masterpieces” and be part of the discourse rather than for fun, and it’s wearing me out. Thoughts?