Tuesday, June 1, 2010

No More Games

For most of my life, my predominant hobby has been computer games. I also read a lot and watch television, and I've dabbled in other hobbies, but computer gaming has been the main one going back to the early 1980s. I started with text-based adventure games like Zork, except even older.


You see jungle.


You see jungle.


You see jungle. There is a large tree here.

>Climb tree

Looking out over the jungle's leafy green canopy, you see the ruins of an ancient pyramid to the north. There appears to be a river to the east.

That sort of thing. Then I graduated to online games like Dungeons of Kesmai and later Islands of Kesmai on the Compu$erve mainframe service. We players put the $ in the name because it was friggin' ten cents a minute to play! And that was during non-peak hours!

By the mid-80s, we finally had access to more progressive games like the Sierra Online King's Quest series, Wizardry, and other classics. Ten years later, I was gaming heavily and by the late-90s I was writing game reviews for the Central New York PC User's Group newsletter and fanatically following game development through magazines like PC Gamer.

By the early 2000s, my love of gaming led me to one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life and, in a wonderfully serendipitous turn of events, to two of my three main gigs as a writer to date. Through an online community I was a part of, I was invited to join the World of Warcraft "Friends & Family Alpha Test." It was a closed, invitation-only test where you had to know somebody inside Blizzard Entertainment to get in. Which I did. And it was WONDROUS! I played that damn game practically non-stop for as much as eighteen hours a day for about four months. I realized I was getting a little loopy about it when I went to the supermarket and felt paranoid that a fellow shopper who was picking out lettuce was "Camping my Herb spawn." You'd have to play the game to know what that means, but to me it meant that I needed to take some time off. Regardless, it was some of the most fun I have ever had. The game as it existed by the time they released it ended up being a bit of a disappointment to me and I didn't play it for the first two years that it was out, BUT it still served to catapult me into a writing job.

You see, the WoW F&F Alpha was not only a closed test, but we players were all under a Non-Disclosure Agreement. This meant that there was precious little first-hand information for the game magazines to publish about the title that would become the most-successful online game in history. On the day that the NDA was lifted, I sent a proposal to PC Gamer for an "insider" article about the game. They snapped it up and before I knew it I was a game reviewer! Whee! The pay was crap and I was never really happy with either the games I was reviewing or the copy I was writing, but I was writing for a nationally-published magazine for about a year and it's an experience I'll always remember.

This came a couple of years after my role as President of the Central New York PC User's Group brought me to the attention of the producer/director of the local Time-Warner TV Show "Point 'n' Click." I ended up becoming a regular on the show as both a co-host and as the regular game reviewer with my own segment - The Game Arena. This was an awesome gig because not only did I write the reviews and get paid for them, but I got to choose the games AND I got to be on TV. For a ham like me, that counts for a lot. Again, the pay was nothing much and the best guess on viewership placed it at a few thousand, but I was writing reviews and producing them for a TV show! Whee! That was awesome!

In the years following my first taste of WoW and my gigs as a game reviewer, I had a bunch of little kids and got really busy with work, so my gaming time dropped off quite a bit. I never quit, I just didn't play as much as before. Lately, however, something's different.

You probably didn't notice that I never posted a review of Ghostbusters. I really meant to, except I never finished it. In fact, I'm stuck. I keep re-playing the same level over and over, and I just can't beat it (though I came sort of close once). Now, it's not as if this has never happened before. In the past, I'd look up a hint online or possibly even find cheat-codes to let me get past the area I'm having trouble with. But I just can't seem to muster the energy to do that.

I tried to move on to another game - the very well-rated Bioshok - but that didn't work either. I just don't feel like playing games. For the first time in more than 30 years, I don't feel like it. It's weird. I can't explain it. It doesn't feel like anything's wrong - I'm perfectly happy and, in fact, in some ways I feel happier than I've felt in a long time. I think I've fully decompressed from my last two jobs, both of which were extremely high-stress positions where I spent a ton of time dealing with people who seemed to be deliberately trying to make my life as difficult as possible. My wife recently mentioned that I was much more willing to go out and do "fun stuff" with her and the kids, like picnics or just running errands. I thought about it and realized that it was true. "Of course," I said, "when I was working I was swamped from Monday through Friday and then on the weekend I was exhausted, grumpy and desperately trying to recuperate before I had to wade back into battle for another week."

So it's not as if I'm depressed or anything like that. I've just lost interest in computer games all of a sudden. I've watched my interest-level dwindle for a year or more, perhaps as far back as when I decided that World of Warcraft (which I finally did subscribe to for a couple of years) was a mostly-pointless exercise that was sucking up too much time and money. I didn't lose my gamer mojo right away, it just sort of petered out until now, it's gone completely. Dunno where it went. Kind of don't care. If I were still a hard-core gamer, it would be one more thing to distract me during the day when I'm supposed to be writing, and I have enough trouble with that as it is. So I'm not crying about it, but I did notice it.

It's not necessarily permanent, of course. I may see a game that really jazzes me up and suddenly I'll be back into it. If they finally made a worthy successor to the Heroes of Might and Magic games (like HOMM 3, which was hands-down the best of them all), I'm sure I'd jump on it with both feet. But for now, it's all a memory of fun times rather than a current diversion. I can live with that, and I'll remember those good times fondly. Thank you, computer games. Thank you for countless hours of fantasy and imagination, fun and excitement, frustration and heroic victory. Thank you for opening some doors and giving me experiences I'd have completely missed without you. Thanks for scaring me, making me laugh, filling me with awe and making me feel like a champion. I still have most of my favorites, in their original boxes, surrounding me on their shelves as I work every day. So, in a sense, they're always with me. Certainly they're always a part of me. It's a part I wouldn't trade for anything.

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