I grew up in Michigan and there’s an old joke/saying in the Great Lake State: “We only have two seasons – winter and construction,” because both are unavoidable and seem to last forever. Well, I’d like to add a third season to that list – flu season. For the past 3 years I've gotten flu shot, and the past 3 years I've contracted the flu, including this year’s unpleasant batch of virulent hell that nature unleashed upon my system. Still, I’m rarely one to be both down and out, so while I took 4 days off from work, I decided to see what my life would be like if I spent an excessive amount of time playing video games like I used to do about ten years ago.
Back in my youth, particularly my middle school days, I used video games as an escape. It wasn't really a way to escape the real world because I was miserable. I didn't need video games to help me forget troubles at home or school, and I had friends to keep me company from time to time (especially during all-night 4-player split-screen Goldeneye and Mario Party sessions). No, my escape into video games was mainly because summer vacations can get pretty lonely when you’re an only child. When mom and dad went off to work, I’d get up at the crack of noon, grab a bowl or three of cereal, and head down to the basement to rock some N64, PSX, or PS2 action. It was a way to pass the time until my parents came home. Then, when night fell and my parents went to bed, I’d grab some Doritos and pop (yes I’m from the Midwest and yes it’s called pop) and settle in for a gaming marathon into the wee hours of the morning (usually using my father’s alarm clock for work as an indication to power down).
|The absolute best way to spend a childhood.|
It was during these blissful years of my youth that I gamed for an average of 10 hours a day when I didn't have to step foot outside. Was it a blast and did it get me through what would normally be a boring summer? Hell yea! Was it healthy? Shut up, nobody asked you! Still, those years have long since been gone, but with my sick week ahead of me I had the opportunity to go back in time to my teenage years and play games the way they were meant to be played – in huge marathon sessions in dark rooms while ignoring the fact that anything or anyone else exists. On the docket this week were two games I've been deeply invested in the last couple of months: Fallout 3 and Battlefield3. Sure they’re both a bit dated, but Fallout 3 is one of my favorite RPGs of all time, and ever since my dad got me hooked on playing multiplayer Battlefield 3 I've been nothing short of an addict. Combined, since mid-December I’d logged almost 100 hours of gameplay before my sick week, so gaming marathons shouldn't be a problem for me.
Now bear in mind that this week, while fun and freeing in terms of gaming was also partly miserable due to the fact that I was running a fever for nearly 72 hours and my bones and joints felt as if they’d each done an Iron Man event recently. Therefore I know that this little excursion down memory lane isn't entirely indicative of what a true week in gaming would be for me (not to mention the full-time girlfriend I live with, who, while cool with my gaming habits still requires attention from time to time). However, until I’m unemployed I won’t have a better shot to record my “findings” than this, so here we go.
|I yearn for the days when this used to happen on the regular.|
Gaming marathons as an adult suck. Holy cow, that was difficult to do, but I’m serious – it’s awful and I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s the truth. Before I get too far into the details, allow me to backpedal a bit into my experience:
- Day One – I play Fallout 3 for about 4 hours straight, during which I’m trying hard to keep it out of my mind that I likely have about 300 unread emails in my work inbox despite the fact that everyone knows I’m sick. During that time I've felt guilty about “wasting” a beautiful morning “just playing video games”. After a little lunch break with the girlfriend and watching a couple of episodes of Wilfred (amazing show, BTW), I turn on some Battlefield 3 and jump into an online multiplayer session. During this session, I feel bad about not doing any laundry and wonder if I should’ve at least helped pick up a bit. After a few more hours of guilt-ridden and/or frustrating play on BF3, I pack it in for the night and opt to watch a few more episodes of Wilfred.
- Day Two – Not much else different here; I felt guilty for being a lazy slob (although I did shower during the day) and gave myself more stress by not checking my email inbox which by this point must be in the thousands. I’m also not getting any better from the flu, despite drinking my weight in water and pomegranate juice, so that didn't help. Also, Battlefield 3 was just full of what can only be described as ass-hats most of the day, which didn't quite make my online foray enjoyable.
- Day Three – I didn't spend as much time playing today. While averaging about 8 hours the first two days, my guilt got the better of me and I checked my email (which was thankfully only in the mid-100s) and journeyed outside of the apartment to run a couple of small errands with the girlfriend. I did still manage to play a few hours of Fallout 3 and an online session of BF3 with my dad, but I only clocked about 4 hours, and that was attributed to adult responsibilities more that the flu.
- Day Four – I caved and went to work. I shouldn't have gone because I still had a slight fever, but dammit that inbox full of emails must’ve meant that I was important and needed at work more than the Capital Wasteland needed me to help get Project Purity back online (a stupid conclusion that I obviously blame on the fever). After work I squeezed in a measly hour of online time with BF3 then went to bed vowing to get better and go to work on Friday, only to have fevered, nonsensical dreams during a rough night of restless sleep
- Day Five – I decide that my health and Project Purity are more important than work, and decide to ride out the end of my flu with my Xbox 360. Fallout 3 is the game du jour with a sprinkling of Battlefield 3, but I still could help but feel guilty, like I could be doing something more productive.
|"Hey there boy! Want to protect me from myself?"|
So now you have my synopsis of gaming during a week with the flu, and if it isn't painfully obvious already, the week was a bit bipolar from the perspective of a gamer. I thoroughly enjoy gaming, and have spent countless life-hours devoted to this “little hobby” of mine; however, it appears that my time as an adult (aka – the last three years) has severely altered my ability to get lost in my gaming. Having responsibility is a bitch. Bills need to be paid, paychecks need to be earned, and student loans need to be repaid. It all comes down to one universal truth – growing up means that people expect you to grow the fuck up and stop playing with toys and carry around a briefcase.
Okay, maybe I’m a bit bitter about the real world as of late given that I've been experiencing a bit of gaming anxiety, but the real world is not necessarily gamer-friendly. Unless you’re one lucky bastard and have the skill and/or luck to work for a company like IGN or develop video games for a living, playing video games is seen as a vast waste of time when you could be out there doing so much more, like selling your soul for a paycheck working for an evil corporation. This isn't a knock at corporate America, but rather a knock on the stigma that’s still inherent in America (and the world as a whole) towards gamers, and I felt the guilt I felt as a gamer this past week as I tried to enjoy something I love so much.
|My brain's logic when deciding the merits of gaming.|
So in a week where I was running a fever and had every right to sit in my PJs and play my Xbox 360 like I did for so many summers as a child, I was riddled with thoughts that I should be doing something better with my time. Being an adult comes with some awesome perks, like freedom to make any decision you want without someone else telling you it’s a bad idea and the money to buy anything you desire provided you have a steady income. The thing that I wish someone had told me growing up, though, was that it’s all a lie in one way or another. Even though you don’t have a parent telling you what to do, they've been replaced by something worse – a nagging voice in your own head telling you that you’re a terrible person for not being more adult. And even though you can afford more games than you ever could as a kid, you have very little free time to play them and it leads to huge backlogs and something that can only be described as gamer anxiety. So in the end, my week with the flu and many hours of potential gaming ended up being another rough lesson in how the real world isn't made for gamers. Maybe I should have spent my time more wisely, like inventing a time machine to go back to a better time, when gaming was the greatest thing in the world, and responsibilities were for fools.