Thursday, February 06, 2014

Ever the Anxious Gamer

Gamers are indeed a unique bunch. We spend billions of dollars a year to enjoy a form of entertainment that many to this day consider to be a waste of time and aforementioned money. We sacrifice time, sleep, and sometimes sanity for the sake of this passion and frankly, we don’t give a damn what people think. However, most of us (including myself) would be the first to admit that this lifestyle can sometimes be costly to our mental foundation.

Personally, I believe my early years of gaming were a catalyst for some of my OCD tendencies. What today is expressed by my extreme umbrage with improper grammar, odd numbers, asymmetry, and various other things in life likely began with the need to hit the highest point of a flag pole in Super Mario Bros., grind for hours in Earthbound to easily defeat bosses the first time, or collect all party members and complete all side quests in Final Fantasy VII. Maybe I’m over analyzing things a bit here, but there’s something to be said for the nature of games and the pressure they put on gamers to strive for “perfection”, particularly retro games where high difficulty was the norm, not a setting. Still, gaming is a stressful event; maybe not all the time, but from time to time we all get to a point where that controller is one small break in our self-control away from becoming a projectile.

BOOM nailed it! And only on my 20th try!

Still, these feelings have been with me since the advent of my relationship with video games. What I found recently was a new feeling of mental anguish that afflicted me while playing during my week of marathoning while sick with the flu. It filled me with a paralyzing feeling that can only be described as a mix of guilt and fear. The guilt came from thinking I was wasting my time gaming when I should’ve been doing “more productive” things like checking email (i.e. – working), and the subsequent fear was that I was not only wasting precious time but that it was somehow making me a worse person to spend it playing video games. I can’t quite explain why, but I started judging myself harshly for playing video games for so many hours. Combined, I was riddled for almost 2 straight days with what I like to call gamer anxiety.

From my childhood child well into my college years, I never considered gaming to be a waste of time. Sure it distracted me many times from doing homework, but I always made responsible choices and made time to do homework. Gaming was a part of who I was, and homework got in the way of it, not the other way around. However, somewhere between graduation and now my brain has been tricked into believing that gaming is no longer the part that deserves the lion’s share of attention. Now I’ll be the first to admit that dealing with adult and work responsibilities will always take more time than gaming, but that doesn't mean that gaming is any less a part of who I am now than it was when I was growing up. I now realize that a schism occurred in my brain, and now, for whatever reason, gaming is being treated as an enemy more than ever.

Visual representation of my brain schism [not to scale].

Perhaps some of you are familiar with this feeling. It doesn't take much – take a gamer, throw him/her into the real world with a job, maybe a relationship, and bills to pay, and you've got the recipe for gamer anxiety. Still, many of you may be still be free of such burdens and may think this is a foreign subject to you (which you should seriously cherish…CHERISH IT DAMMIT!). However, gamer anxiety takes many forms, and this one affects approximately 87% of all gamers*: backlog anxiety. Admit it, you've been there, playing a game that you’re enjoying, maybe even for the second or third time, and you glance over at your stack or shelves or walls of games left unplayed and thought about what an awful human being you are. Seriously, you should be jailed for neglecting so many worthy games. Why don’t they deserve the same amount of time as the game you’re playing now? Besides, you've already played Earthbound four times in your life, why do you need a fifth playthrough? And how much money did you spend on those games just for them to become dust collectors? You’re holding your games hostage and forcing them to watch you enjoy other games. Sicko.

Okay, that’s all a bit harsh, but those are the kinds of thoughts that run through my head when I’m playing a game, even one I’m enjoying immensely, and I look at my backlogged games. I feel like a parent whose chosen a favorite child and made no attempt to hide it from the rest of the kids. But why do I do this to myself? Am I trying to sabotage my good times because of some deep issue with self-destruction? Am I just so ADD that I must move on to another game after a certain amount of time spent on the current one, yet at the same time feel guilty for not finishing the current game? Am I simply just annoyed that my backlog keeps growing because no matter how much I play I’m never making a dent? Hell, if I knew I’d take steps to stop this ridiculous feeling.

...and I keep buying them but not playing them.

Alas, maybe it’s simply how a gamer’s brain works. Maybe it all stems back to those early days of OCD gaming as a kid. Seriously, I have no clue and won’t pretend to offer any shred of real help in this area. Right now, I guess I’ll have to accept this newfound strain in my life until I can properly sort it out. Still, despite my gamer anxiety, I’ll never stop gaming, because at the end of the day an email will eventually be deleted and purged, but the memories from gaming will last a lifetime. Besides, I’m glad that gaming means so much to me as to elicit these feelings. The day that gaming no longer makes me feel anything is the day I should just pack it all up. Game on.

*This was taken from a scientific study of 1000 randomly sampled gamers… just kidding, I made it up because that’s just too much work. SCIENCE!