I’ve never really been one for labels, so I don’t think I ever really described myself as a ‘gamer’. It wasn’t as if I had no other hobbies. But playing games was up there in the top five. From Tetris to Sonic the Hedgehog, to Diddy Kong Racing, to Crash Bandicoot. I played games to the detriment of sleep, work and study. I’m sure I would have finished my Masters thesis at least 12 months earlier, had it not been for Diablo 2. I could sit down to a game after lunch and easily not get up again until it was time for dinner. After all, why stop for food when there were ever more caves to explore and demons to vanquish?
I think it may have been when I began full-time work that I realised I had a problem, although to be fair, I was able to balance them both quite well at the start. I’d get home and eat, have a shower and maybe some TV, and then I could easily fit in a few hours of my game du jour.
Unfortunately, as my duties increased at work after a promotion, I’d end up so tired that I would often have entire days where I wasn’t playing a game. At all.
A return to study was a chance to push reset on my gaming. The great thing was that games had advanced and there were even more from which to choose! Plus, doing a post-graduate degree by research meant… no classes.
I lost several days’ worth of study to some rather intriguing puzzlers, and then The Handsome SIdekick got hold of some time management and hidden object games, and I was in my element. And then there were the many variations of match-3! It was as if casual gaming had been made for me in mind.
Yes I was.
Looking back, I suppose the fun could only last so long. It happened slowly at first — I graduated and began teaching. I got pregnant. I had the baby. I went back to teaching. I got pregnant… and amidst it all, my time for games began to trickle away. So this was My Life, was it? Too busy, too tired to even engage in a little point and click once the children were in bed?
However, once I readjusted and settled into a routine at home rather than at work, there were a few times where I could sit and play. And at first, returning to my old favourites was a welcome distraction. Until it wasn’t…
I found myself haunted by My Life whenever I delved into the gaming world. How could I enjoy Diner Dash when I was already dashing around my own kitchen for most of the day? Tending to the plants in my zen garden in Plants vs Zombies ended up just giving me a guilty conscience for not spending more time with my real plants in my real garden. And Babysitting Mama was like the stuff of nightmares.
Even gorgeous-looking RPGs like Skyrim appealed strongly, until I began to spend any length of time in them. Once I’d got past the first mission, there were suddenly more missions, and then every single person I talked to had a mission for me and oh, good grief, what do you want from me? Another mission? Where am I supposed to find the time to do them all? The pressure, the pressure!! Won’t you all just leave me alone so I can go and look at the flowers?!!
Games just didn’t provide the escapism they once did. My Life skewed my priorities and my anxieties. I was so easily able to slip into worlds unfamiliar when I was younger. But then, My Life became ever-present, dragging me back, an undercurrent of responsibilities and time constraints. I was too busy, too preoccupied to enjoy a game for what it was, anymore.
I’ll admit, for a while, that was depressing.
But two recent realisations have given me some hope. First, my young children are getting older, which means they’re less labour-intensive, and more importantly, they’re starting to play games themselves. Already the oldest has proven himself a formidable gaming partner. The second-born is negotiating right-handed mouse-control from a left-hander’s perspective, but she’s getting the hang of things, too. And the toddler is obsessed with anything electronic. I can foresee some interesting times ahead for us as a gaming family.
And the other thing? One day, they’ll grow up and move out, and The Handsome Sidekick and I will once again have the house to ourselves. By that stage, perhaps I’ll have beaten My Life into some kind of manageable size, so that I can at least close the door on it for a few hours, while I smash a jewel or two, or slay some demons, or race against a princess and a couple of plumbers.
I mean, I’ll need to keep my skills honed, so I can hold my own against the grandchildren.