My Favourite Game
I grew up playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, Age of Empires plus various iterations and expansions, Monopoly, Zoo Tycoon, etc etc. My brother and I would often get into fights over whose turn it was on the computer.
Later on, I spent countless hours on game sites, playing in-browser flash games etc. I don’t even remember the names of any that I spent weeks on end playing.
When I was 12 or 13, or somewhere thereabouts, my parents got my brother and I our first console: a PS2. We had several super-tame games like Harry Potter, Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, chess, Who wants to be a Millionaire, etc. All single-player or split-screen at most. Nothing multiplayer. Games like Crash: Burnout and Ace Combat 4 were the most violent we were allowed. We led a sheltered life, to say the least.
Hanging out at my buddy’s place, we would play all kinds of Super Mario, Banjo Kazooey, etc. He had (most of) the latest consoles and played endlessly. Mostly I would just end up watching him play cause he was so much better than me.
High school happened; I was hyper-focused on classes and getting good grades, because I didn’t really know anything else. Eventually I started spending more time with friends outside of school; even went to a few ‘parties’. It was fun hanging out with members of the opposite sex, even if I was awkward as all hell.
Last year of high school I got a laptop, ostensibly for use at university. Then I discovered Minecraft. *Super* early days Minecraft. I was in love. It was like legos, but infinite. The endless stream of griefers on the servers was frustrating to say the least (and I admit I fell to their level on occasion). If I recall correctly, I spent that entire summer playing Minecraft. Or perhaps it was the summer after first year Uni. That would explain why my mom was so mad at me for not trying to find a job. Why bother getting a job when I could spend countless hours constructing my own universe that didn’t involve the painfully boring slog of work, or the anxieties induced by interacting with other people unmediated by a screen or chat interface?
Second year of university, I lived with my first-year roommate. He introduced me to Call of Duty: Black Ops, various single player RPGs (we lined up to get Skyrim, and I played so much that I accidentally overwrote his progress with all my saves - somehow he managed to forgive me). We spent an inexcusable amount of time playing everything together. Needless to say, my grades fell off a cliff, and I dropped out of university in second term of that year. I went back mid summer to ‘try to find a job’ and pick up school where I had left off, but I failed miserably; the gaming continued unabated.
My friend introduced me to League of Legends at some point, and once I got hooked on that, I was done for. At first I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would spend money on a completely free to play game, but I eventually fell into Riot’s nefarious traps and over the following years sunk several hundred dollars into skins and such. It was fun though. Why deal with the rapidly compounding stresses and challenges of social anxiety and mounting clinical depression, financial insecurity, falling grades, and the increasingly terrifying rush into the adult world, when I could just drown it all with epic battles in a virtual arena?
I gave up completely. I moved back home, and somehow convinced my parents that League of Legends was my last remaining connection with my university buddy, so was allowed to keep playing it. He eventually sold (or gave?) me his X-Box and I took up playing Skyrim again. Long after he had moved on to better things, I continued playing Skyrim, League of Legends, and Minecraft. I sank deeper and deeper into depression and gained weight at an unreal speed; I was literally doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and gaming. After a year or two of this absolute insanity and my parents’ (and my own) increasing frustration at my seeming inability to move forward, I started down the slippery slope of self-harm, and eventually ended up in hospital. I got a bit better, went home, and almost immediately tried to kill myself. Back to the hospital for several weeks (months, perhaps?).
After overcoming that absolute hell, I spent another solid chunk of time at home. Strict limits on game time and internet access until I could find a job. When I continuosly pushed those limits, I was cut off completely.
I started writing, and started walking (a lot). Felt great to lose all that weight and be so prolifically creative (even if the bulk of what I was writing centered on League of Legends). It was fantastic. But I still didn’t have a job. Eventually it got to the point where I had to apply to an agency that helps disadvantaged and disabled folks find employment. It worked! I got a job. A really shitty, abusive, low-paying retail inventory job. But I was finally making money again!! Social life was happening! I was making friends with the people I was working with! I got my first smartphone with some of the money I was earning to stay connected to them. Pokemon Go came out, and we were all hooked. Then somewhere along the line there was a change; my mental health started declining again (perhaps I was neglecting my medication and/or sleep?). Somehow all these people who I thought were my friends turned on me as I got increasingly agitated and upset at being left out of everything. After a few awful and downright embarassing incidents at work, I quit.
After a few months of moping around at home again, I managed to get a manufacturing job through a temp agency in a different city. It was straight up agony to sit there and put stacks of solar cells into loading trays to be fed into a machine for hours at a time, on top of trying to find a place to live. I don’t think I lasted a week. I went back home and fell straight back into a black depression, and the gaming came back hard, even if it was just on my phone this time. After a few months of this, my parents set a hard deadline; I would be kicked out if I didn’t find a job. This motivated me to try a new temp agency, and I found the job I’ve been working at for coming on 4 years now. I got a car within a year, and found an apartment shortly thereafter. My co-workers convinced me to get a PS4 (in fact, one of them sold his spare console to me), and we played endless rounds of Fortnite (again, I dumped an unconscionable amount of money into a free to play game), Call of Duty, and even built a world in Minecraft on PC together. I dated a couple of girls who shared my interest in gaming; nothing lasted. Then there was, shall we say, an incident and one of my “friends” (the team lead at work) stabbed me in the back, turned the others in our circle against me to try to cover up his own manipulative and frankly sickening behaviour, and two solid years of friendship went down the shitter in a couple of weeks. I thought I was going to be forced out of yet another job. Sans friends, the gaming continued.
Then came the pandemic.
I’ve sworn off gaming altogether a few times, yet I still find myself falling into slumps on a regular basis. I’ve completely sworn off League of Legends and sold both my consoles, but I still often find myself spending upwards of 10-15 hours per week between fairly mindless phone games and a couple of open world sandbox/RPG type PC games.
The thought that has been lodged in my head for a couple of weeks now (and gaining a good amount of traction and influence) is that I have more memories set in virtual environments, of battles, defeats, wins, of epic ganks, brilliant plays, long shots, and unbelievable comebacks in League of Legends, CoD, Apex Legends, and Fortnite, of time spent exploring the vast and enchanting wilds of Skyrim and the wastelands of Fallout 4 (and 76!), of vanquishing trolls, draugr, and dragons, of killing mobs, spiders, and pigs, of losing all my diamonds cause a damned creeper blew me into lava (again!), of building colossal monuments, forts, and incredibly complex bases in Minecraft, Fortnite, and Valheim, than memories of things I’ve actually done with real people in real life. I’ve spent so much of my life escaping from the often painful realities this world presents that my mind is filled with more memories of pixels on a screen than memories of the real world.
I turned 30 this month. It’s time to stop screwing around and start playing the greatest game of all time: Real Life. It might be an absolutely excruciating grind; pay to win, packed with trolls, cheaters, and hackers; set in a half-baked dystopian future that’s griefed all to shit; full of impossibly difficult battles, infuriatingly stupid bosses, and levels that you get stuck on for years and even decades before you break through; you might lose all your progress to a freak accident, natural disaster, or cruel twist of fate, but it is the only game that matters. And there are no extra lives. No auto-saves. No resets. No do-overs.
Stop wasting your life on games.
Start playing to win.