When a Hobby is No Longer Positive

“In all things, moderation.” When I was younger I used to say that gaming wasn’t a hobby, it was a lifestyle. I spent a large majority of my income on video games, peripherals, and computer upgrades and I spent most of my free time playing those games with the plethora of hardware. As I have aged and become a father, I like to think that I have ditched that old saying and begun to view video games as a hobby. However, I’m not sure I really have. While I don’t spend as much time playing them anymore, they still take up the same percentage of my free time and income. This idea is what caused me to take my hiatus last month, but to see why I chose to avoid playing games we have to look a bit further back.

I hadn’t really purchased many games in my high school and college years. I mostly played popular competitive games and they kept my attention for months or years at a time. I kept on the cutting edge of hardware though, and that was more than enough of a money sink for my limited income. Something changed during the 2012 Steam Winter Sale though. I started buying games in bulk, sometimes as many as ten in one day. I had somehow become hooked on purchasing games. Between that winter sale, Amazon’s sales, and all of the bundles that had popped up around that time I was buying multiple games every week. 2013 was approaching and I decided to document my purchases complete with a small analysis of the data. By July I had accumulated some $1100 worth of purchases. That’s an average of around $200 a month! Up until this point I had rationalized the purchases to myself based on the average cost of each game, which was sitting at about $4-5. After this revelation I stopped buying games. My Steam library was sitting at 850, my GOG library around 100, and I had some 250 DRM-free games from bundles and IndieGameStand.

With such a large backlog of games I had never even installed I naturally felt inclined, forced even, to get through them. After all, I did spend that money and I wouldn’t want it to go to waste. At this point in time I had been a father for year and had adjusted to only having a couple of hours a day to myself. What I hadn’t adapted was my mindset regarding this limited personal time. Video games remained the priority and I would hastily boot my computer whenever my daughter took a nap and I would play until she awoke. Despite having articles topics and musical melodies swimming through my head, waiting to be written out, they were pushed aside in favor of playing video games. In retrospect it is easy to see how big of an issue this was, but at the time I felt like I had a control of the situation. I would think, “I used to play video games for six to ten hours a day and now I’m only playing for two. I have definitely converted this from a lifestyle to a hobby by now.” For the past couple of months I have noticed how often I had blown off doing productive activities but I did nothing about it. I knew that I had projects piling up but I still played video games instead.

It was because of this impulse that I decided to eschew video games for a month. I wanted to give myself a chance to step back and evaluate my life and what I wanted from it. Instead of viewing video games as a hobby I decided to view video games as a distraction and I was going to live without my usual distractions for a bit. This involved getting off of Twitter and trimming up my RSS feeds, which combined usually ate up 40-60 minutes of my morning routine and then about another hour or two throughout the day. This experiment began on September 1st and ran until October 1st.

The most frustrating part of last month was just how hard my brain pushed back against productivity. After working on a task for just a few minutes my mind would already be searching out a distraction such as checking my email or perusing a forum. Fortunately, these distractions took but a minute or two to complete and then I was right back to working again. Not to anyone’s surprise, but this process lead to a ton of progress on tasks I had been working on for months. I organized and backed up my entire picture library, sorted through hundreds of musical ideas, wrote almost an album’s worth of music, and even emptied out the storage room in the house so that my daughter could have her own room. While I didn’t get much progress done on this blog, I did finally start the music series I’ve been talking about for a while.

I learned a lot about myself during this process. Not just about how I function and what areas of myself I need to work on, but about what I want to do and what kind of sacrifices I need to make in order to accomplish those goals. That’s not to say I’m abandoning video games. I enjoy playing and thinking critically about them and I don’t believe any decision that drastic will be beneficial. I will be seeking out a nice balance between work and play though. This will involve an upheaval of my priorities and how I organize my time and, quite frankly, I’m a little nervous and apprehensive about it. However, I’m excited about this change and, as cliche as this is, I feel like I am entering a new chapter in my life. A chapter based around learning and growing and less about stagnation and complacency.

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