Dear Diary, Current Mood: Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild. It’s absolutely amazing. (PC Nintendo)
This One’s For the Games.
Many of my friends and family know that I have two or three hobbies. One of them in particular, is video gaming. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed ever since I’ve been a young kid. Some of my favorite memories as a kid are beating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game with my parents in Virginia Beach. Or the first time I played Sonic the Hedgehog on our Sega Genesis. Maybe it’s the thrill I got from playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64. I’ve had numerous favorite games over the years. Regardless, gaming has been a past-time that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over the years and one that’s remained a constant in my life. This topic is going to explore this hobby and how I’m exploring it within my newfound respect for minimalism.
Why haven’t I written about this yet?
In the midst of writing this blog it’s a topic that I’ve consciously avoided so far. I didn’t quite know how to breach the subject. It’s certainly not anything that I’m overly concerned about. However, gaming is brings up a lot of stereotypes, preconceived notions, or stigma. It’s fair to say negative attitudes and perceptions are raised for any type of hobby or activity you enjoy in your spare time. I think gaming also carries its fair share. I’ve heard it all, from games being a waste of time and money, to creating antisocial behaviors, games not being representative or inclusive of all social identities, to their depictions of sex and violent content and the impact they have on the mind and broader society. For me, I think there’s unhealthy behavioral norms as well as extremes that exist for gaming, many of which I’ll share my own journey with the hobby. However, I think there’s also benefits as well when gaming is done in moderation. I think those pro’s and con’s become more pronounced and the issue becomes even more complex when you intersect the idea of minimalism into the equation. I’ve been trying to get down my thoughts in a clear and concise manner.
A few years ago, my wife had her friend surprise-bake me a Sonic birthday cake. It was a lovely surprise and a great birthday. (PC: Justine Pinskey)
What’s Great About Gaming?
Gaming by far has been a social activity for me. Whether I’m enjoying a game with friends in the moment, or talking about a game with friends, it’s something I can bond with people over. Gaming can be a catalyst to form relationships with other people. I think that’s a huge component of the hobby for me. It’s a good ice-breaker. Between sharing a couch while playing a game, sharing tips or strategies, or sharing perspectives and experiences with a game, I truly enjoy those aspects of the hobby.
Games are an artistic medium for me. I love the history of them, how the technology and software have evolved over time, and how a series of games usually improves over time. I don’t understand how the language of how they are coded and designed. Games offer worlds that I can explore, stories and characters I can delve into, challenges and puzzles I can solve, and allow me to enjoy their beauty and intricacies often at my own pace. They provide social commentary in engaging and thought provoking ways other mediums cannot.
I also enjoy gaming because it allows me to get inside my head a bit. I’m an introvert. I tend to do a lot of thinking when I play games. My work also revolves around people, to the point where I need a moment for myself at the end of the workday. An hour or so allows me to decompress and shed the day’s baggage if I need to. This isn’t an alternative to getting outside or exercising. And I still end my screen time (usually) by 9:30PM. Limits are key, and sticking with them is the most important challenge.
What’s Not-So-Great About Gaming?
It can become quite consumptive. You can quickly form habits that simply drain your time and sap your productivity. There are moments in my life where I’ve let a game or two consume me, for a day, week, or even month’s worth of my time. That’s not a place I’d like to be anymore, seeing what the toll has on myself (attention span, energy, and my attitude). I realize now that the behavior can become addicting if you allow it. There’s one particular culprit that comes to mind…
World of Warcraft. I have a love/hate relationship with you. (PC: Blizzard Entertainment)
TANGENT ALERT! TANGENT ALERT!
I used to play a lot of World of Warcraft (WoW), a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMO) I grew up with Warcraft’s strategy games (where the series began). The strategy games you could play a round or two and be done with after 45 minutes to an hour. They were great little games that offered a unique setting and a lot of strategy and skill.
At first, this was novel — Exploring the World (of Warcraft) was something awesome. However, WoW is designed specifically to capitalize on the investment of time you put into the game. It can feel sinister at times. There’s occasionally some skill-based aspects, but MMO’s in general and WoW in particular are consumptive gaming treadmills. Your focus is to upgrade your in-game character with new levels and equipment, gearing them out, sometimes for hours a week. You get an upgrade, feel a little dopamine reward, and you seek the next upgrade. After you hit one threshold, you’re back on the treadmill seeking another upgrade. It is an exercise in human consumption, one that costs $14.99 a month. I would love to see Blizzard’s analytics of the average time spent per user. They’ve made billions in profit, but did you know in 2012, over 5.9 million years of human time have been spent in the game? That is truly mind boggling.
For some people, they are able to limit themselves to how much they play WoW. They can play an hour or two and have no attachment. For me, I don’t think that’s the case. Whether it being competition to be the best for your group of friends you play with or the treadmill-based reward system, I often felt like I’d get sucked in and lose all sense of time. It can feel like a second job for what is actually intended to be a leisure activity. I enjoyed the relationships I built with folks over the time spent online with them, and some moments of exploring and playing the game but the overall game itself, is something I can’t bring myself to play any longer. I wish I had the capacity to moderate myself, but WoW feels like a substance I don’t want to be addicted to any longer. (End Tangent)
What’s Not-So-Great About Gaming Continued…
With the time and energy piece covered with WoW, video gaming also amounts to physical stuff. All three of those are antithetical in principal to minimalism itself. I have virtually all of the games I’ve had as a kid. Many of them were given to me by my parents, friends, and family over the years. Some I have purchased for myself. At some point along, I was both a collector and a gamer. I was interested in getting the newest games when they came out, often paying full retail. You could be in for a costly sum, depending on what you’re purchasing.
There’s the consoles, controllers, and software, which can all amount to significant amounts of money into a hobby. I’d argue that in terms of hobbies, it adds up quickly if you’re not budgeting what you spend. New consoles usually range in the ballpark of $300 to $500, controllers are $60, and software $60. Some have a $60 yearly subscription cost for online services. Given the cost, I’m often hesitant to be an early adopter nowadays of the newest technology, waiting for a price drop or a fantastic sale.
In terms of physical space I don’t believe it takes up as much space as say some other hobbies. The software I usually organize in a tidy manner, to keep it all in place and orderly. The hardware I display proudly, and tuck away my controllers in a drawer. Some people might see what I have and deem it a collection, or not see the point of owning it. At the end of the day, it is stuff. I suppose that could be a detractor, in a pure minimalism standpoint. There’s nothing wrong with that point of view. For me, I try to take a little liberty with this one aspect, because I do enjoy all the games I own and go back and play through them.
How To Find Balance and Truly Enjoy Gaming, Guilt-Free:
At an Arcade in France. My wife was awesome and found an Arcade for us to explore during our honeymoon. (Photo Credit: Justine Pinskey)
Time: With the bulk of a month behind us, some of the limits we’ve put in place for ourselves have helped me keep a better sense of balance. By 9:30 on weeknights, I’m done with whatever it is that I’ve been doing on a screen. If it’s something on the computer, phone, or TV, I’m finished when that time rolls around. I feel like this set of guidelines really helps me avoid the overindulgence I had with games like WoW, where I lose all sense of time and what’s going on around me. I feel more mindful and present when I’m able to disconnect with technology, and it allows me to appreciate the time that I do have with gaming. I’m much more intentional about what I choose to play, and don’t get hung up on what I might be fearful of missing out.
Budget: You might be wondering how I budget, given the price of gaming and I’m trying to be a minimalist. Over the past four years, I have kept track of every expense for my hobby. I don’t take any liberties on this either. If I purchased or sold something, its price is logged. I’ve continually reduced what I’ve spent on my hobby drastically over these four years. In 2014, I spent an average of $100+ a month on gaming. 2015, $80. 2016, $40. As for 2017, I haven’t spent anything. In fact, I’m $0.55 in the black/month ($6.50 ahead for the year so far, since I calculate a monthly average). How?
I tend to not purchase games at full retail price. It really is one of the most costly ways to buy games. If I wait usually a couple of months, the price drops drastically. A $60 game quickly becomes $10-15. So if I resist the urge to be current, I can still enjoy the game on my own time and pay a fraction of the cost. So far, the new Zelda game for Wii U has been the only full retail game I’ve purchased. This mindset really keeps me within my budget.
I also flip, trade, and resell games. If I beat a game, and I have no interest in keeping it any longer, I part ways with it. I did this with some of the games I had in my possession, especially when I was leaning towards a collecting mindset. Now, I’ve been much more selective of whether or not I keep a game. Will my friends enjoy playing it? Will my kids one day enjoy playing through it one day? Is it a series I love? Will I enjoy playing it again? Usually a game has to satisfy most or all of these criteria whether or not a game stays.
However, there’s a good resale market for a lot of classic games, especially if we’re talking some of the systems we grew up with as kids. I usually find some games locally, play what I want, and sell the rest and recoup all of my initial investment. It’s a break-even strategy, so I’m never in a position to make money. This does allow me to be selective of the games that I want to play right away while also being frugal about my hobby. I really take joy knowing the past few years have really tapered my spending down to something very manageable.
Stuff: I don’t collect games very much at all anymore. I am quite content with the games I have. I’ve pared down a bunch of games I have beaten and have no further interest in. However, with what I do have, I still go back and play them from time to time when the mood strikes or when I have people over. I have one favorite console (Sega Dreamcast) that I’m always on the lookout for a game or two, but that’s it. Now, the physical space my games take up is far less than it used to be and I’m proud of this. Going digital on some games also helps with the physical clutter. PC Gaming is great for that. I hope that between a couple of boxes, that’s all we’ll have to move when the time comes.
I hope this article opened up some new ideas for you. I hope that it’s relatable in some way, whether you enjoy gaming as a hobby or there’s something else you enjoy in leisure. For me, it was helpful to explore some of the thoughts I had around being to enjoy a hobby that can be require time, money, and energy and still find ways to take a new minimalist approach to it. Do you all have hobbies that have costs associated with them? How do you budget and justify the costs while keeping minimalism in mind? Is this one area where you’re a minimalist, sometimes? Or do you have clever strategies to offset those costs? I’d love to know! One way or another, I hope you’re having a good week and thanks for reading!