Several years back I experienced a big change in my gaming habits that came from the birth of my brand new gaming rig. I dropped $800 on new parts, put them inside a badass full tower, and fixed myself up with dual monitors for good measure. My primary motivation came from wanting to join my friends online, at a time where I felt like I was missing out on a plethora of multiplayer titles. Every day I had to sit and listen to them gab back and forth about their characters on Star Wars: The Old Republic, or the crazy moments they experienced on Battlefield 3 the night before. These conversations were circulating around me, while I just sat and stared at my pitifully dated gaming laptop that struggled to run Guild Wars. It’s the type of cold exclusion that would make any man spend $1,000, without any consideration for his future finances.
Between my PC and consoles, there was rarely a game that I couldn’t get my hands on, so my gaming possibilities broadened exponentially. Purchases through steam became a weekly investment and brought with it all the variety I could have hoped for. I immediately joined my friends in the mini online community that had been established through a chat server called Mumble. This allowed us to stay connected to each other at all hours of the day. There would regularly be at least one or two people in the channel, which meant that there was always someone to hop into a co-op game with. At times 6-8 people would be available, making for the perfect MMO or online shooter party. In a nutshell it was just a great feeling to have that sense of community constantly available. My room was transformed into a club where my friends were always waiting to play video games, or have a chat while waiting for someone else to show up.
Unfortunately, this also came with a downfall.There was a huge shift with my day to day gaming habits. In the years prior to owning a decent PC I was still able to put countless hours into a ton of great single player games. I mean, up until that point single player was my ideal way to play. Now, anytime I tried to sit down and enjoy a game by myself, it was impossible to stay focused long enough to make any progress. This made console gaming nigh impossible. There was a disconnection I felt whenever I left my PC and fired up the ol’ PS3. I knew that all my friends were still playing and here I was trying to convince myself that I could sit on the couch and play Final Fantasy X. I was betraying the games that had shaped me from my youth due to codependency issues, gained from over-indulgence in community gaming. It was especially shitty when there was no one available in the chat server, and I was forced to try and bide my time with mind numbing instant-satisfaction titles.
Over time, multiplayer gaming began to lose its luster, transforming my pre-existing issue into a double edged sword. It’s my personal stance that multiplayer titles don’t offer the same amount of substance as most single player games. I’m not trying to discount the impact that online multiplayer games have had. I still play Overwatch on a regular basis, and from time to time I’ll buy a month of Final Fantasy XIV to check out a new patch. Still, those years where I avoided games with strong narratives and character development felt extremely lacking. There were very few memorable releases among the wave of dime-a-dozen time wasters. Gaming had become a repetitive habit for me, providing a crutch for my attention span and never delivering the experience I longed for.
To add insult to injury, there was eventual turning of the tides between my once tight-knit group. It was obvious that their interests were not waning as much as mine were. Day after day they continued to pour hours of their time into MMORPG’s. For a long time I indulged just as much, leveling characters and running through instances, playing for gear that allowed me to keep playing for gear. Rinse and repeat. I could no longer see the appeal of sinking months of my life into a game, that in the grand scheme, lacks a purpose. Any accomplishment just opens the door to the next accomplishment, and so on until you let go of it entirely.
When they weren’t busy grinding out the same dungeons in World of Warcraft, it was League of Legends (in all its glory) that filled the gaps. Don’t misunderstand, for a while I was a semi-dedicated League player. There were high points where my proficiency with certain characters kept me engaged. Wins were well balanced with losses and for the most part our team comps were well executed, but it always came with a lack of fulfillment. When the dust settled, I was dissatisfied with the trend our group was following. I started taking breaks when the games because too monotonous. This was somewhat helpful, but listening to your friends joke around and scream at each other while playing League of Legends has sort of an adverse affect. My solution was to enter a different chat channel, keep myself occupied until the match was over, and join in on the next one. The only problem is that I wouldn’t hear back from them. Thirty or so minutes would go by without so much as a whisper, which would bring me to pop back in the channel for an update, but I would always just miss the start of the next match This became typical, and it wouldn’t take long for the invites to stop coming altogether.
I’m not sure what finally sent me over the edge. I think one day I just had enough with the bullshit and decided to loosen my death grip on something that wasn’t making me happy. I closed out of the chat server and left the headset to collect dust for a while. Then I went into my living room and opened the HD collection of Kingdom Hearts that my girlfriend (now my fiance) bought me for my birthday. I loaded the game up and dove right back into one of the most meaningful adventures of my lifetime. It seemed like a fitting re-entry.
Despite my unconditional love for Kingdom Hearts, breaking myself of the habit that had taken me away from my consoles was no easy task. My detox had started, but I knew it’d be a while until I was completely comfortable going solo. I decided to explore more games that I knew would sink in their hooks and not let go until I was finished. Following closely behind Kingdom Hearts was Final Fantasy VII, another treasure from my adolescence. I knew Steam had a port with better resolution than my PS2, so I added that to my library. This was also a great way to reset my expectations on my PC, which wasn’t exactly accommodating of solidarity. Again, I was enveloped in nostalgia and remained devoted to seeing my reminiscent adventure through to the end. This would serve as a turning point for me. I found myself buying more games for my PS4, including The Witcher 3, that helped to seal my newfound independence.
Fast forward to 2017, I’m spending most of my time with single player games. Whether it’s Final Fantasy XV, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or Persona 5, I have an intense attachment to these games that keeps me coming back for more. I’m no longer concerned with the latest online shooter or run of the mill MMORPG. My main focus is on finishing my list of side quests. I’m biding my time until I get to explore that missing section of the map. I’m hurrying home from work to start infiltrating the next palace. The best change is that I am finally just playing games for myself. I get to reach goals in a world that only I can affect. I’m able to absorb enticing stories that were overlooked before. In the most basic terms, I have found a passion in gaming that has been somewhat absent for a long time.