Leveling Up

Jul 17th, 2022 · 6 min read

Change is a healthy part of life. One aspect of that change is how our interests and hobbies evolve over time. I’ve had so many interests come and go over the years that it’s typically pretty easy to move on once the excitement fades. But occasionally you lose interest in something that’s been with you for a long time, and it can be hard to let go. And for me, in the past couple years, I’ve been letting go of one of my oldest interests: playing video games.

Early years

Gaming has always been a part of my life. Some of the earliest memories I have are playing Yoshi’s Island and Dr. Mario on my Grandma Pat’s NES. Growing up in the desert, this was one of the best ways to have quality, air-conditioned fun with my family. Bonding over games was also an easy way to make friends, which I sometimes struggled with in school.

As a teen, gaming became part of my identity. I would spend most of my free time playing my Xbox 360. It never seemed like time wasted; I remember feeling engaged, accomplished, and happy. However, since that time, it seems like I can only chase those feelings, without being able to capture them again. No gaming experience has lived up to those golden years.

The online experience

In my gaming life, I spent the majority of time playing FPS (first-person shooter) titles, and that continued into adulthood. Over time, these games seemed to only get more and more repetitive. My favorite FPS franchises like Call of Duty and Battlefield stopped innovating when it came to gameplay, and the biggest difference between this year’s game vs. last year’s was slightly better graphics. I enjoyed the battle royale sub-genre was a fun detour, but it ultimately grew stale for me as well. Once every game got loot boxes and season passes, leveling up felt hollow and transactional for me.

As most of gaming moved online, it also added friction to the overall experience. Titles were no longer guaranteed to be complete at launch, with developers instead promising to patch and expand them over time. As graphics improved, file sizes got huge, and installing one game might mean clearing your entire hard drive to make space. Hopping into a match with a buddy might mean waiting for an hour-long software update. As someone who works in tech, the process of releasing and updating software over time makes total sense, but as a gamer, the online-first era totally sucks. I longed for the days of physical discs that just worked on day one.

Of course, there were moments when I did have fun online. It was awesome to squad up with IRL friends in Overwatch and Apex Legends. But, people get older. It got harder for my friend group to find opportunities to play together. And joining a squad of strangers was a gamble—it seemed like for every new friend I met, there was a toxic teammate telling me to GiT GuD. Most of the interactions I had with other players were fleeting and anonymous, and I struggled to really connect with any community online.

No longer hooked

Playing online wasn’t the only factor for me. Growing up, I played most games side-by-side with my brother. Split-screen Halo and Gears of War campaigns were our favorites. I think our sense of accomplishment was multiplied because we got to share it together. Unfortunately, this wasn’t something I was able to carry with me into adulthood. Campaigns couldn’t hook me like they used to.

In our era of unlimited content, my attention span is shorter than ever, and it was hard to immerse myself in a single-player campaign. For me, most campaigns seemed to play out like 30-hour-long movies, where if I press enough buttons, I’ll progress through a story and maybe do some cool things along the way. Because of this, and my attention disorder, I found it very hard to stay engaged. Even with open-world games like Breath of the Wild or Red Dead Redemption, I struggled to stay focused and make progress. The dopamine hit that I’d get from Netflix, YouTube, or Twitter almost always outweighed the desire to spend hours looting, crafting, and leveling up.

Aside from attention, I also became more aware of how much time I spent gaming. My career has gotten more demanding over the years, and that’s made the time I have outside of work that much more precious to me. At this point, I want to spend my free time with family, friends, and in growing as a person. Gaming, especially completing a campaign, required both attention and time, which became harder for me to justify.

Saying goodbye

This decision has been simmering for a while. I felt off about gaming for the past decade or so, but continued to pursue it as a hobby. I dropped hundreds on consoles, titles, and accessories in hopes of sparking some inkling of interest. I was envious of the friends who stayed passionate about gaming. But at some point during the pandemic, something changed for me, and I started to let go. Over the past year, I pretty much stopped playing games altogether. I didn’t upgrade to the latest consoles, and stopped buying into the hype around new titles. And honestly, it’s such a relief.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still bittersweet. I know change is a healthy part of life, but I had always assumed gaming would be with me. It’s tough to let go of an interest after decades of it being in your life. But after struggling to enjoy it for so long, it also feels really good to walk away for now. In fact, this experience actually makes me excited about the future. What will my interests look like going forward? How will I continue to evolve?

I guess we’ll see. Onto the next level.

More writing