How many hours have you sunk into video games since the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed in the UK? With a lot of people finding themselves with more free time over the past few months, many have turned to hobbies such as gaming to fill those extra hours.
I was certainly one of them at the beginning of the isolation period. Working from home meant that instead of devoting four hours to a commute into London each day, I could instead use them for other things such as picking up a controller. I managed to complete 15 games during April and May with entries being knocked off my backlog a couple of times each week; and I tried a number of demos thanks to the increase in digital expos, which kept the number of items on my Steam wishlist topped up.
Video games gave me a sense of productivity back then. When my usual routine had been screwed up thanks to the pandemic, and working days seemed to be a never-ending stream of conference calls where much was said but little was achieved, they provided a way to feel as though I’d accomplished something. The worlds they presented were full of chaos and disorder, yet it was in my power to bring them back within control with each quest fulfilled and level completed.
But then came June and something inside me shifted. I’d now spent over two months of my life almost completely online and the desire to be in front of a screen diminished with each passing hour. I began concentrating on pastimes outside of gaming such as cross-stitching and jigsaw-puzzling, and eventually I decided to take a break from streaming too. The progress I’d made on reducing my backlog came to a standstill and I can count the number of games I’ve finished since then on one hand.
The problem was that gaming during the lockdown had started to feel like a second job. My new routine was to get up at 06:00, go for a socially-distanced walk and connect to my work laptop an hour later; slog through emails, instant messages and video calls before logging off at around 16:00; then hit the sofa and grab the controller after dinner and showers were done. Heading to bed not long after 22:00 meant I was ready to do the exact same thing again the following day.
Gaming became something I did just to pass the time during the pandemic rather than something I enjoyed, and the fact there wasn’t much I wanted to play didn’t help. The new releases coming out didn’t hold much interest or received less than glowing reviews. Upcoming titles I’d been looking forward to and had either backed on Kickstarter or added to my wishlist were delayed by several months. And although the games I picked up during the Steam summer sale were ones I’d wanted, I didn’t feel any motivation to install them.
That doesn’t bode well for a video game blogger, does it? There are only so many times you can write about the titles from your childhood or top-ten lists without starting to like a fraud, and the worry that I wouldn’t have anything new to say niggled away at the back of my mind. It turned into a horrible cycle. I was convinced I needed to play games so I’d have something to write about, even if I wasn’t enjoying them; but the more I forced myself to do that, the less I wanted to play.
It was the decision to take some time away from Twitch which helped me move past this. Removing myself for a while made me realise that the most important thing about streaming was getting fun out of it, and achieving that meant only playing games I was interested in. So why shouldn’t it be the same for blogging and gaming in general? One evening I decided I wasn’t going to reach for the controller as I usually did because I really wasn’t in the mood and you know what? The blog didn’t fall apart.
Sure, I’m still worried there’s going to come a point where I’ll have nothing new to write about. And yes, I’m still in a slump where new games aren’t grabbing my attention and those I’m really looking forward too are still under development. Despite the rise in digital expos, the cancellation of physical events such as EGX Rezzed and MCM Comic Con has left me without some of the usual stuff I’d cover throughout the summer and my upcoming schedule is looking rather more empty than it has done in the past.
But hobbies are nothing if they’re no longer fun, and the blog will always be here for me even if the number of posts I’m able to publish each week eventually decreases. We’re going through an unprecedented time right now and that gives us the opportunity to look at things from new perspectives and offer fresh insights – as well the chance to take a step back and assess where we’re going. It’s also proven how the people you meet online can turn into good friends in real life who are there to support you when you need some reassurance.
It’s time to stop picking up the controller after logging off from work because it feels like a second job, and start doing it because I want to lose myself in a video game. That’s going to mean searching out more from the genres I love and no longer feeling guilty about switching off a title if it’s not doing it for me. Give me more adventures, interesting stories, detective mysteries and full-motion video (FMV) games. (I can hear everyone who joined us for the stream of Dark Nights with Poe and Munro groaning right now.)
Whatever you’re trying to achieve through gaming, blogging and streaming, make sure that one of your priorities is to enjoy yourself. I think we all deserve a little bit of fun right now.