A Love Letter to Gaming

Been a little while since I last posted. I could make excuses about being too busy or concentrating on AoGS4 revisions, but I honestly just needed to take a little break from writing. I had been going strong for the better part of three years and was beginning to show the signs of burnout. At least I think they were burnout signs. Although writing is never easy, it was becoming more and more like a chore and less like a labor of love. On top of that, I was beating up on myself for not doing it faster or better. In addition, the task list on the self-publishing/marketing side just kept growing. There it sat in front of me, like a pile of dirty laundry, passive-aggressively waiting for attention and assaulting me with its guilt vapors.

 

"Oh, did you need clean socks today? Well, maybe you should have thought about that yesterday, hmmm?"

“Oh, did you need clean socks today? Well, maybe you should have thought about that yesterday, hmmm?”

 

So, I took a deep breath and just decided to let it all go and live for a little bit. I didn’t take any trips or anything like that. No aimless road voyage to a random appointment with destiny. No excursion to the top of a lonely mountain to meet a wizened mystic. No trek through the wilderness in search of peace and meaning. I decided I’d just stop trying so hard. I was still writing and revising and researching, but not as much as I had been and without pressuring myself.

Usually when I need to relax and escape from my life and recharge my batteries, I turn to computer games. Oddly enough, that didn’t happen this time.

Games have always been a part of my life. It’s hard to say exactly why they’ve been so important to me, but the easiest answer to reach for is that they engage both my strategic and creative thinking capability like no other form of stimulation I’ve found. Reading is wonderful. Drugs are nice. Booze is great.  Sex is awesome. Smoking is sublime (which is the title of a book about quitting smoking that I never read and now that I’m almost three years quit I’m not likely to – but dat title, tho!).

 

It's especially sublime when you can make it look like this, but it's easier to quit when you realize you can't.

It’s especially sublime when you can make it look like this, but it’s easier to quit when you realize you can’t.

 

But games have always been a kind of entertainment that pressed all the right buttons. In any game I’ve ever played I’ve felt a sense of familiarity. No matter if it was the first time I played, whenever I began to play I always felt I was on good ground. A safe place. Old territory where I instinctively felt I had an edge, a confidence I never truly possessed in any other aspect of life.

Board, tabletop, card, role-playing, computer – it never really mattered the specific type of game – I always felt I was at my best at play. It was a venue where conversation was never forced – there was always the game to talk about. It was a created space where creativity was encouraged because the game needs its players to play along. It was a narrative invoked by its audience and its authors and the game’s story could only unfold if it was played in good company.

For many years I played games to satisfy a need for a form of socialization and creativity I could not find anywhere else. In some ways, I still do. But recently I’ve found that sense of comfortable space is no longer as comfortable as it used to be. A game, after all, is only a game. It is temporary. The experience is simulated and takes place within a semi-defined constructed reality. This doesn’t lessen its importance as a created and creative space. I’ve just found that I’ve become dissatisfied with the finite nature of a game.

Now it sounds like I’m about to endorse massively multiplayer games, which have no definite end or winner, but that’s not the case. I have nothing against those games and have played my fair share. No, I haven’t arrived at some epiphany that condemns games because of their ephemeral nature. Rather, I have arrived at a personal realization (a more self-referential sort of epiphany, I guess) that the things I’ve most prized about playing games have been replaced by writing.

When I stopped, I sort of missed it. It wasn’t the physical act of writing so much (certainly not!) as the mental act of creating and controlling characters, plots and worlds. When I tried to play games, I wanted to be constructing the narrative. I found I was spending creative energy fighting the game’s rules and limitations to construct a narrative more to my liking.

That’s when I realized I no longer needed games as an escape. My escape has become not so much the act of writing, but in being the writer. That’s a little unclear. Let me try again. I imagine it’s because I’ve exercised my writing muscles diligently enough that they now have a heavy influence on my mind whenever my creative side is engaged, but I’m less interested now in being told a story than in telling it myself. Maybe I’ve just grown more comfortable with exercising some sort of control over my own world instead of one imagined in a game space. In one way, it’s sort of sad. I fondly remember losing hours and days in gleeful exploration of the beautifully constructed and detailed universes of Baldur’s Gate, Fallout or Mass Effect. Or spending time thinking deeply about every aspect of strategy in games like Total War, Hearts of Iron or Civilization.

 

civ5screen

“Oh, so conquering the world isn’t enough for you now? It’s like I don’t even know who you are anymore! I… I think I need to start seeing other players…”

 

In another way, it’s incredibly liberating. I feel confident now that the experience of game playing will be less satisfying than the experience of pure creativity. I had been using game playing as a reward for writing 1,000 words or revising two chapters or researching news on self-publishing and setting up promotions. Now, I’ve come to the realization that I can be just as fulfilled as I used to be by not forcing myself to stop writing when some arbitrary word limit is reached so I can capture some escapism in gaming that is no longer there. And on days when the writing is too hard, I can let myself off the hook and imagine what I want to have happen instead of what should happen. It may not help with reaching immediate goals and accomplishing tasks, but it feels more honest.

I’m at about the half-way point in the journey I had planned for myself when I started writing seriously. My goal was to get six Grant Scotland books out in five years. The series may never be as successful as I had initially hoped, but six books was my estimation of what it would take to give it the best shot I could. Not to say it will end at six books, just that I won’t let it go until then. Anyway, I’m at year three and about to get book four finished, but I think I just realized that the road is long and I’ve been trying to move along it too fast. It won’t help to overheat my engine by forcing it to run hot. So, I guess a few weeks ago I let myself coast for a bit. And when I did that, I found that instead of returning to my old ways of spending free time, the writer inside me came out. Maybe he’s not fully ready to sit in the driver’s seat, but he’s in the passenger seat, keeping me awake by telling me stories and jokes and helping with directions.

It’s going to be a long trip. Maybe longer than I had planned, but that’s okay. This writer guy seems like a good companion. I just hope he brought some snacks.

 

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That’s all for this post! I’m feeling refreshed and happy you took some time to let me tell you about it.

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