I consider myself a gamer. It’s more than a past time, or a hobby, but rather it’s just what I do with my time. Or, rather, what I did.
I’m also what one might call a lapsed Catholic. I still think of myself as a religious person, but I don’t attend church weekly or go to Bible studies like I used to. There is one holdover from my religious past, however: my dedication to Lent. It’s tough to explain why I still observe this season of asceticism when other religious practices have fallen by the wayside, but I make a point to do so every year.
I avoid meat on Fridays; that’s the easy part. Living in Wisconsin I have access to the omnipresent fish fry (they actually happen year-round in this state), which means my first “sacrifice” involves eating beer-battered fried fish at a party.
I also continue to give something up for Lent. A brief description for those unfamiliar: In the Roman Catholic tradition, it’s customary to pick a favorite past time or indulgence during Lent and give it up as a gesture of fasting and self-denial. Some of the old standbys from my childhood include candy, ice cream, or going out to movies.
This year, on the evening of Ash Wednesday (in the wake of several Paczkis on Shrove Tuesday), I found myself realizing that I hadn’t figured out what I was planning on giving up for Lent. This year I wanted to do something substantial, something that was more of a sacrifice as opposed to a mere inconvenience. I decided to give up gaming.
At some point in the past three years or so, gaming became my “default” activity. Wife is out for the evening? A few hours of Team Fortress 2 will fill my time. Twenty minutes before we have to leave? Plants vs. Zombies. My entire Saturday is open? I have all kinds of deep strategy games that I can get lost in for hours.
Steam, the digital download service, is a demanding mistress. Thanks to regular and seasonal sales my Steam list stood at 148 games. When I took the time to look up that number, I was shocked. I could have sworn it was closer to 100. I hadn’t even realized the pile had gotten that high.
Having a stack like that put me under the obligation that I needed to be playing all of those games. I needed to be practicing, getting better and learning their systems. I needed to get my money’s worth. “Obligation”, “practice”, “needed”. Those don’t sound like fun.
Then there’s Steam’s pesky habit of tracking the user’s playing time. Displayed in two week increments, my Steam account regularly hovered between 10 and 30 hours. That’s a part-time job. And that's only counting the games on Steam. I have plenty of PC games not registered on Steam. Or on the PS3. Or the Wii.
What did my time consist of when I wasn’t gaming? Reading gaming blogs. Posting on gaming forums. Editing a strategy-gaming podcast. I used to play guitar and bass in a few different bands, but that had fallen by the wayside. I have a lovely house, but maintaining and improving it was more of an inconvenience, something that got in the way of what I rationalized as “me time”, or “relaxing time”. (Which was gaming, basically.) I also have a lovely wife who likes to see me from time to time. She prefers the consoles as I’m at least out in the living room as opposed to the PC, which involves me sitting in the office with the lights off.
The point that I’m trying to make is that gaming is more than a hobby, it has embedded itself into my life and permeated my daily routine. So when I told my wife that I was giving up gaming for lent, I got the typical raised eyebrow and “whatever you say, dear” reaction that I was not unfamiliar with. I meant it, though. I wanted to find out just how deeply into gaming I was. This year I wanted to make a sacrifice that meant something.
No PC gaming. Steam stays closed.
No console gaming. The PS3 can be used for Netflix or Blu-Ray discs. My wife still uses it for Read Dead Redemption. The Wii will lay dormant.
No phone gaming. I have an Android phone, so no Game Dev Story, Fruit Ninja, or Angry Birds.
I’m allowing myself once concession, which is online chess. I’ve been playing chess for almost 20 years (you’d think I’d be better at this point), and I usually have four to six games going at any time. The reverence I have for chess puts it into a different class than “gaming”.
Maybe the reason I still take part of Lent is because I believe that I can always do better.It doesn't necessarily have to be religiously motivated, but having a goal, having some kind of outside influence seems to be what it takes to get me motivated.After years of trying and failing to get in shape, it took me signing up for a 5K run to actually get the job done.I had no choice – all my friends had signed up and I paid the $40 entrance fee.I ended up succeeding, and continued to run even after it was over.
I’ll post an update further along in Lent as well as a wrap-up Easter Sunday. Having written this several days in, I can already say that while it’s more difficult than I had imagined, the results are surprising.