Player’s Block

Patient Brief
My name is Christopher Hartnup. At the time of writing, I am an average twenty-seven year old male who cannot seem to play computer games. This is not a reflection of my skill level – I am actually quite good but, instead, this is a reflection of my current state of mind. I can’t, for the most part, play games for more than half an hour (at most) before having to stop and either pick up a different game or do something else entirely. I’m hoping that by voicing this in the form of an article, I will either uncover why it is that this affliction (for want of a better term) has reared its ugly head, or perhaps discover other people with this problem.

I am unsure on the best method or format to display what I’m feeling in the form of words so, in order to stay true to myself as a writer, I am going to attempt to put a slightly humorous spin on the situation and treat whatever this is as if it were an actual disease. I’m doing this so the article has more structure than me just ranting about a lack of interest in gaming and also so I can cover everything I think is relevant. Please understand that everything here is one-hundred percent honest and is not being embellished; this is actually happening to me.

Finally, before we get started, I can already hear the back-benchers grumbling because ‘some gamer is bored with games, who cares?’ To them I say, this has been my hobby and my passion for over a quarter of a century, and it has defined me and those around me. Choose your criticisms carefully.

Player History
It hasn’t always been this way. I can remember pretty far back into my youth, around ten or eleven, playing relentlessly on my SNES, borrowing games, playing my own ones over and over. Birthdays and Christmases were always times to ask for one game, one highly sought-after game that everyone wanted. If I was lucky, summer would herald some spare cash and the opportunity to pick up something extra. I grew up on a diet of Nintendo consoles, so I was never short of top-quality games, both at home and on the go. My family invested in a PC when I was four, and although this was mainly my father’s domain, I quickly began playing first-person shooters from around the age of nine or ten, too. This blossomed into a full on appreciation for all things PC based and, before long, my shelves were adorned with rows and rows of chunky cardboard boxes that held tiny floppy disks and CDs containing games such as Half Life, Soldier of Fortune and Grand Theft Auto.

Despite my growing love for the PC, I continued to purchase every Nintendo console that was released and, with exception of the Wii U, I’ve had them all. I had grown up with Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Lylat Wars and so on, so I had no desire for the Metal Gear Solids, Time Splitters or Halos that my friends were feasting on. I was content with Nintendo and my PC, however, and at the age of eighteen, I entered into my very first clan, playing the much shunned – but generally superior – Call of Duty: United Offensive in a competitive environment. For nearly two years I learned the ropes of clan play, got myself into a leadership position and wrote War Reports, detailing our glorious victories and crushing defeats.  It was incredible fun, partly for the people and partly for the love of the game. It wasn’t to last though, and with the arrival of Call of Duty 2 came the death of our beloved clan. Online gaming had now arrived on the consoles in full force, and so the PC wasn’t the only place to get your multiplayer thrills.

It wasn’t until the age of twenty-one that I got my Xbox 360, a present on my birthday, which all my friends and partner chipped in for. This exposed me to a world away from the highly-regarded gameplay (but graphically limited) world of Nintendo. Equally, there was a certain amount of accessibility in the Xbox 360 that the PC didn’t offer and, being a young twenty year old, my PC rig was showing its age. With a PlayStation 3 also up for grabs less than a year later, my PC continued to collect dust and my days of clan gaming died out altogether.

Around this time, two things happened. Firstly, in the December of 2007, I broke up with my long term partner. She was a gamer, much like myself, and although we shared that passion, on occasions, I resented having to share a part of me that I had learned to hide away from people for so long. Secondly, in the January of 2008, my best friend was killed in a car crash, and while it sounds very odd to even mention this, I was sat at my desk, playing a computer game when I found out. I’ll come back to this later, but it feels apt to mention it now.

As I entered my late teens and early twenties, I also noticed my anger levels, especially towards online gaming, become more prominent. Having played in a clan for a couple of years, I never experienced anger and frustration the likes of which I do now. Again, I’ll cover this later, but it feels the right time to mention it. Coasting into my mid-to-late twenties, I’ve certainly become busier, writing for GamingLives, having a full-time job and a full-time social life. Gaming has certainly suffered because of that but, if anything, that should make me enjoy the time I do get with it more, not less. If I wasn’t gaming in the time I have for it, I’m not sure what I would be doing. I have plenty of other hobbies and interests, but playing video games has always been a very important part of what makes me who I am.

I am not sure what the definition of a symptom is, but I am equally unsure what else to call them in this context. The first and most obvious is my very questionable attention span. In my younger years, I could easily erase chunks of a game in three or four hour sittings, and this was something I carried over into my late teens and early twenties. Now, I can go an hour, maximum, before I start to lose interest, and sometimes it is even shorter – something in the region of thirty to forty minutes. This is predominantly for single player games, because that makes up about ninety percent of my playtime. If I am taking part in a multiplayer game, usually the social element keeps me entertained for longer, because I tend to only dip my toe into the pool of violent insults and racial slurs that is online gaming with people I know and trust.

The second symptom is one I have already touched on briefly, and one that we have seen plenty of examples of elsewhere in gaming, and that is anger. Call it what you want, but I often get highly agitated or frustrated with certain games. Sometimes this is online, and it is because I’m losing or because I know I can do better, and this usually leads to a large amount of swearing and tightly gritted teeth. On occasions, my reactions are violent: I’ll punch the desk, or slam my fist into the wall. When I’ve calmed down, feelings of shame wash over me as quickly as the red mist descended and I feel disturbed by the fact that a video game has made me feel this way. For something that I claim to love so much, I get frightfully upset by it on occasions.

There are only two conclusions I can draw from this. The first, and most likely, is that as I am getting older, my reactions are getting slower, my knowledge of the maps and strategies is getting weaker and, all the while, the playerbase is getting younger, faster, better. The second is that the games are eliciting an emotional response from me, based on their maturity and mine. Both of these theories are shot to pieces by the inclusion of single player games, because I shouldn’t be getting this frustrated at a difficulty setting that I not only choose, but can often influence mid-game. Secondly, a multiplayer game, in the broadest sense of the term, contains very little story or emotion in terms of a narrative, destroying the second theory behind this.

Probably the most concerning symptom of all is the lack of these symptoms in other aspects of my life. Sure, I get angry at stuff, and lose interest in certain things, but not to this extreme. I can sit through films, television programs, hours at work, books, social outings and everything in between without just getting bored to the point that I need to do something else. I love video games, but when did I get so disinterested in actually playing them? I get angry about plenty of things in my life and in the world, but when did I get so angry about something that I regard as a hobby that my only outlet was to cause myself physical pain?

If I knew what had caused this I would be well on my way to get it sorted, so that I might return to the thing I once regarded as one of the main components defining me as a human being. That’s a very strong statement to make about something that is mostly based on fictional events, characters and experiences. Even now, as I type this, I feel a sense of sorrow, partly born out of the fear I may never feel the way I used to feel about games, and partly because I have no idea what would replace such an important part of my existence.

I have a few suspicions to what could cause this, and none of them fill me with any real confidence in either their validity or a possible solution. The first and most obvious to most people (and possibly myself) is that I have simply grown up. Have I reached a point in my life where video games no longer hold my attention and just bore me? Just because I know dozens of men and women older than me who still enjoy this pastime doesn’t mean I have to, does it? If this is the case then I’m screwed, because I’m not getting any younger and I don’t (currently) own a time machine. The problem is, though, I’ve not grown up. I’m a man, so by genetic definition I find stupid-shit hilarious, like watching a ferret dance on a sofa or people farting. If I’d grown up, I wouldn’t think hiding someone’s dinner or shaking up bottles of fizzy drinks are some of the best things I did with my day. If I had grown up, movies, music and literature would equally bore me, because video games have the capacity to be equally (if not more) immersive and meaningful.

Is it Burnout? No, Criterion Games’ racer is not the answer, but is‘burnout’ more the cause? As I previously stated, my younger years were spent with very few games to play with, possibly only getting two a year; three if I was lucky. As the latest Steam sale passes, I’ve purchased or been bought a total of six games. While Steam sales, and having more money as a twenty-seven year old than I did as a ten year old is not a new concept to me, am I just suffering from having too much choice, or just not being able to focus on one thing? This theory would hold water, except it should apply to all games and not just the majority, in my opinion. This past year I’ve managed to sit and play through games like BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us and Tomb Raider. All very good games, which I sat and played through pretty much straight away. I can’t tell you if I would have fallen into old habits and just blasted out three or four hours worth in one sitting because, due to life commitments, the opportunity never presented itself.

I do know that when going to play other games, they don’t hold my attention – thirty minutes to an hour max. But these are equally good games: Papers, Please, Just Cause 2, and Fez should all push my buttons, but they simply fall by the wayside in under sixty minutes. Have I become some sort of gaming snob? I highly doubt it, because I’ll play anything, whether it’s for review or to pass the time. I turn down no genre and I’m not a triple-A whore, because I regard one of the greatest games ever made to be Call of Duty: United Offensive, and while, yes, that is a Call of Duty game, it is certainly the black sheep of the family – a PC-only expansion pack back in 2004.

The only thing I can really think of as being the cause is something that a trained therapist could only really discover, and if I thought for a second that any of them would take this general problem seriously I’d probably look into it. In the January of 2008 my best friend was killed in a car accident. I’d spent every other day with the man since I was about four, and he died some months short of our 22nd birthdays. I found out while starting to learn the ropes of the popular RTS, World in Conflict. As luck would have it, I wasn’t really enjoying it, so no love lost there but, alas, that’s what I was doing when I found out.

Did it affect me? Of course it did; the guy was like a brother to me. I looked after everyone else at the time, stupidly stewed and bottled my feelings and, eventually, sought counseling three years later. Did it affect my ability to enjoy video games? That is such a difficult question to answer, because how do I know my gaming habits wouldn’t be the same if he was alive? He was a gamer, much like myself, and although he’d moved away from it in the last couple of years, he still enjoyed gaming when he could. I know that’s when my interest in gaming started being called into question, but I evaluated a lot of my life after that day. Plenty of things didn’t make sense and didn’t interest me anymore, but nothing fell by the wayside like gaming is threatening to right now.

Usually in the medical process you get a diagnosis and a prognosis (what disease you have, and how it’s going to progress) but I’m the only one really qualified to really decide what this is, and I simply can’t. But what I can do is fight against it. I have no idea if it will be successful, because maybe this is the end of the road for me and video gaming. I’ve had an amazing run, spanning nearly twenty-five years, gone through a number of generations, and played some of the greatest games that the industry had to offer – an industry still very much in its infancy. I’ve covered E3, interviewed some of the biggest names in the business and written for the greatest, purest and downright honest site on the internet.  But, and this is the biggest but I’ve ever written in article: I owe it to myself and absolutely no-one else to make sure that this is what has to happen… So, for 2014, I will be playing games that I know I’ll love. I’ll be playing games I know will inspire me. I’ll be playing games I know will pull at the heart strings one last time. Because if this really is the end, then I want to go out on a high.

And if it isn’t the end? Then GamingLives gets articles written with real passion and gusto, a false ‘last hurrah’ and I get to save the hobby that helped shape and define the person I am. Now that would be a hobby worth saving.

Last five articles by Chris


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