I've been concealing a shameful secret: I'm pretty sure that I haven't purchased a new video game in almost a year. During that time I've picked up a few used PC games here and there under the pretense that I may one day get around to playing them -- though thus far I have not. I still play games on a regular (and even nightly) basis, but lately I've been reconsidering the extent to which I am entitled to consider myself a gamer.
Is there such a thing as a movie fan who neither ventures to theaters nor rents or purchases movies to view at home, but who instead only watches some select favorites from her past? Likewise, is there such a thing as a gamer who does not purchase games (or the hardware on which they depend), but who instead merely cycles through a few classic titles -- titles acquired in a bygone time when the gamer actually participated in the industry as a consumer? Or is it enough simply to be able to say, "I play games"? Perhaps that does suffice in some sense, but I also drink wine on occasion; does that make me a connoisseur?
If I am still a gamer, then I am a gamer whose love of gaming has vastly diminished (or, as I often like to think, has been diminished) in recent years. This marks an important personal change; for as long as I can remember, I have at least partly defined myself by my love for games. In light of the apparent fact that I am not what I used to be, I am impelled to consider that question that lies at the heart of the matter: What remains of me, as a gamer, when I am stripped of my enthusiasm?
My enthusiasm began to wane as my computer began to age. Having been constructed in the summer of 2000, my "gaming" PC is now over five years old, and more than two years past the point when I could expect to run new releases successfully. When Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 were announced, I told myself that I would upgrade in order to play them, but as 2004 dragged on I was surprised to find that my need to upgrade became less and less urgent. Even now, I have the means to upgrade; I simply lack the will. I also lack the confidence that a computer upgrade will be adequate to address my disinterest and usher in a period of renaissance. Something within me has changed irrevocably, and the games of the near future, the present, and the recent past have little more appeal to me than a pile of wet ashes. Instead I've diverted my gaming energies ever backward to the games with which I grew up -- the games that introduced me to gaming -- as well as to the many older games that, for one reason or another, I failed to play when they were new.
For the last two weeks I've kept a log of all the games that I've played, along with their years of publication. Those numbers alone will suffice to illustrate my point: 1999, 2000, 1998, 1996, 1999, 1992... For the last two weeks (and indeed, the last two or more years) I've been grasping at my past in a desperate attempt to find an anchor for my enthusiasm before it slips away entirely. I've also been pretending that all is well, and that I shall soon emerge from this gamer's slump and be rejoined with my hobby in toto. I no longer harbor such illusions. What perturbs me is the realization that not only is gaming now dead to me, but I am also equally dead to gaming. The former fact I had long recognized and hinted at in prior articles, whereas the latter is something of a novelty.
The origin of my dissatisfaction is straightforward enough. There are at least two separate conceptions of games: games as an extension of narrative art, and games as an extension of non-narrative sport. The very best games show us that these conceptions are not mutually exclusive, and that, on the contrary, they may serve to reinforce each other. But I've always been most interested in games as a potent storytelling medium, and in this regard the industry has lost its way. I guess I've just grown tired of waiting for them to find it again. For it seems that there is an unwieldy third conception of games -- i.e., games as executive-padding, idiot-pandering exercises in cross-licensed sequel-crafting -- which keeps getting in the way of better things. Perhaps some day soon we shall experience a joyous schism.
Until such time, I shall persist in my efforts to relive my formative years; though that effort alone will not entitle me to remain in the clan of Gamerdom. The "gamer" appellation stands (or ought to stand) for something beyond the merely literal. What made me a gamer in the past is that I cared about games in a way that no longer holds true, and with a constancy now punctuated by long periods of apathy.
But do not confuse my apathy with depression. If anyone needs me, I'll be in the corner replaying The Secret of Monkey Island for the twentieth time, merrily humming along to the tunes.