Ex-Pat

The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions

The longer I reside in New York, the thicker and more aggressive my Southern accent has become, congealing into a soupy, lazy drawl, punctuated by the occasional "y'all" and "ain't." I listen to bluegrass now and wave to complete strangers, and I lust after collard greens with primal urgency. King of the Hill makes me giggle. William Faulkner makes me cry. And when the nights get sticky and hot, and the frogs sing just outside our windowpanes, I become so desperately, achingly homesick I fear my heart will burst.

Of course, when I actually lived below the Mason-Dixon, I sneered at fiddles and considered collards to be vestigially racist, like blackface and the word "colored." Never would I ever have been caught dead dropping the word "ain't" in polite conversation.

But the longer I'm away from home and the culture I grew up with, the more I've come to embrace it, even—especially—its most minute or once embarrassing characteristics. I've taken my memories and inflated them to staggering proportions, with the subconscious hope that if I exaggerate them just enough, maybe, just maybe, I won't forget the South—and the South won't forget me.

Lately, I find myself doing the same thing with videogames.

Taxicab confession: I haven't played a videogame—a real game, not Rock Band at a party, or a little Wii tidbit in a crowd—in almost three months. Partly that's from simple lack of time. Between getting hitched, buying my first house and building my business, leisure has begun to seem like a lot like hoop skirts: a historical artifact that only people in black and white photos possess.

But as I realized this past weekend, after I spent a lazy Sunday morning marathoning music videos and DVR'd Big Bang Theory, I've also fallen out of the habit of gaming as well. When I need to relax, I no longer reach for my DS or an Xbox controller, but some knitting or the TV remote. Gaming has fallen away of my consciousness, becoming an option whose existence I've ignored for so long that I continue do so out of simple inertia.

Certainly it's not that I've stopped enjoying videogames. I often watch over G.'s shoulder as he fumbles through Henry Hatsworth or Retro Game Challenge, and together, we've been working our way through the original Paper Mario on the Wii (he drives, I watch). But the impetus to work the controller on my own has completely stalled, and I wonder—fear—whether I'll ever resume my favorite past-time again.

In the meantime, I've become exceedingly attached to the culture of gaming, listening to podcasts, poring over screenshots, and trolling forums and Twitter for news on the latest releases. Overclocked Remixes dominate my iTunes playlist, and the last several books I've read were all about the history of videogames. I've even begun to geek out in craft: A few months ago, I completed an epic 10x14 Mario-themed cross stitch for our new home. (I could have spent some of those hours gaming. I didn't.)

IMAGE(http://img268.imageshack.us/img268/2458/1001267c.jpg)

And yet, it's all a superficial denial of the fact that I haven't really picked up a controller since snow was still on the ground. The new releases whose development I so carefully track whiz by me unremarked, untouched.

In some ways, I feel like a gaming ex-pat: By clinging to the outward culture, I can stay connected to the community and the games I love without actually participating. But it's all very contrived. I can rejoin the community any time I want: Just pick up a controller, and play.

But I don't.

I tell myself it's okay, that people's gaming habits change as they get older, and it's the natural order of things not to devote seven hours in a sitting to one Final Fantasy XII dungeon, as I did not so long ago. But it's not just the epic sessions I've given up: In my office I have a list of links to ten-minute time wasters that Rabbit has IM'ed me, all of which I've always meant to play. (The list is now three Post-Its long.)

It worries me, as I've considered myself a gamer for so long now that I can't conceive of the alternative. Gaming is how I bonded with my husband, friends, and family; I even built a career on it. If I am not "gamer," then who am I?

This isn't a resignation letter but a coping mechanism; a shout into the darkness with the hope of catching an echo. Are we still "gamers," those of us who love games but do not or cannot play? And if so, how do we reconnect, after the habit has left us, maybe for good?

Perhaps gaming is like running or speaking a foreign language: Once you fall out of your usual habits, the neurons cease to fire, and atrophy sets in startlingly fast. Which gives me hope. Because with those pursuits, you can always re-learn what you once knew; the muscles will retain their memories, the brain will remember the mechanics, and the pleasure once so deeply felt can always be recaptured. Maybe, when it comes to gaming, you can indeed go home again. It just takes a little effort.

Which reminds me, I've got some Dragon Quest that needs some playing. Y'all.

Comments

This is really wierd. I totally understand the disconnect from gaming, or an hobby, as your life moves on and events unfold around you. But I really, really don't get the lack of desire to play games while at the same time participting wholehartedly in gaming culture.
What is it that interests you about gaming podcasts that doesn't interest you about the games themselves? Is it just the nostalgia? Do you just want to live vicariously?
Wierd.

Kat, I understand completely where you're coming from, both in how you relate to where you live and how you game.
You've caught a nerve here, and plucked it quite sweetly.

3 sports, a heavy workload and a busy social life cuts me down to about 2 - 3 hours of gaming per week at most. I'm right there with you on the "everything surrounding games, but not actually playing them." I still consider myself a gamer because I post here.

I would be surprised if the urge to pick up a controller/mouse/dice doesn't materialize again for you in the future.*

I have been in the same situation several times over my 'career' as a gamer. Even over the last 4 years, I've abandoned the actual gaming aspect of being 'a gamer' for as much as 8 months of the year. I was just too busy, and the rare downtime moments I did have, I just wasn't interested or couldn't fathom working up the energy to dive in.

But in every case I stayed close to the community (reading various blogs/sites) and in every case I eventually picked a controller back up and my gaming interests/enthusiasm were better for the break.

* edit: though I should also add, I have an old friend whom I grew up gaming with. RPGs, board games, computer games, etc. He hit a point around mid-twenties where he just stopped. He's never looked back, near as I can tell.

You could've fought at least 50 monster encounters in the time it took you to write this article

I don't think, however, that it's unnatural to cycle through highs and lows when it comes to pursuing hobbies and pastimes. You shouldn't ever feel guilty for making something or being productive elsewhere in your life.

I'm right there with you. I've been on vacation for that last few weeks, so I've gotten in some gaming; before that though, I was going 6-8 weeks at a time without actually getting any gaming in. Mostly it's because I'm busy--when I do get 30 minutes free here & there, I hesitate to spend half of it just reorienting myself to whatever I was playing last, and then having to stop just as I'm getting engrossed in it again. I'll probably never finish Lost Odyssey.

But I still consider myself a gamer, most definitely. I check out gaming sites (this being the primary one) frequently at work, listen to gaming podcasts on my commute, and maintain subscriptions to some pretty weak gaming publications. Maybe it's just to try to hang on to the memory of being a real gamer, to provide an illusion that makes me feel better. Whatever, it works. I'll keep considering myself to be a gamer, and I'll keep buying games, even if there's a good chance I won't get around to installing them for months.

Great article Kat.

I've gone through the exact same type of periods, and I know many other gamers who have too. Just last year I went six months without playing anything, and in the past month, aside from one afternoon on the couch with a friend playing through the second half of Army of Two and a couple of nights playing 1 vs 100 with the girlfriend, I've probably played a total of 10 hours or so (Steam tells me 3.4 hours in the past 2 weeks). Even when I am playing games somewhat regularly, I still spend maybe twice as much time listening to gaming podcasts and reading gaming magazines, forums, and blogs.

You'll pick up that controller again.

Dysplastic wrote:

This is really wierd. I totally understand the disconnect from gaming, or an hobby, as your life moves on and events unfold around you. But I really, really don't get the lack of desire to play games while at the same time participting wholehartedly in gaming culture.
What is it that interests you about gaming podcasts that doesn't interest you about the games themselves? Is it just the nostalgia? Do you just want to live vicariously?
Wierd.

It's not that foreign. There are plenty of people who "play" MMO forums more than the games themselves.

Great article! I sometimes feel the same way, especially since I purchased a home. I was able to get a game of L4D in last night which was the first time in a long time. It felt quite soothing to shoot zombies again - plus we won

buzzvang wrote:

It's not that foreign. There are plenty of people who "play" MMO forums more than the games themselves.

Yeah, clearly from the responses it's not that foreign - it just defies all rational sense to me. I just don't get it. I'm not saying its wrong or bad, I'm just trying to understand the motivation behind it.
Why is it more fun to post on/read a gaming forum than to play a game?

I'm right there with you on this one. Moving, getting married, heading towards 30 my gaming wants/needs seem to wax/wane on a weekly basis. This week I sink 20hrs into WoW, next week the only gaming I do is on my DS during my lunch break, then the next week I decide to watch season 2 and 3 of entourage back to back and dont even pickup a controller. It's not for the lack of time..........so I guess it has to do with RL stress and wanting to disconnect when I get home and enjoy something passive.

It's also summer here in NY =)

I also, like a lot of people, live in the culture without being able to participate due to the realities of Responsible Adult Life. I don't really find it odd that I live somewhat vicariously through podcasts/gamesites/magazines etc. since I can at least retain some knowledge of what's happening in the community without having the time to actually participate.

I used to think that my wife would appreciate me having a hobby that kept me at home as opposed to something like golf, or hunting, or snow skiing which require at best hours, at worst entire weekends to service properly. Instead, since I'm home there's always (a) something that needs my attention - the house, one or more of our 3 boys, the pool - or (b) someone else on the game machine. I thought getting Go! Sudoku for my wife on the PS3 would ease the pain of that $500 purchase; instead, I get to watch longingly as she tries to beat her previous times on every single puzzle for the 3rd time.

But the desire still burns, though - I spent ~100 hours of quality time in the Fallout 3 Universe over the course of 5 months since Christmas, and look forward to the DLC's availability but I really don't know when I'll be able to make the time to really give it the attention I'd like. Part of me, I think, wishes I could "fall out of the habit." But then, I suppose I could put aside ALL of my hobbies and simply turn into a cranky middle-aged curmudgeon, and I don't think anyone in my house wants that.

Dysplastic wrote:

Why is it more fun to post on/read a gaming forum than to play a game?

I never said it was.

I'm also in that boat of moving, marriage, and life change.

I think with so much shifting going on, the familiarity of some habits need time to adjust and work their way back into the new life. The ebb and flow of these pastimes is a way to keep them fresh. I think you're still a gamer at heart, so you're still going to keep gaming in some incarnation close at hand.

This article and your cross-stitch are both lovely. If you don't have an etsy site, you should. : )

Sometimes it just takes the right game. I haven't felt the way you do about games in a while, but I did fall out of love with movies, but a few months ago I rekindled that love and have been playing catchup. If you don't feel the desire to do something, then by all means don't do it. Even if that was a large part of your identity. There's more to the world.

And besides, you'll comeback. They always come back.

Are those collards garnishing a drink of some kind? Would love to learn the recipe if so.

"Ex-pat" implies an almost-permanent departure, whereas "vacation" is something more transient. Do you feel at this point it's more one or the other?

Other than my general interest in writing about games, I've found little interesting me recently in games themselves -- does your lack of interest have anything to do with being in the low point of the game release cycle?

(Not that I'm saying there's anything wrong or unnatural about not wanting to game!)

Anderkoo wrote:

Are those collards garnishing a drink of some kind? Would love to learn the recipe if so.

No, just a top down view of a potted plant, I think.

"Ex-pat" implies an almost-permanent departure, whereas "vacation" is something more transient. Do you feel at this point it's more one or the other?

I'm not sure. I guess I'll know which it was in hindsight.

does your lack of interest have anything to do with being in the low point of the game release cycle?

Perhaps, but I've never been a slave to the latest releases. Besides, I have a backlog of games on my Pile of Shame stretching back to 2002.

KaterinLHC wrote:
Dysplastic wrote:

Why is it more fun to post on/read a gaming forum than to play a game?

I never said it was.

Ok...I guess the reason to do one over the other is totally passing over my head than. Both participating in gaming culture and playing games are both time consuming activities. Why chose one over the other?

It's quite nice to be able to be a fan of gamer culture. Some people read about cars, baseball, or heavy metal bands when they get spare moments. Reading about games and listening to podcasts about them is just as legitimate.

And just like those other pursuits you might occasionally find your favorite podcasts go too far down the nerdy part of the rabbit hole or flies too high trying to use their oh-so-tall credentials to vault over the ivory towers of gaming theory. The great thing about such a thriving hobby is that you have choices to turn one off and go read something else about it, choose another podcast, or heck even pick up that old game you wanted to get back to.

Frankly from everything I've heard from small business owners/starters there is no such thing as a moment you are not trying to build your business. It's surprising you spent this much time thinking about not gaming enough to write about it.

I have hit the same thing with my gaming. I still play games, but it is more just to kill time, than to really enjoy the experience. Its funny, I moved recently and decided not to get any kind of TV service, I figured this would force me back into gaming more; it hasn't. Like you I still listen to numerous gaming pod casts while at work, and read every article I can find on up coming games, but i just haven't felt drawn into any games recently.
I do believe for me though it is just another phase, and that by this winter, you will find me wrapped up in a good game or three.

Kat, I can relate. At some point gaming got under my skin & into my blood, and when I step away from it for any length of time I get this nagging anxiety that I'm losing part of who I am, or who I was. It's not about being able to play games well, and maybe it's not about playing games at all. It's probably about maintaining a part of my identity that is directly tied to my imagination, and when I let it slip too far away I feel like I'm losing something deeply essential. I need to keep that alive, one way or another.

I suppose it's like any other activity that you loved deeply and that informed your life--it can and probably will always be part of who you are, regardless of whether or not it remains an ongoing pursuit. I used to backpack a ton as a kid, roaming the mountains with my dad. It's been a decade since I did that sort of thing, but in my own mind I'm still a backpacker and always will be. Same thing with gaming, in my case.

Thank you for the article! I think this is a much better representation of my thoughts than similar pieces (which reminds me, expect to see a lot of "Oh you'll start gaming again" posts) and enough to inspire me to reply.

I have been in a similar position for over a year now but don't necessarily care to admit it. It started several months before moving to Chicago (the move took place March of last year). There were still games that I truly enjoyed but those were growing fewer and farther between. Over the course of the past year I have found so many other things that demand my attention. This has happened many times over the last ten years but the rub this time around is that I'm thinking it is going to stick. And I'm grateful for it.

Gone (thankfully) are the days of feeling the need to try every new game under the sun. I'd much rather focus on a smaller handful of titles when I feel like it. I don't follow the whims of the community aside from the occasional L4D or TF2. My time is spent on work, homelife, and other hobbies and I am happy about that. I still try to make time for gaming but it's not the 7 PM to 1 AM nightly marathon anymore. It's more like 1-2 hours a night two or three nights a week (sometimes less).

That's not to say I don't still follow the news online but even that has diminished too. I follow GWJ as by far and away my main gaming site. I get an RSS or podcast from various gaming sites but that is mostly consumed on my train commute (when I'm not working on the train). But that is it. I used to be able to tell you the weekly release dates several months out for almost all of the gaming platforms. Now I just check GWJ to see what might spark a rental.

The one regret I might have is wishing I had a little more time for my PC, or playing a game over Live with you guys, but my erratic schedule does not allow for that. Otherwise? I'm happier than I realized I would be by playing so few gaming hours a month. I have finally learned that staying in touch with the communities I love, following news from a hobby I enjoy, and looking forward to the occasional game I get to play when I can find the time to do it no longer requires dedicating all of my waking hours to the cause.

I'm finding as gaming evolves with more and more "realistic" graphics and features that they tend to engage my imagination less and less. For some reason I don't feel compelled to check behind every shrub and tree in modern titles like Farcry 2, Crysis, Fallout 3, etc. where in older titles I would carefully explore every inch of the pixelated 8 and 16 bit environments hoping to find a secret. Newer titles just aren't pulling me in. They aren't engaging me intellectually or they telegraph the plot early on and leave out any sense of mystery or discovery. For some reason I still play them, but I'm just not drawn to really dig my teeth in anymore. I just don't feel the same sense of reward by getting an achievement unlock as I did when finding a secret level or hidden weapon.

The last time I felt like this I was pulled out of my gaming blues by Okami. Maybe it's time to fire it back up or even get some nostalgia gaming in via Dosbox.

I feel the same way about role-playing games, board games, and miniature games. I still buy them from time to time even though the chances I'll ever play one are slim. I tell myself I need to be conversant with the 4th edition D&D rules just in case a game breaks out. What I'm really doing is connecting with a part of myself that I've left behind. I'm glad I still have computer gaming at least.

Someday far, far away, I want to die with hands on my keyboard and mouse, killing ten rats.

KaterinLHC wrote:

In the meantime, I've become exceedingly attached to the culture of gaming, listening to podcasts, poring over screenshots, and trolling forums and Twitter for news on the latest releases. Overclocked Remixes dominate my iTunes playlist, and the last several books I've read were all about the history of videogames. I've even begun to geek out in craft: A few months ago, I completed an epic 10x14 Mario-themed cross stitch for our new home. (I could have spent some of those hours gaming. I didn't.)

This is exactly what's been happening to me lately.

When my husband was deployed, I figured I'd buy a bunch of games and keep myself occupied for the next two years. I spent the first few months powering straight through games with ease. I was clearing my pile and enjoying some new games too. Suddenly, I just stopped.

There's so much going on right now and I'm pretty stressed. I did very little gaming this month and it seems like the trend will continue. Instead, I've downloaded tons of podcasts, been listening to ocremix.org's newest album religiously and have spent almost all of my free time on a gaming-related art project. It's almost as if this project has become an obsession. I have lost interest in any other form of entertainment. I can barely watch TV. I'll turn it on but it has become background noise while I work on my piece. On a very rare occasion, I'd open my DS to play a round or two of Knights in the Nightmare. I'll show up for Gears and Beers on Friday. But getting lost in a project like this seems to be much more calming and fulfilling at the moment. Maybe it's a sign of things to come.

You'll be back.

I went through pretty much the same thing 6 months ago. Didn't pick up a game for 3 months. Stress from moving, stress from a new job, with all of that, I just didn't have the energy for it. Instead, I hacked on C#, refreshed and improved my python knowlege, and posted religiously on the forums. And watched St.Hillary mow through games. Then, I got back into TF2, picked up L4D, and got right back into it.

Right there with you Lara. With very rare exceptions, I haven't played (or bought) a game or watched a movie since March. In my case, it's because I've dived into the local swing dancing scene head-first, and I cook something new and complicated every weekend.

Hans

I was a bit like this for the first half of this year. Before then, I'd been playing games at least every second day or so, even if it was just for 30-60 minutes, but after the Xmas season I just stopped. I still played Gears 'n' Beers, but I didn't take on any new single-player games, despite having a pile of them ready to play.

For me, it wasn't a lack of spare time as such, but just that other interests took my fancy instead. I started getting back in to music and bought a new synth, so I've spent a lot of time making music (or noise, at least) in the bedroom, or I've been out under the stars with my telescope.

I've been picking up the controller a little more lately, though -- in the last month I've played through a couple of games, and made a start on another, and I've been having fun doing it. I still don't feel as compelled to play games as I did last year, nor do I spend as much time on them, but the urge to play has definitely returned.

Dysplastic wrote:

I'm not saying its wrong or bad, I'm just trying to understand the motivation behind it.
Why is it more fun to post on/read a gaming forum than to play a game?

I've fought this dynamic for some time, and mentioned it here and there in these forums. Since my children were born, and my business took off, I've seen the slow attrition of time available accelerate to essentially zero time for active gaming. And yet clearly I'm still a gamer. I mean, there's that stack of maybe 100 games I was gonna play. Someday.

But for me Dysplastic, I think the motivation is simple: I'm not a casual gamer, and I simply don't have the time to sink into giving Oblivion the attention it deserves. But I do have the time to keep plugged into gaming culture, by making this forum my homepage, by checking out a few other websites, by reading about games and gaming culture, by listening to podcasts. These are all things I can do in 5 minute snippets. But I can't enjoy a game like that. Some folks can, but its not how I ever gamed.

Since I cannot, in good conscience, devote what I've always thought is "enough" time to these large, beautiful, addictive time sinks, I don't game much at all. But I read about them because I still want to, on some level, experience them. I kid myself (probably) that someday I'm going to play through Mount & Blade and others, but in the meantime I can read what other gamers I know and respect think about them, and its a little like having tried them out. A little.

One of the theories that I've become more convinced of in these increasingly non-gaming years is that one of the reasons mainstream culture looks upon video/computer games as the pastime of the immature is that they really do require so much time to experience and master. And who, think over-scheduled, out-of-time, stressed-out parents (and wannabe gamers) like me, has the time for that other than kids?

And when the nights get sticky and hot, and the frogs sing just outside our windowpanes, I become so desperately, achingly homesick I fear my heart will burst.

Believe me Lara, I know how it is. I've been gone from my "hometown" for about a month now, and it pains me to know that I don't wake up south of I-10.