I have, on occasion, been known to become singularly obsessed with a game. I think most of us have been there, fully engaged by one single experience that becomes the focal point of our gaming time. It can feel like a wonderful love affair, and it can feel like a prison.
I have been obsessed with a couple of games for a few months now. If you’ve encountered any of my writings or comments over the past six months, then you might know which games I’m talking about. In fact, I’m quite intentionally avoiding using their name, because the moment I do this article will become about those games. I won’t want it to be. I’m as sick of hearing myself talk about it as you are, and yet it is this inescapable presence in my gaming life, a dark tower at the center, to which ley lines draw me across a field of roses day after day, drawing me to certain doom.
I put it that way, because even in the throes of it, an obsession feels damaged, tainted and like a corrupting force. There are all these other experiences out there waiting for me that I’m locking myself away from because of my obsession. It’s a broken record of my favorite line from my favorite song, a constant shot of distilled joy injected into the same swollen spot over and over again.
I want to escape. I never want to escape. I’ll be happy missing it when it’s gone. I’ll miss it making me happy when it’s gone.
Game obsession carries an extra layer of complexity for me, because usually I get the opportunity to try all kinds of new gaming experiences and comment on those experiences. Variation in gaming is sort of central to who I’ve been and what I’ve done for a few years now, so there’s this layer of guilt having gone through another week only to have to grudgingly admit “I’ve been too busy still playing that thing to get to those other new things.”
There’s been this moment over several of the past few weeks, where on Wednesday or Thursday as I start having to really think, “Ok, what am I going to write about this week?” or, “What am I going to talk about on the show this week?” where I have a mini panic attack as I realize that, over the course of the past year, all I’ve done is play the two same damn games.
This week, for example, I’m sort of cheating with this article because while I’m at least not talking directly about those games, this is all obviously coming from a place that exists because of those games. And even as I’m writing, I feel the tickle, the itch, the slow loss of focus as my attention tries to drift back to those games. It’s like trying to walk up a down escalator that’s moving way too fast. I’m trying to pull back up above the fray, but the mechanical inevitability of obsession is going to win.
I was like this about World of Warcraft once, and I was only too glad to finally come out of it. You know, after something like 5 years.
Still, there’s something comforting about being abandoned in the moment of the obsession. I can often go weeks at a time just looking at my list of games on Steam and feeling notably blasé about the idea of firing something up and diving into a digital world. Being able to sit down and know exactly what I want to play is a freeing sensation for me, a state where the world of gaming is comfortably black and white.
Certainly there are times where what I want is an entirely fresh experience — where I want to explore some unknown realm of narrative and mechanics. I know that it probably won’t be all that long until I’m back in that place, but it’s almost like getting a temporary reprieve to not have to worry about that stuff. It’s a nice break to just be able to say that I’m going to do that thing I know I like again today.
But, it’s also a dulling state of mind.
I know gamers who rarely find themselves in this state of mind. They’re like sharks, always on the move, always keeping water flowing over their gills so they don’t drown. Once a game is done, that meal eaten, they are back on the move.
Usually I’m like that too, but on these very rare occasions, I'll finish the game, find myself back at the main menu, and almost throw a kind of mental glitch: Instead of clicking the Exit button, my cursor hovers almost tentatively over Start New Game, and then I’m lost. Sometimes this is only for a week, and sometimes it’s off and on over the course of years.
I could probably set my mind on the task of breaking free from the obsession — I’ve done it before with success — but if I’m really honest with myself, I know I don’t want to. I know that I like the obsession slightly more than the alternative. So, when you see me on Steam tonight or tomorrow, you might not be surprised to see what it says I’m playing. In those moments, I am one with my obsession.