I am in a gaming slump. A rut. A dry period.
I always feel weirdly anxious when I get in these places, like maybe I’ve lost my passion for the art, or maybe I’ve atrophied as a gamer, or maybe I’ve lost all the joy and innocence from my heart. To be fair, the latter of these may be at least partially true, given its cold, metal construction.
I’m just in that uncomfortable place where, no matter how flashy or shiny the next big thing is, I can manage a level of enthusiasm equal only to when I hear that my flight is landing right next to the gate of my connecting flight — or when I go to Jiffy Lube and no one hauls a grimy air filter out to shame me into buying a new one. These are not moments without any joy, but they are fleeting, and mundane.
I am accustomed to prizing my time with my hobby and guarding it jealously. I’m used to a near-constant ache of anticipation for some future thing, a giddy, almost childish faith in an industry with an inconsistent record at best. I like that feeling of sitting down and knowing exactly what I want to play.
But right now it’s just not there.
I’ve been through enough of these to know it passes, and not to worry. Passion ebbs and flows, and right now I’m on the low turn of the oscillating waveform. It’s normal. In fact, it may even be good.
I haven’t been following much of E3 this year, and honestly I’m in not much of a position to critique it. I’m in the wrong mindset: a cynical, disinterested place where I read eager previews of upcoming games that most other times I’d be pretty hyped about, and all I can manage is to think that I’ve seen it all before.
I know there are some people for whom this is a de facto starting position for games analysis. While I understand where that’s coming from, I generally feel like this is a conversational non-starter. It feels to me like a position of arrogant superiority, hyper-generalization and general disagreeableness. It feels to me like a failure to see the substance of the thing contained within a known structure, and instead an obsession with the framework.
But here I am, stuck firmly in this frustrating place of not being able to see and recognize the joy that can be found in the familiar, the accessible. Nor am I falling over myself to break away from the ordinary and be inspired by something more challenging or unapproachable.
If you asked me right now what I was looking forward to playing for the rest of the year, I’d probably just look at you blankly as if you had tried to convey your question by semaphore.
It’s not all bad though, because I also know that usually when I come out of this, I come through oddly refreshed and open to new experiences. I remember feeling similar last year, and then suddenly I played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons followed immediately by Europa Universalis IV the next week, and we all know how that story turns out. Both of those were my top contenders for the best game I played in the year, and suddenly I was right back in the game.
That’s the great thing about the industry — that you never really know when the thing that'll make you fall in love with gaming all over again will just show up. Just when I think I’ve seen all the things, or that I’ve had all the experiences, a game like Brothers shows up and introduces me to a set of emotions I didn’t know I could have in a game.
Sometimes it’s not a new game, either. I remember one slump a few years back where I half-heartedly loaded up the original Deus Ex, and within just a couple of days had finished the game for the fifth or sixth time, and couldn’t wait to play whatever was next.
So I don’t logically or rationally think of these ruts as much more than a cleansing breath, a natural neural response allowing me to reset. My sense of the world is that this kind of thing happens in anything you try to sustain over years and decades. It happens in friendships, in marriages, in relationships, in careers, in skill development. And it happens in our hobbies.
That doesn’t make it a lot easier to be in the moment, because I still have to experience the downer of the slump, but it also frees me from having to worry about what it all means. It just means something is coming that will trip the right neural triggers. The world will turn on a dime, back into something more familiar, and I will remember why I’ve dedicated decades to this pastime. And that trigger is probably coming sooner rather than later.