Why I’m Quitting Gaming
After the PSN fiasco (and a couple of epiphanic TV show episodes) Dan Parmenter offers his newly adjusted opinion on being a gamer
The penultimate season four episode of the superb series Mad Men is not an optimistic one. Chief protagonist Don Draper is going through a tough time in both his personal and professional life, with the latter currently suffering through his advertising agency’s impending staff cuts and the loss of the colossal Lucky Strike cigarettes account.
As rivals begin circling like vultures at the news of the agency’s imminent demise, Draper writes the following letter (appropriately abridged) entitled ,“Why I’m Quitting Tobacco”, which he publishes in the New York Times:
Recently my advertising agency ended a long relationship with Lucky Strike cigarettes, and I’m relieved.
For over 25 years we devoted ourselves to peddling a product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can’t stop themselves from buying it… and then, when Lucky Strike moved their business elsewhere, I realized, here was my chance to be someone who could sleep at night, because I know what I’m selling doesn’t kill my customers.
So as of today, [our agency] will no longer take tobacco accounts… [but] we welcome all other business because we’re certain that our best work is still ahead of us.
Donald F. Draper
(read the full version here)
A clever recovery and some excellent scriptwriting to be sure, but what does all this have to do with me quitting gaming?
Okay, truth be told, I’m not actually quitting gaming completely: I’m not selling my PS3, I’m not giving up writing reviews and opinion pieces, and I’m certainly not replacing it with some other newfound hobby like needlepoint or being Amish. What I am doing though is taking a more responsible look at the pastime that has occupied a heck of a lot of hours of my existence over the last thirty years.
And I’m doing it because some asshats decided to hack the Playstation Network.
Now, I should mention that I’m not exactly what one would call a hardcore gamer; those days were left behind in the 90s along with high school and my dorky middle-parting haircut. I’d also barely played a multiplayer game since that era filled with weekend-long LAN parties, but since so many titles these days include online elements (some almost crucial supplements to single player campaigns), I’d recently decided to move with the times and get reacquainted with the PSN.
In hindsight this turned out to be a horribly ill-timed choice considering the online service was mere weeks away from complete and utter collapse.
And then the asshats struck, and I abruptly found myself stranded in a multiplayer-less wasteland. Refusing to turn to my stack of bland B-grade titles to see me through the drought, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my newfound free time. Serendipitously though, it was at roughly the same point that I happened to catch the aforementioned episode of Mad Men, and the solution to my problem was already becoming clear as I began drawing remarkable parallels to Draper’s frank and positive approach to the sudden absence of something that had featured so prominently in his life.
So what did I do? Whine to my friends? Buy an Xbox? Troll the official Playstation forums with a jilted gamer’s hallmark misguided belligerence? No, not even close.
I decided to quit gaming.
In fact, other than playing for review purposes (hey, it keeps my swimming pool heated), I decided to give up gaming as a hobby for a few weeks in the hopes of getting a bit more perspective on things; kind of like a gamer Lent, if you will. And the rules were incredibly simple: every time I reached for my controller I’d stop, refrain from firing up my PS3, and instead go and do something as far removed from gaming as possible.
The results are rather interesting.
Over the course of these several weeks I got a hell of a lot done. I finally picked up one of my appallingly neglected guitars, dusted it off, restrung it, and got back on that musical bicycle again. Sure, it sounded more like an orangutan on a banjo than a once-accomplished player who’s more than a little rusty, but it was a solid start.
I also completely demolished a backlog of work that’s been haunting my dreams for ages now, and I even chucked some proactive work in the mix too. I slaved in the desolate garden of my newly purchased apartment and revived the previous owner’s desert into something I’m sure will closely resemble the Amazon once summer returns. And I finally got around to purging almost one hundred ‘friends’ from my Facebook account, and in turn made note of a number of people who I’m systematically working through rekindling flagging friendships with.
On top of this, I went back to gym for the first time in months, I went to the theatre for the first time in years, I got reacquainted with food made in actual restaurants and not on fast food production lines, I tried out rock climbing, and I pulled a Jim Carrey in ‘Yes Man’ and agreed to every single invitation to go out for drinks that was pitched my way.
Heck, I even started writing a new opinion piece, and you’re reading it right now.
Another task on the to-do list was to visit my mom, something I admittedly do far too infrequently since I left the nest, and while there last weekend I told her about my gaming-free experiment. On hearing this she reminded me of something I vaguely recollected my old man telling me many years ago: stuck at a family lunch with dull relatives and even duller small talk, I complained that I wanted to go home to continue with whatever PC game I was enthralled with at the time. My dad, in what now appears to be oddly prophetic wisdom, said, “No one ever looked back at their life and wished they’d spent more time playing video games.”
I’m sure at this point a few of the more dedicated gamers among you are seething at what you’re probably convinced is a sermon from a sanctimonious ex-gamer, or a puritanical parent in disguise. I assure you all, however, this is not meant to be a public service announcement on the dangers of wiling your hours away at a keyboard or console, nor is it a judgement on anyone’s lifestyle choices: if you’re happy spending the amount of time you’re putting into gaming, good for you.
Actually, if you’ve struck the perfect balance, then great for you.
But my little sojourn into anti-gaming feels like it was the right thing for me to do. And it isn’t the first time this has happened. Some years ago I sold my monster PC with custom water-cooling and ghetto volt-modded video card simply because I was tired of the way I was enjoying gaming: I hated spending more time looking for jagged edges, constantly tweaking config files and glancing up at the framerate counter than I did actually enjoying what I was playing.
Thus, I flogged the entire rig and went the console route, a move that I should mention had everything to do with my changing way of life rather than platform wars. The Playstation was the way forward for me, a quicker, cheaper and less time consuming way for me to enjoy my hobby and a perfect fit for someone leaving the student life and entering the working world.
Is the same thing happening to me again? Am I really getting on a bit, changing the way I see gaming because everything else, including my priorities and responsibilities, is changing around me? I’m not sure, and the gamer in me is not sure he wants to be sure, but what I do know is that the last few weeks have been remarkably productive, and whether that’s down to a maturing attitude about things in general or whether gaming is starting to take more of a back seat… well, I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Anyway, the PSN is back up now, and I can proudly report that I haven’t logged on once. Yes, I racked up a couple hours of LA Noire this weekend, and yes, I’ll be doing the same with inFamous 2 later in the week, but after all this I’ve come to the simple conclusion that a gaming hiatus may not be the right move for everyone, but I believe there’s absolutely nothing to be lost in at least trying out a different perspective, however brief.
The highly astute among you have probably realised that I’m going to wrap this up with the second of the “epiphanic TV show episodes” mentioned in the sub-line at the top of this article. Shortly after having the idea for this piece, and in a further bizarre twist of coincidence, I was watching another of my favourite shows, Weeds.
In the episode in question, Silas (the teenage son of my future wife Mary-Louise Parker) begins attending varsity. Here he encounters a progressive professor whose words are not only a perfect summation of my entire game-free experience, but the final inspiration I needed to start this piece.
And, ironically, to finish it:
“None of you give a s**t. Not really. And I get it. Why learn about the world when within seven seconds of opening your MacBook you could be in a photo-realistic grenade battle with an 8-year old in Saginaw?
But let’s make a deal. One hour, twice a week, we’re gonna be engaged. Fight me. Call me a liberal elitist latte-sipping socialist scumbag. Just care about something.
Because when you’re done whatevering your life away, the world will absolutely blow your f***ing minds.”