Age and the Economics of Time

I’ve been trying to catch up on the many, many podcast that I am subscribed to — all 87 of them. Yesterday, I was listening to the Gamers with Jobs Conference Call and was going through my backlog of episodes while I was playing Final Fantasy XIII-2. I got through several episodes and then finally caught up to their PAX East panel and their coverage of a topic that is increasing part of my gaming life and writing: time. I paused the game to listen to what they were saying.

At the beginning of the episode, each of them lists their age so that you know where (and when) they are talking from when they talk about their first gaming experiences and how they game now. For the most part, they all talk about some of the same systems I played when I was younger (some pinball, Atari 2600 then later PC games) and then go into how both having children and getting older has influence how and what they play. The answers they came up in describing their experiences didn’t surprise me so much as it confirmed something I am already starting to feel myself: the older I get, the less I want to invest into games that are based in quick reactions or take a long time to play.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like reflex games from time to time. I still play Ikaruga occasionally and recently put some time into Jamestown.  The fast paced kinetics of barely missing being killed over and over again is exciting. It’s thrilling. But it doesn’t last as long as it used to as my skills have started to entropy slightly and I have begun to lose interest in investing the time into “getting good” again at every shooter (topdown, third or first) I play. For a couple hours, I can enjoy playing games like that. But as soon as I begin to die too many times, I have to give up. I just don’t have the time to play the same level dozens of times to find the optimal path and figure out the patterns anymore.

I used to invest hundreds of hours into games. My total time in World of Warcraft is somewhere around 500+ hours over two years worth of playing. In some of the older RPGs I played, I rolled the clock over on and I can’t tell you how long I played them. Over 130 hours for most. Yet, with my recent time last week with Catherine and this week with Final Fantasy XIII-2, I find that I am increasingly done with trying to get everything in the games I play. In fact, as I approach the 35 hour mark in FFXIII-2, I am thinking about giving up on finding every little bauble and defeating every monster. For some reason, I’ve lost the will to grind and grind just to say I got everything.

I can’t help but think this stands in contrast to my post yesterday where I talked about taking on tasks just for the eventual pleasure. It was, as I now think about it, how I used to play games. I would throw dozens of hours into a game, read up on all the guides and plot strategies to make sure I could get every drop of enjoyment out of the game. I would wring it out over weeks and weeks worth of playing. When I was done, there would be nothing left. It would be over and I would never go back to that game. That common masochism was the plan for playing: just keep playing, no matter the mental of physical cost, in order to get through the game.

When I woke up this afternoon, I was disgusted with myself. I had come off playing FFXIII-2 for 10 hours straight and I had gone to bed around 9 am. Around 5 pm, I woke up, looked at the clock and came to a conclusion: this has to stop. I was burning through what is basically my vacation, the time between the spring and summer semester, by playing games. That was all I was doing. I wasn’t talking to people, getting any writing done or even trying to work on the personal projects I have. It was just gaming all day long on my off days. Any time I wasn’t working or sleeping, I was playing. That was how, in the last ten days, I was able to burn through Catherine twice and invest 35 hours in Final Fantasy XIII-2.

That was the currency I was spending that the GWJ crew was talking about too: time. As they got older, they realized that it was less of matter of being able to buy the games they want, but finding the time to play them. They all have jobs, most of them have children and a couple have very demanding schedules. Yet, here I was investing my own time poorly. Yes, I could play games in my off time, and that is fine, but if I did nothing but that, I was getting nothing and was wasting away the physical for the virtual. I was descending into the games not to get the eventual pleasure of finishing them, or showing off my mastery, but to escape for hours at a time.

I wonder now if that is edge of addiction. Using hobbies or projects not as a creative outlet, but as a way to escape into another world. Not as a way to momentarily disengage, but to leave completely. It would be so easy to slip off into the worlds of everything working out and the only true worth is how much time was invested. Mastery as a function of spending. It would be less about the pain or even the pleasure, but the numbing of all the senses in the waves of dancing lights and nimble fingers. Suspension via synesthesia.

Thinking about it now, that is probably the mark of growing older. It’s less about knowing that you can go off and doing something you like doing (like playing games), but balancing it along with the other responsibilities. No longer a matter of spending the money to get what you want, but investing wisely in both currencies, money and time, to get to the goals of both worlds, physical and virtual. It’s putting off the pleasure of the moment for the future, engaging with other tasks and then coming back, later, to play games, escaping on schedule and then moving on to another task after.