Life Unplugged

Broken Controller

Two months ago, I quit playing video games cold turkey.

Someone near and dear to me let me know that my escapism habits had become unhealthy. I was constantly stressed about not having enough time for the things I wanted to do–writing fiction, keeping up with the blog, taking my girls hiking or to the movies–and the things I needed to do–teaching, grading, running a theatre program, and sundry household duties. So in order to “balance” all this and keep up with my gaming habits, which I’ve always viewed as a gateway to inspiration (look at Descarta, for example), I began getting up early in the morning to play games. I then stayed up late gaming after I had accomplished whatever I had managed to that day, which in retrospect, was probably not much.


This would have been different, mind you, if I had actually been playing new and exciting games instead of replaying Dark Souls for the umpteenth time (my goal was hitting level 712 without cheating!) and trying to stay ahead of teenagers in the Urr Dragon battle in Dragon’s Dogma. Prior to the new DLC, I had done everything there was to do in Skyrim as well.

Hey, I was murdering evil, right? True. But I was also murdering time, my health, and personal relationships. In the meantime, I was writing virtually nothing. My weight was back up to the pregnancy sympathy pounds stage, and I was junking up on energy drinks just to function. I had zero motivation–and this depressed me to no end.

This surprised me. I mean, you’d think with the anthology’s release date nearing and me sitting on Winter Break at the time, I would have been bouncing off the walls. Instead, I was a wreck. Success doth not ensure happiness, especially in the mind of an English major.

This is why I maintain the axiom that all artists–real artists–are either drug addicts or insane. Just like Nicolas Cage.

Nicolas Cage Nuts

This should keep me safe from the bees!

I remember following a much more successful (no hyperbole) blogger/web comic years ago who managed to land a book deal with Harper Collins. After everything seemed like it was going her way, she lapsed into depression. Her last post was about how this had unexpectedly happened to her, and as of this writing, she hasn’t released any new material (other than an interview on reddit explaining her situation to her many fans). I remember being extremely disappointed in her for just falling off the world like that.

Now, to some extent, I understand.

So the games, and indeed my entire outlook, had to go. The trouble is that you can take the gamer out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the gamer. I’ve been gaming since the Atari 2600, after all. Two of my three books are about gaming in a Sci-Fi sense (the other, perhaps paradoxically, is about technology destroying everything that was once sacred in the world). It took me a few weeks just to stop seeing facets of reality in terms of video game analogies, which I’d found to be comforting in times past. I mean, I was the great knight errant on a quest to redeem the kingdom. An overweight English teacher with a penchant for the dramatic can fall on his face and fail miserably at life, but a knight? Never.

Knight Templar

It’s not that I don’t know the different between reality and fantasy; it’s merely that fantasy–stories, ideas, even romance–help us cope with a reality where things seldom make sense.

What happens when you try to take the game out of the gamer? The gamer will inevitably apply what gaming has taught him/her to reality. Take grinding, for example. Grinding is the practice of leveling up your character before a boss fight to ensure that you survive the encounter. I’ve still been grinding. I’ve just been doing it in a gym. Now that I’ve beaten off the sinus infection that was holding me back, I plan to grind a lot more. I’ve also eliminated my dependency on energy drinks. Taken together, these two changes have helped me cut about 20 pounds so far.

Instead of tailoring a fictional character to my tastes, I’ve been working on myself. After all, this is my story, and I have to deal with all these “cut scenes” of me now. I might as well be a protagonist I can be proud of, right?

I’ve also noticed in the past few weeks that I haven’t been camping my iPhone as much. For awhile, it had become like the One Ring. There was a moment about a month ago when I deliberately tried to walk out the door without it, and the damn thing was already in my coat pocket.


My Own! My Apps! My Precious!!!

I believe that, at least in my case, fixating on my spiffy little handheld computer with all its apps and checking my blog stats and Facebook every few minutes is linked to my gamer mentality. I might be more out of touch with the world than I was two months ago, but maybe that’s a good thing for my own sanity. I don’t need to become Gollum to write speculative fiction, after all.

New stories will happen because they must. My old Royal typewriter was recently repaired, and that shall be the mechanism of delivery for the time being. I’m sure I’ll be keeping all kinds of people up at night with its sweet cacophony of keys and bells, but to hell with it. Enough is enough.

What does my current cynical attitude regarding technology mean for this blog? Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much, dear reader. Sans the video games and with all this energy from running on the treadmill, I’ve realized that I have much, much more of one thing than I had previously thought–and that is time.


Filed under Family, My Writing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

6 responses to “Life Unplugged

  1. TAE

    You had some “heavy” introspection going on here. Good for you. I know first hand that alternate realities can eat your life away. Video games are, in a way, the devil.


  2. Anything taken to extremes can become a vice. This kind of perspective change is good if it leads to you getting into a better frame of mind, but depriving yourself of the very thing that is the foundation of your inspiration feels like an extreme action.

    I don’t believe that now is the time for extreme actions.


  3. Awesome post — and eerie, I could’ve written this myself, down to the idea of feeling it was inspiration / research for cyberpunk / sci-fi. Keep in mind at one point I got paid to write videogame reviews, so that was just legitimizing the whole thing (although that job is not nearly as fun as it seems like, thanks to the application of Murphy’s Law: the games you really want to play aren’t the ones that the PR people pass along which you need to review, good or bad, to maintain a good relationship with them, so while the super-awesome can’t wait ones are sitting on the one pile, the stuff you wouldn’t normally touch EVER is the bigger pile that you have to get through first).

    No one was paying me to spend hours upon hours of time playing Halo multiplayer, though, that was just straight up addiction. Sort of like getting paid to be a wine critic but then it’s 4 AM and you find yourself chugging Mad Dog 20/20 in some back alley, totally disheveled and slumped against the wall.

    I keep trying to find a way to play here and there but it’s tough. I bought Halo 4 at launch and just finished up a couple weeks ago because my BFF finally broke down and got it, so we rammed through campaign co-op in a single 8 hour session . . . down from the days of playing Final Fantasy XI together and doing fifteen plus hours at a clip.

    Open world games are my real weakness, I’m not sure what it is about them, and it’s really not just genre as much as the design element of being in this huge, expansive binary-powered sandbox . . . it’s probably a good thing GTA V was delayed until fall.

    You did hit on a great point, though, Daniel: you can take those skills and apply them to more positive pursuits. That’s pretty much the idea of Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way book, which I can almost single-handedly credit for getting me out of a years-long slump — treat life like it was an RPG, and give yourself XP and level yourself up when you hit a goal. Sounds odd, but it absolutely works.


  4. Heidi

    You mentioned Nicolas Cage, I am at peace now.


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