Family Gamer: Play Less, Enjoy More

Family Gamer

I feel like Jerry Maguire today. After many years chasing my tail reviewing whatever game I could lay my hands on I have decided to take a break from the rat race. In the words of the man himself “Let us work less hard to [play] the [games] that we know won’t matter in the long run, and work twice as hard to [play] the ones who will.” So I’ll be here every other week for these Family Gamer articles, trying to get down in words the things that matter to me as a family gamer.

They say start with what you know, for me this is easy to define: my kids my wife and my friends. Most (not all mind) games come and go, whereas these people are around for the long haul putting up with me various idiosyncrasies along the way. It’s not too surprising then, that much of my gaming is done in their company whilst the rest is sneaked in late at night after they are tucked up in bed.

Looking back on the last few years, I realize that brutal truth of the transition from young gamer to family man is that I no longer finish many games. Some are simply too long to warrant the time with so much else to do, whilst others just don’t manage to grab my imagination. This might sound like I am leaving my old hobby behind. But don’t take this slide into gaming lowlands as a lack of care or devotion to these masterpieces of digital agency. Quite the reverse, I’m still as inspired and committed to games as ever. It’s just the reality of life that means I now play in the gaps around the main event of my friends and family.

However, as I look a little longer at days gone by I realize that even before family life I was still pretty pressured and short on time. Even in those carefree younger years, if I’m honest there weren’t many games I finished. Super Mario World, Rainbow Islands, Bubble Bobble, Double Dragon and The Adams Family pinball machine are almost a full list.

In hindsight though, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to leave some games uncompleted. Maybe we need to loose some of that pressure to perform and complete every game we play. I’ve found that playing fewer games has substantially re-invigorated my love of the media. Previously, I always felt guilty for my lack of commitment, thinking gaming was all about completion, high scores and breaking records. These things are in the mix for sure, but when you take time to enjoy a game – when you actually play – you realize it’s the momentary experiences of agency that engage us most powerfully.

It’s almost a relief to admit there are many games I won’t be finishing. Instead I want to resolve to linger in the moments I most enjoy, and take time to soak up the excitement and emotion they evoke before charging on to get that ‘oh so important’ high score and achievement. Now, I can (re)discover a small circle of games that have really impacted me. These range from the sombre therapeutic progression of Shadow of the Colossus on PS2, to Tetris DS’s addictive online leaderboards, to Elite Beat Agents’ foot tapping rhythms or even Wii-Sports spine tingling gesture controls.

So as the torrent of new games continues, I can more easily pick my way through to those that connect with me. I realize I am learning to play the games I like, rather than those I am told are ground breaking. And the bottom line here is that I am enjoying playing now more than ever. I’m probably more evangelical about these experiences that ever before, and because they genuinely move me rather than for their technical prowess. The games I play now capture my imagination and create a meaningful experiences, I hope that yours do too.

And with that we wrap up the first of this season’s Family Gamer articles. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with the skinny on Wii-Fit. The game, the benefits, the queues and the injuries.

Paul Govan – The Family Gamer

Paul Govan

[This article is a guest post.]

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