I uninstalled Team Fortress 2 about two weeks ago now. Not for the first time, and it remains to be seen if it will be the last – though my past history with multiplayer games suggests it won’t be. At one point, many years ago when I was compulsively playing the absurdly action-packed shooter GunZ (yes that is an actual title of an actual video game), I was in the habit of deleting the game each day and reinstalling it the next: This is less pragmatic with Team Fortress 2, weighing in at 12+ gigs of data, but I suppose still quite possible with a decent connection.
I uninstalled it because I knew I’d keep playing it even though I wasn’t enjoying it any more. Past a certain point, playing the game stops being a decision you make and just becomes part of your day, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. The things we do have a habit of becoming the things we are, the activities we define ourselves by, that identity sometimes long outliving the actual activity. It got to the point where I kept playing, whether or not I enjoyed the experience or found it rewarding, just as a thing to do. I can still imagine myself playing, going through the intricate motions and outguessing and scoring the points and winning the rounds, and feel nothing. So maybe it’s time to move on. It’s time, at least, to take a break, so I can make a decision about what to do with my time rather than letting habit make the decision for me.
Quitting a game you’ve been playing more or less constantly, several hours a day, for the last few years, is difficult. I find myself not knowing what to do a lot of the time, and so I do very little. I try to find other games to play, but it’s difficult. I try to channel that time and energy into productive pursuits, only to find that this time and energy seems to be keyed exclusively towards idle and wasteful pursuits rather than something beneficial. It turns out that just removing a source of distraction and hoping that will be enough to create work is not an especially effective approach. Who knew?
It helps if I don’t think about this as some kind of self-improvement, though. It’s not about trying to be more effective, more streamlined, whatever. It’s not about optimizing. It’s not about perfecting myself, or putting away childish things, or making the most of every moment. It’s just about moving away from a piece of my life that I no longer feel connected to. You know, everywhere we go, we shed flakes of dead skin behind us. And, like that, we shed bits of who we used to be, the things we used to do, the people we used to know. Only weirdos get upset about it and try to keep jars of dead skin flakes around, so if the shoe doesn’t fit any more I guess I’m just going to stop wearing it.
But I guess I’m a weirdo. It’s hard for me to let go. Until that skin grows back it leaves a raw spot. So I get to wait and see what comes next, after I stop burning all my time playing the same game.
Or maybe I’ll just end up installing the damn thing again. We’ll see.