Habits

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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.

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5 comments
  1. Hold fast! As it takes hours and days to create the habit, it takes a some commitment to disengage from it as well. Go, find a new way to be a weirdo.

  2. I know how that feels. As a former MMO player (or should I say addict?) and someone who plays Diablo 3 for a few months every year, this is a feeling I’m well acquainted with. It gets to the point where I know I’m not enjoying it, I know I have other games to play and I persist with the grind and repetitive gaming. At least with shooters and MOBAs there’s a competitive element and no grinding…

  3. CM Stock said:

    Hey,

    I just wanted to let you know I thought this was a really great post. Both for videogames, but a lot of other elements to existence. I think this mindset could help those who are grieving. Understanding that at a certain point holding on is holding you back from new experience, new understanding, new enjoyment. it’s hard, really hard, and that’s okay.

    Keep writing genuine stuff, it’s quality.

  4. Jōchō said:

    Of course, any habits need to be replaced with something, else you’ll fall back into the original habit. Something that feels similar too might be a good idea. Replacing bad mobile RPGs that I’ve played for months with a handheld RPG can do the trick. Maybe replace Team Fortress 2 with Splatoon. :P

    The key is when you can make a mindless habit out of certain aspects of the game development. Though a lot of a game should be deliberate, sometimes just making the basics of a new area or two can be done without much effort. Least, that’s what I’ve found. Technical details, like populating the area, making it look good and intuitive, and writing scripts for it can take effort. But just doing some basics can be beneficial from time to time, even if you end up scrapping it all.

    In any case, I’m enamored by your drive to make complex enemy behaviors, even when it doesn’t make sense. Looking forward to seeing them in action.

    • Splatoon would be great if I had the console, but I don’t and unfortunately acquiring consoles is well out of my budget range at the moment. I played through XCOM, which was fun but doesn’t suit me as a game to turn into a daily habit. It’s actually kind of tricky because a lot of the time I used TF2 as an interim activity while I was still warming up to actually getting work done. I’m trying to get into using music that way, but there’s still some pressure towards ‘productivity’ there which makes it difficult to get into from a cold start sometimes. If nothing else, though, it’s interesting just to create a void like this in one’s life and see what falls into the gap to fill it.

      Being able to habitually work is something I get very jealous of people who are on a team over. Because I constantly need to evaluate what I’m going to tackle next and where it’s going to fit into the project, it’s very difficult to find that kind of groove: Maybe as I transition out of programming tools and basic engine features and more into creating content there will be more of that kind of boilerplate work to start with. Tile layouts, scenery planning, enemy placement, that sort of thing: Of course it needs to be right for the final game, but getting it right will be an iterative process anyway so it’s low pressure to start with.

      I think making complex enemy behaviors makes sense for these enemies in this game, but it’s going very far afield from my reference material (games like Cave Story, Symphony of the Night, and Super Metroid). This kind of straightforward but intricate behavioral movement is much more typical for games like FPSes: My pathfinding tests, and seeing the enemy’s dogged semi-intelligent pursuit, definitely gave me some of the spooky feeling that lead to the creation of games like Left 4 Dead, which was itself inspired by testing Counterstrike bot pathfinding.

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