Breaking Up

It’s hard to know how to feel about all of those games and books and shows that have been recommended to me and that I’ve never had a chance to check out; and all those games and books and shows I’ve seen a little bit of but never quite had a chance to complete. There’s an ongoing background calculation evaluating the time I spend on the things I do, the time I would need to spend to do another thing, the value I expect to glean from completion or abandonment… and overwhelmingly the permutations become too many and I just continue doing what I was doing. It’s just simpler that way.

We establish relationships with the art and hobbies we love, and those relationships accumulate baggage in the way relationships do, and also establish a kind of inertia, a desire to keep themselves going for their own sake regardless of benefit or detriment – this, also, in the way that relationships do. Sometimes the things that once gave us life come to weigh us down. Sometimes the things that seemed worthless on first glance have a hidden richness that becomes deeply fulfilling to us later.

Fortunately most art ends, eventually, in a way that lets us peacefully disengage, to segue from direct interaction into fond remembrance and interpretation, then foggily on into nostalgia. Games, particularly multiplayer games, don’t always do this – in this way they’re more like a hobby than art in the way we usually think about art. I’ve certainly, more than once, found myself repeatedly coming back to a game, over and over, one I’ve sucked dry of novelty and meaning, just because it’s comforting. I come back  because it’s just too painful to say goodbye – or, perhaps I’m more scared of the implicit ‘hello’ than the ‘goodbye, too anxious of trying to fill the void it would leave behind with something new. And yet eventually I move on, and one after another they march away into memory

Quitting is an incredibly important skill to learn; not-quitting is equally important. If we fail to learn the former, we may find ourselves repeating, by rote, activities which have long since stopped being rewarding, stopped offering joy or knowledge. If we fail to learn the latter we move on too early, fail to reach the richest nectar which sank to the bottom. It’s hard to ever escape the suspicion that we got out too soon or too late. Every action has an opportunity cost, and because we can never really know what benefits we might have reaped from an action we never took we’ll never really know what we lost by choosing to stay or choosing to go.

The best we can manage is to try to evaluate our futures based on our pasts. Pay attention: Am I still enjoying this? Am I learning? Do I expect to reap rewards for my perseverance in the future? Are those expectations realistic?

It’s all too easy to imagine ourselves, years later, pursuing hobbies that have ceased to bring joy or emotional shelter, records at the ends of our grooves, repeating our last few moments over and over until we are unplugged.

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