The Fading Allure of Escapism: How Changing My Life Changed My Hobbies

An unintended side effect of living a more fulfilled like is that I no longer find as much joy in solitary escapist entertainment. I’ve been a gamer my entire life. I inherited my Mom’s NES whenever I was old enough to start playing games. I played Super Mario 3 over and over again until I beat it. I looked forward to our weekly trips to the video rental store across town. I have spent thousands of hours playing video games across many generations of consoles. I have a closet full of cartridges and disks, controllers and power adapters.

But now I’m 28, and I’m having difficulty enjoying video games. I still play intermittently, and I enjoy a few larger releases with the voracity that characterized my former infatuation. I used to play everything I could get my hands on. When I first started working and had disposable income, I spent every spare penny on video games. I got up before work to play for an hour before heading to my classroom. I stayed up an hour later than my wife each night so I could have the TV to myself.

I still try to sit down and play for an extended time here and there. I carve out six hours on a Saturday, but I usually end up only playing for an hour or two. Something more interesting and more demanding always calls me away. And I’m having trouble remembering what I found so attractive in video games altogether, and I find the notion that I would spend forty or more hours finishing a video game a distasteful waste of time.

I could spend that time reading, writing, exercising, or working. After each of those endeavors I’d find myself a slightly better person. But at the conclusion of a video game, I’m not sure that I’m any better a man.

For some reason, as time gets short in life, wasting time escaping through entertainment bothers me.

-Dick Van Dyke

Value is deeply personal, and my perception of value has changed over the last year. Perhaps preparing to turn thirty is at the root of a mini midlife crisis, and that is why I feel compelled to spend my time wisely.

Video games are specifically designed to hijack our evolutionary rewards systems. The lights and chimes flash and ding, our score goes up, and cause feelings of accomplishment. But the struggle is artificial, the conquered foe is digital. What I have to show for my thousands of hours gaming is little more than a collection of antiquated and obsolete technology (and perhaps better hand eye coordination). I know that my time immersed in the interactive narrative of games has shaped my perception of the world. Those characters were my heroes, and many of them follow classical archetypal patterns. My view of the world was in part characterized through my interactions with those recycled hero myths, but I resent that I didn’t spend my time learning demonstrable skills.

But an endeavor is given value by the individual undertaking it. At the time, I felt video games a worthwhile test of my skills and a happy distraction from a more mundane life. I had access to any hobby I could imagine, but I returned to gaming again and again in my youth for an escape from myself and the reality of my life.

What has changed is that I’m beginning the difficult task of setting my life in real order. I’ve begun losing weight. I’m paying attention to the people I care the most about, and my family is happy and stable. The me who I looked at in the mirror with resentment is beginning to fade, and a new person is emerging. I no longer want to escape from my life. And that is the most profound reward for months of clean eating and soul searching.

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