Charles Hooper

Thoughts and projects from a site reliability engineer

It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses a Life

Two weeks ago, I uninstalled every game I own from my computers and I’m SUPER glad I did.

For a long time, I thought computer games were really fun. I’ve been playing then ever since I was a single digit in age when my Dad bought a CD-ROM drive and SoundBlaster 16 sound card. The CD-ROM drive came with a number of CDs which included evaluation versions of Myst and the original Doom.

These games were like “wow!” They became even more interesting when we could dial into a friend’s game and play deathmatch or cooperatively. This was a lot of fun but it took some coordination since you needed to have a dedicated group of local people who could play at the same time as you. Also I was probably eight at the time so these were all of my Dad’s friends.

As I grew older, the Internet became more ubiquitous even if it was only dial-up at the time. We still had to play with folks who were local, due to latency considerations, but now we could play on dedicated servers (well, sort of) with complete strangers. Thanks to software like GameSpy, we could discover the servers closest to us. Despite the ease of discoverability, the latency restriction and relatively small number of dedicated servers meant we had stronger communities. We all knew each other and, in fact, some communities had entire websites, forums, and other BBS-like functionality built around their respective games.

This pattern would continue for probably another ten years until broadband became commonplace and games began imposing the “matchmaking” pattern. I think that maybe the people who produced and sold games wanted to make it easier for casual or new gamers to get started in multiplayer, which is totally valid, but I feel like this pattern completely killed the community aspect. At least for me.

Still though, I continued to play games regularly. Any time I got a free moment and felt like I had nothing else I needed to do, I’d jump into a game of some kind. If I had a short period of time available to me, I’d hop into a fast-paced FPS (or, eventually, Rocket League). If I had an entire day available, well hello Civilization and Eve Online!

Then, one day maybe two years ago now, Erica asked me to explain what I enjoyed about gaming. I had told her that I enjoyed strategy games like Civ and Eve Online because they were mentally stimulating and FPSes because they’re exciting and distracting. I could describe the precise sensations I got from each game I played but there was something off. The problem was that I didn’t think any of these things were fun! Not anymore, anyway.

Still, that didn’t stop me from playing.

Not until we bought a house and had a lot of things put into perspective. It turns out that, when you buy a house that needs work, literally everything is more important or higher priority than playing video games. I thought I could balance gaming with important things and even other hobbies but I had already failed at that for literally twenty years!

On top of that, for the seventh year in a row I caught myself wishing I wrote more, read more, did more archery, learned some engineering topics really well, started a business, and literally everything else besides playing games.

A friend of mine, Russell, has a side business he started despite having two kids and a demanding full time job. It was the day that I caught myself telling him how jealous I was that I realized my priorities were skewed.

I decided right then that, as an experiment, I would uninstall every single PC game I owned. I reasoned that, since I use Steam, I could recover all of the games if I ever needed to but, since my Internet connectivity is so bad right now, it would take me a solid day just to get a single game reinstalled. That sounded like the perfect barrier to entry! My hypothesis was that, with the barrier to gaming being so high now, that I would spend my free time doing literally anything else more productive.

And, guess what? I was right.

It’s only been about two weeks but I’ve been writing about 500 words per day. This isn’t a lot, mind you, but it’s way better than the one thousand words I wrote in all of 2014! I’ve also been reading. I’m still reading Stranger in a Strange Land which I think is a beautiful book but I’ve been “reading it” for probably an entire year now! And, finally, I’ve been working around the house and the yard. I recently built Erica and I a compost bin and we’re getting our new garden ready for our first Spring in our new home.

I know that not everyone has the same priorization problems as I do and that some people genuinely find gaming fun but I don’t have an ounce of regret about ditching gaming for good.