I have a terrible habit: I tend not to finish games.
Between my 9 to 5, my freelancing, a role at another company, writing fiction, spending time with my girlfriend, and occasional dinner parties or movie screenings with friends, I don’t really have much time to game.
This dramatically affects both the kind of type of games I buy and the possibility that I’ll finish the longer games I do purchase. Call of Duty games, for instance, reliably clock in at the eight to ten hour mark, meaning that I can beat one in a week or two without trouble. An Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto, however, can lie half-finished on my shelf for a year or more. While others bristle at a game being too short, I sigh with relief that it’s not going to cut into my writing time. I avoid RPGs and MMOs of all sorts because they’re such a time drain, but I made an exception for the magnificent Skyrim, which was my Soma-like escape from MFA applications .
The last six months have been especially bad, with grad application season, PAX East prep, and novel edits chewing my personal time to bits. I have a six inch-wide rack of games on my shelf that I haven’t finished. For a long time, I just couldn’t—I had so much to do that even when I was being productive, taking time off led to a feeling of guilt I couldn’t shake. You have things to do! said the voices. Playing games isn’t helping you get into an MFA program. And what about that novel, eh? Didn’t you want to have it sent to that publisher by the end of the month? I call the voices “The Puritan Choir,” since they’re a remnant of the WASP-y work ethic that’s the gift of growing up as a liberal Protestant. Catholicism and Judaism might have guilt complexes on lockdown, but Martin Luther and John Calvin perfected the crippling terror of laziness and familial disappointment.
If I have any hope of actually making it in games journalism, I need to play more games—that’s just the long and short of it. Even writing about the intersection between games and the real world, which is my primary focus, I find that I’m hobbled by the fact that my base of play experience is narrower than most freelancers. To fix this, I’m making a concerted effort to work on my backlog as well as stretch myself by playing other genres.
It’s time to realize that playing games is just as much work as writing articles about them, and not feel guilty about the time invested.
Dear Puritan Choir: Shhhh, daddy’s working.