Friday, August 28, 2009

Shrink wrapped

I suck at games: Shrink wrapped photo

As I write this, I'm running on roughly four hours of sleep. Not because I was partying last night, and certainly not because I was gaming.

I was awakened at 4AM by my three-year-old daughter who was having difficulty breathing and could only describe it as "my mouth hurts" followed by gagging and wheezing. She's OK. It was a croupe, common in kids her age and exacerbated by the wildfire smoke that's been filling Santa Cruz for the past week. A few minutes in the cool night air cleared it up. Several days before, my five-year-old son had the same problem around 5 am.

These early awakenings aren't an uncommon occurrence though they're of course usually less scary. Just a kid wanting his/her cereal, or wanting to go potty, or complaining that his/her sheets are sandy. You name it. And in case you're wondering, no, you can't "order" a kid to go back to sleep, and try as they may, they cannot snuggle themselves back to sleep in your bed. At least mine can't, and that's alright. Warm fuzzy morning for the kids; kinda groggy morning for the adults. We can handle it; we have the coffee.

Where was I going with this? Sleep deprivation, yes. Often a sign that your time has become a precious commodity, and that you've been spending more of it than you can afford. This in itself is sometimes a sign of regret, of staying awake in some vain hope of regaining the time you took for granted as a 20-something. Trust me, it doesn't work.

I'm 36, a married father of two, and owner of entirely too many shrink wrapped videogames. They've remained unopened because, whether I admit it to myself or not, I barely have the time to actually play them. I've come to discover that, as I grow older, my game purchases (and book purchases for that matter) signify something more than my intent to play them.

When I'm buying a game, I seem to be buying the idea that I'll somehow have the time to play it. Games are the idealization of free time for me, a symbol that somehow, between the hours of 8 and 11 PM, I will escape the tyranny of the clock (and the onset of sleep). Or sometimes I'll think of it as an investment in future free time, when X game will no longer be available but I'll eventually have the bandwidth to enjoy it.

I've made my peace with this realization and have tempered my purchases somewhat, but I wish I could have seen it coming much earlier because I have left quite a few old games unopened in my earlier gaming years assuming I'd have the time to complete them after playing whatever hot game of the month had shoved it out of the spotlight. And these have accumulated, not into some sort of prized trophy collection as it would to some, but as an embarrassing sign that I made a fundamental mistake as a gamer: I took my damn hobby for granted.

So these pristine pieces of plastic sit there on the shelf, leering at me, and I've often walked up to a copy of say, Persona: Revelations, and thought about cracking it open and basking in the luxury of a JRPG time-sink. Then I look at the clock, put it back, and fire up some XBLA.

Recently, I've decided, both for the sake of my credibility as a gamer, and for the sake of my wallet, that I need to stop doing this.

So I've started a new habit of opening some of these shrink wrapped time capsules with my kids (maybe not the Shin Megami Tensei stuff, but you get the idea), and to them, at this age, the event is almost like opening a Christmas present.

As for me, sitting there with my kids, reading lines of slowly scrolling dialog aloud and listening to my son giving me advice on what spell to cast, I start to feel some of that coveted time coming back to me in an unexpectedly different form, a better form, and one that I certainly won't take for granted, ever.


  1. I like how gaming is a hobby that families can mostly share. For me, the beginning of a game is the best part! So many unfinished games...

  2. Yeah, I think I'm still falling in that trap, if you can call it that. I fall in love with the beginnings of games and as they drag and start to disappoint in various areas, I lose steam and never finish.