Monthly Archives: December 2014

Gaming Vicariously

It’s shaping up to be A Week.  People are in town from the home office, I started off the week with a sleep debt, and I’ve got a fair amount of sewing to do.  If this post seems a bit disjointed, that’s probably why.

I like video games.  But like many people, I don’t have as much time to play them as I’d like.  So rather than lament my lack of free time, I’ve been trying something different lately: I’ve been listening to people talk about video games!

That is to say, I’ve been listening to The Diecast, a podcast where people talk about video games and the games industry.  It’s been pretty fun.  And while it doesn’t scratch the itch the same way that actually playing games does, doing so has allowed me to engage with my hobby in a productive, safe-for-work manner.

I often try to put something on in the background while I’m drafting.  Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s podcasts.  Depending on what sort of work I’m doing, different things can help my productivity in various ways.  Podcasts are nice because they’re interesting and engaging, but not so much you need to be paying attention all the time.  This one is nice because it’s really just a conversation amongst friends, and while the discussions can sometimes get technical, they’re not too engrossing that it distracts me from my work.

Well, or so I hope.

And they really do have interesting things to say.  I’m slowly but surely working my way through the backlog, and the gaming news is becoming more and more current.  I will say it’s also contributed to my backlog problem, as I’ve picked up a few of the games mentioned throughout the various segments.  But it’s refreshing to hear from people that are both passionate about gaming and interested in its more philosophical and artistic aspects.

Because that’s something we don’t really get enough of, in my opinion.  I know it’s something I don’t do enough of.  But I think my recent attempts to reconcile my collecting habits with my playing habits has caused me to think more and more along these lines.  After all, most of my angst comes when I think of games as nothing more than throwaway entertainment.  But when you think of them as having more cultural cachet, of having something to say, it can go a long way towards not feeling guilty.  At least, that’s what it does for me.

And since I can’t spend as much time as I’d like gaming, the least I can do is think about games and encourage other people who do the same.

It’s-a-Monday!

Well, that didn’t last long. I had a nice buffer and everything last week (well, one day is something), but that got taken up by something. And people from the home office are in town again, so that means lots of late dinners with coworkers. Which means getting home late. Which means not having much mental energy for writing. Which means feeling bad about writing nothing of substance.

You get the idea.

Anyway, I don’t really have much to say right now. Just that I’m alive, I had a good weekend, but Monday has taken a lot out of me. People are in town, which means less time to work on the projects I was hoping to get done over the next few weeks. Oh well.

Collecting

I’ve been thinking a bit about my video game collection, and how it really isn’t feasible to play all of them. But at the same time, there‘s something to be said for the simple act of collecting, of building up a library. And that got me thinking: maybe the reason I feel so weird about my video game collection is that, unlike my book collection, it’s largely virtual.

There’s something to be said for wandering through a room where every wall is lined with books. The image of a private library is one that still holds a lot of cachet in our culture. At some point, a library becomes less about the individual books and more about the collection. A book collection is something to be proud of. To put on display. To overwhelm others with your learnedness.

It’s harder to do that with a virtual collection. Sure, I can tell people I have over 400 games attached to my Steam account, along with the over 60(!) in my GOG library, but I can’t exactly take someone on a tour through all of those titles like I can my books, or even my console and physical-media PC games.

So that feeling of tangible investment is missing. I’ve started brainstorming ways I could address that, and one of the ideas I came up with is putting together a “display collection,” where I could take empty DVD or CD jewel cases, print out “box art” for the various titles, and then put them all on a shelf. It would look pretty neat, no? But then I realized that spending that much money on empty plastic and printed paper would be silly. Maybe if I burned backups of the game files to a DVD? No, that would also be a waste of resources when I can just download everything on demand. Besides, there’s no way I have that much shelf space.

I did find a neat little utility, however, called SteamHeaderDownlader, which can generate a collage of all your Steam games. So now at least I have a giant, chaotic collage on my computer desktop of all the Steam games I own.

But I guess the real epiphany I had is that there’s something to the act of collecting in and of itself that can be enjoyable. Of having things for the sake of the aggregate whole, rather than individually. Collecting can have its own merits; in fact, I’d miss a lot of my things if all I had was what was “necessary.” The cruft we accumulate is what can make life interesting.

Completionist

I guess part of the angst I feel from my video game collection comes from the fact that I’m something of a completionist. For whatever reason, I feel that not managing to finish something I’ve started is some sort of gross personal failure on my part.

It’s not just video games I feel this with. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that I was only mildly interested in that I’ve plowed through just to say I didn’t leave it half done. I mean, that’s pretty much what got me through the Wheel of Time series while I was in college. This drive is what got me through grad school, when they were actively trying to weed us out.

Seriously, though. Wheel of Time? Each book was longer, taking place over a smaller and smaller period of time. One even took place in the past.

But I digress. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, on some level, each unfinished game in my collection feels like a failure. Each one represents something I set out to do/play/experience that hasn’t happened yet.

Of course, my use of The Backloggery doesn’t help that mindset at all. My number of unplayed and unfinished games is right there at the top of the list, for all to see. And the language they use, while designed to encourage people to work through their backlog, can make me feel more guilty when I’m in a dark state of mind.

But I don’t always feel this way. I haven’t even come close to reading every book in my collection, especially now that I’ve picked up several ebook bundles. And yet I don’t feel nearly as guilty bout that as I do about my video game collection. And it’s not like my purchasing habits between the two are really that different; when I don’t get them from the library, I tend to buy used books, especially if the bookstore is having some sort of “3 for $4, 20 for $10” special.

Although that is a good point. I don’t tend to buy many books these days (aside from ebook bundles), but I am still actively buying video games. So there’s much more of a feeling of “sunk costwith video games. And given how I’m often frugal to a fault, a part of me likely resents any money I spend on “non-essentials.”

Thinking and writing about this has helped. If nothing else, it’s made me realize the ridiculousness of resenting one collection of entertainment media over one equally unengaged. Remembering that all the time is of course going to be a challenge, but at least I’m feeling better about it now.

Never Enough

Having just made it through another Steam Sale (right on the tail of a GOG sale and a Humble Bundle or two, of course) slightly poorer, I got to thinking about why I continue to buy games. Because let’s be honest: I’m not likely to ever be able to play all of them. So why do I do it?

Maybe it’s some sort of collector’s instinct. A lot of the games I pick up are “classics,” or are at least titles that I’ve come across over the years that piqued my interest for one reason or another. And if I have those games in my collection, at least there’s a possibility that I might actually experience them one day.

Maybe it’s some sort of purchaser’s compulsion, where the steep discounts short-circuit some inhibition routine in my brain that causes me to think “Sure, you’re never likely to play it, but 75% off! You’re not spending $5, you’re saving $15!”

Maybe it’s my way of supporting the work of developers and programmers I appreciate. Sure, maybe I never get around to playing their work, but they still have my money. I know there are games I’ve bought on general principle because I liked what they set out to do.

And to be honest, I really don’t like admitting to myself that I’m not likely to get to all of my games. But it’s an unfortunate truth. When you get down to it, I really don’t have as much time for gaming as I think. Really, Mondays are my only free night to myself. Tuesday is taken up by Agents of SHIELD, Wednesdays are… you know what, I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, and I don’t really want to belabor the point yet again. Suffice it to say, between my various hobbies, interpersonal relationships, and adult responsibilities, the amount of “game time” I have is limited.

But what can you do? I don’t want to sacrifice the SCA or my friends and family “just to play games” (and yes, I admit there is some judgment in the use of “just”). And just as I’m going to keep all my hobbies, I’m not likely to stop purchasing games any time soon. I suppose I’ll just have to be content with the fact that I’m not blowing huge wads of cash on things I’m never going to touch, while at the same time remembering to still have fun. After all, I picked up all the games in my collection for a reason. They piqued my interest in some way, and will likely still do so whenever I get around to experiencing them.

Prolonged Uptime

Ever have one of those nights where you just can’t fall asleep? Yeah, last night was kinda like that for me.

Every once in a while I’ll find myself awake into the wee hours of the morning. Maybe I’m reading. Maybe my brain just can’t turn off. But for whatever reason, sometimes I just end up staying up far later than I should. It only happens to me occasionally, so it’s not really too much of a bad thing. It’s just that sometimes my body doesn’t want to sleep.

I used to have more of a problem with this. As a kid, my brain would churn incessantly over the most inconsequential topics. Even worse, it wouldn’t stay on one subject long enough to reach any sort of conclusion or resolution. Maybe it’s one of the side effects of ADD, but my subconscious seems to be a notorious channel surfer. When it’s left lacking the stimulation that comes with light and external events, it seems to kick the imagination into overdrive.

The main way I’ve dealt with this in the past is what I’ve come to refer to as the Exhaustion Method. It involves staying awake to the point where you literally cannot keep your eyes open any longer. Maybe it’s by reading a book until your eyes burn and the dreams start bleeding into the story. Maybe it’s waiting for your tablet to finally die before turning out the lights. Maybe it’s getting out of a perfectly nice, warm bed to write a blog post well after midnight.

Of course, this method is not without its downsides. For one, it sometimes doesn’t work. Sometimes I try to get up and do something, just to get it out of my system, but I only end up staying up even later, occasionally not sleeping at all (luckily only very occasionally). But the biggest issue is of course the cumulative effects of lack of sleep. The first day after staying up late generally isn’t that bad; it’s the day after the day after that things really start to get squirrely. Not to mention the ill effects of several nights in a row of this sort of thing.

I guess it is a form of minor insomnia, but it strikes me infrequently enough to mostly be entertaining. And the whole “brain won’t turn off” thing has definitely gotten better over the years. Which is good, since I inevitably don’t function as well with no sleep as I used to.

Not much else to say, really. Just up way later than I should be, feeling a bit guilty about not writing earlier and trying to get something out of my system so I can be functional for work tomorrow.

Shakedown Cruise Successful

This past weekend was pretty fun. Sure, Thanksgiving itself was kinda crazy (we had three different dinners to attend), but the fact that there was an actual weekend on top of the holiday helped a lot. I could go out and socialize and still get my required amount on down time in. It was awesome! But even more awesome was the gaming night we had on Friday.

I’ve mentioned Artemis before, but for those of you who don’t know, Artemis is a “spaceship bridge simulator” in the vein of Star Trek. It’s played with at least 6 people, and each person has a distinct job to do at their console. I had played it at a friend’s house previously, but seeing as they live on the opposite side of town I was itching to get my own setup.

And what a setup it is. Each bridge position has its own console, which translates to each person needing their own computer or tablet, plus a computer to hook up to a TV for the main screen and server. The game itself also costs more than I tend to spend on games, let alone ones that don’t have a significant single-player component.

So where does one get six computers? Well, believe it or not I actually don’t have enough lying around at home (that can run the game; there are a handful of older laptops still in my office). So I put the call out to my friends, and asked those that were interested to bring a suitable platform to participate.

I’ll admit, I was nervous. Because of its multiplayer nature, Artemis requires buy-in (at least participatory, not necessarily financially) from a number of people. And as with any new experience, you never know quite how it’s going to go over with any group of people. Plus there’s quite a setup: the program has to be installed on each computer, the server needs to be hooked up to the television, and everyone needs to be in the same place at the same time. Not a small task in these busy days. Plus, one of the computers I was bringing was an older desktop, which isn’t exactly the most portable.

But it went off great. We had enough people interested that we could swap around console positions, and even managed to keep the observers entertained. I also got to try my hand at most of the positions, even captain (turns out being the one with very little experience is better than having no experience). And where my first experience with Artemis was a little crowded and confusing (there were two ship’s worth of people in a relatively small area), this group was a little easier to follow. And while we occasionally trended more towards Galaxy Quest that Star Trek (turns out you need to dive further under mines than I did during my first turn as Helm), it was still pretty awesome.

Hopefully this won’t be the last time we get to play as a group. It turns out there’s a lot of fan-created scripted modules that could be interesting to run through. And I’ve heard rumors we might even be able to get access to a computer lab. But even as we were, sitting on the floor around a coffee table loaded with various laptops, it was a lot of fun.