Taking Your Fun Seriously

2019 Is here! To some, that might feel like an absolute miracle. To others, it is just an arbitrary date on the calendar; same thing, different year. For me, I find it invigorating. It’s a chance to start over, and a chance to reorder your life to make it just that much better.

It might seem weird to make resolutions about something that you do for fun. However, what I’ve found over the last few years is that it’s important to take your free time seriously. In an age where every industry is trying to compete for your free time, it might even be necessary.  Do you want to spend your days aimlessly wandering into a game store, or do you want to appreciate what you have? 

Resolution #1 – Run A Dungeons and Dragons Game

Back in college, I was able to put together a Dungeons and Dragons Campaign. This isn’t out of the ordinary by any stretch; in fact, college is probably one of the most likely places to play Dungeons and Dragons. All of your friends live nearby, maybe even in the same dormitory, staying up late is part of the college culture, and devouring bowls of junk food doesn’t make you feel sick immediately afterwards like it does after you hit 30+.

The more important point is that I was in college now over 10 years ago. Since that point, I have managed to put together some RPG games, but none of them hit the pinnacle of what I was able to accomplish in college. At that point, I had a game that went on for a year and a half, had a cast of 10 players over that time period, and told a story that some friends still ask me about returning to now. Two of my players actually met while rolling dice during that time, and got married because of that meeting! In comparison, the games I’ve tried recently fizzle and die within a few sessions.

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Plus, I just need an excuse to try out this brand new homemade Dungeon Master screen.

There’s probably a few good reasons for this: less free time, more real world stress, friends living further away. Still, it wouldn’t be selling it short that that Dungeons and Dragons had been a real high point in my life. I was surrounded by friends, many of which I’ve stayed in contact with to this day. Why wouldn’t I want to re-create that sense of togetherness?

As of writing this, I am 15 pages into writing up backstory, characters, and monsters. I’ve started gathering books and players together, and the experience of just the preparation hasn’t been something that’s filled me with stress, but of joy. I can’t wait until I can start again.

Resolution #2 – Play More Games Online

This resolution falls on the video game side of things, but it dovetails nicely with the last one for a few reasons. It’s true: real life does get in the way more and more as adulthood takes over. In the last few years, I’ve found myself dealing with more time-draining activities like home repair, secondary jobs, writing for Sprites and Dice, and more that take away from those unhealthy glory years of 4am Civilization marathons and World of Warcraft raids.

The real tragedy isn’t those new tasks. Fixing up your life is something I’ve come to enjoy, whether its setting aside time every weekend to learn how to cook or squeezing in that exercise routine that makes you feel ready to take on the world. The real problem is oftentimes, when I finally do get to sit down to veg out at a computer, I find myself in a frozen state. Rather than just jumping into another world, the second screen of my computer beckons me with social media and a constant stream of news. ADHD is a hell of a thing, and finding myself falling down the endless scroll that Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms use is one of the most frustrating things imaginable. Ending the day feeling as though you accomplished nothing and that you didn’t play anything is terrible.

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Nothing says "having fun with your friends" quite like dying horribly as a team to chaos cultists!

There’s a solution however: active interaction. I’ve found that jumping on discord to link up with my other writers here, my friends, and even my brother across the country helps me zero in on just one activity. When your comrades in arms are expecting you to keep their flank covered in Vermintide 2, it’s impossible to find yourself looking away. Not only that, but books like Reality Is Broken talk about how social co-operative game playing helps build relationships, release positive brain chemicals, and help break down stress rather than build it.

I love RPGs and the like, but until I can break the bad habits of social media consumption, playing in groups is where I want to spend 2019.

Resolution #3 – Stop Letting Achievements Dictate My Fun

I have a love/hate relationship with achievements. On the one hand, they give me something to shoot for. “Sure, I can play Civilization 6 as Korea every time and win,” I say to an empty room, looking insane. “Or I can see what happens if I try the French. What’s so good about these espionage skills anyway?”

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Plus, winning a culture victory with Genghis Khan is just hilarious.

A few hours later, one of two things happen: I’m either smiling wide as I claim victory and get that dopamine rush of seeing new digital merit badges scroll up the side of my screen… or I’m putting my head in my hands in frustration.

The addition of achievements to gaming caused people to either flock towards completionism or ignore them entirely. I find myself stuck in the middle. On one hand, I love having the challenge of seeing the extra aspects of games that I might have missed. I’ve had quite a few games I would have scrolled right past in my steam library, but a second glance showed that I had never actually finished the last few hours. A good achievement system can help me feel more accomplished while also helping me get my money’s worth from my collection.

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Having a high score has been a dream of gamers for decades... but at the end of the day, we have to acknowledge the numbers are arbitrary. I should probably admit I'll never 100% Darkest Dungeon.

On the other hand, I’ve had achievements grind my gaming to a halt. Why should I play Darkest Dungeon if I can’t get those extra hard accomplishments, even if I enjoy the minute-to-minute gameplay? Should I play a new game that I’ve been looking forward to for months… or go back and slog out collecting 999,999 orbs needlessly in an open world game’s attempt to draw out its playtime?

Games are meant to be fun, and when a game system motivates or demoralizes you arbitrarily, there might be a problem. This is why I’m putting an emphasis on just finishing twenty games as a whole to enjoy them fully, instead of worrying about points.

Resolution #4 – Buy Only Four Games

This is the resolution that I’ve been the most hesitant to put into writing, because it makes me accountable. After lots of thinking however, I decided it was necessary.

There’s a few reasons for this resolution. The first is simply I have too many games. A small cleaning of my closets show I have over 50 board games. A look at my Steam library shows I have almost 250 games, and I know for a fact that I’ve beaten maybe only 50. While having a great selection of games is something many gamers strive for, there’s a sense of indulgence when I buy more games when I still have so few beaten. There’s a sense of shame that I’m purchasing games just to purchase, when I know I’m trying to improve my budgeting skills.

There are studies that show too much choice can be bad for your mental health. Rather than just being satisfied with what you already have, knowing there are more options out there can lead your mind to start worrying you’ve always made the wrong decision. What if you could have had more fun playing game Y instead of game X? The anxiety creeps in slowly, and I think it’s a huge reason why I find myself often distracted with day-to-day news rather than actually enjoying myself.

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Less than 5 days into this challenge, and it's already yielding great results. I got They Are Billions as a 2017 gift. Playing old steam games is like digging up buried treasure.

No more. I have enough games I want to beat, and enough review copies left over from PAX and other events that I don’t need to spend more money to be happy. 2019 is me drawing a line in the sand to prove that.

This resolution might not be one that works for you specifically: maybe you are just starting a board gaming shelf for the first time, and still need to pick up those classic must-haves. Maybe you already know there are a half-dozen sequels to favorite franchises you play coming out in 2019. Still, I suggest finding a reasonable limit to the amount of purchases you make within a year. We live in a consumer culture, and while there are certainly perks to this, it also means that the basic forces of society want you to focus on what you don’t have, instead of what you do.

Enjoy what you already own. There’s a good chance that you already have that perfect game for your day already in your possession.

How Can Gaming Make Your 2019 Better?

 As someone who believes games can be a force for good in the world, not just a way to waste time, I think its incredibly important to take a look in the mirror this January and ask yourself some questions. What games do you play that make you smile? What games do you play that actually make you angry? Should you be purchasing the most recent version of Call of Duty or Devil May Cry if you haven’t even beaten the last few you own?

Humans have the amazing gift of consciousness, and I know I’ve spent too much time in the last few years on auto pilot. Resolutions are a great way to force yourself to slow down, take a breath, and reconfigure. Are you really happy with your current hobbies? Are you enjoying your games, or have you just fallen into habits that don’t really recharge you?

2019 can be a fantastic year for me, and part of that is going to be based around how much I enjoy my spare time. It’s my real belief that these resolutions can help me appreciate this year just that much more, and I hope that you find some goals that work well for you too.

Happy new year everyone!