I joined Fishville last week. Yesterday I removed the application. I quit because I didn’t care about it. It was something I needed, the realization that it didn’t matter to me if my virtual goby died. I’m grateful to the good people of Fishville for reminding me of something I need to be reminded of every now and then: I don’t care about any of these games.

When the baby gets here, I’m going to stop playing games.

That’s the plan, anyway. And like New Year’s resolutions, it’s got maybe a 0.001% chance of success. But every man needs a mission, and this is mine. Casual games like Farmville, Castle Age and Legends of Zork will all be left to lie fallow. No more haunting Jay Is Games when I get a free moment. Enough. For a while, anyway.

Maybe this is the Catholicism talking – we like to give things up for a few weeks every year, after all. Although I never made New Year’s resolutions, I’ve always kind of enjoyed Lent, even as the devoutly lapsed Catholic I am today. There’s something about the decision being out of your hands that makes the sacrifice satisfying. If I’ve got to give something up, I can look at the sacrifice as an experience, something with a reason, one that’s more significant than wanting to drop 20 pounds.

There’s a kind of fascination, for me, in observing what you do when you can’t do what you normally would do. I’ve failed lots of diets, but I always stuck with Lenten vows to avoid dessert, or french fries (harder than you might think), or profanity (yes, I succeeded at that). I imagine Muslims experience a similar sensation during their Ramadan fast. There’s a reason so many religions draw on fasting as a form of devotion: It makes the sacrifice seem significant precisely because it’s not merely personal – it’s in service of something larger than yourself.

To that end, I plan to renounce gaming in service of something smaller than myself: The little creature that’s due maybe a few weeks from today.

Just ... got to ... plant ... these ... squash ...

It’s not that there’s something wrong with gaming, nor is it that I play a lot of games (though my time has definitely increased). It’s more what I’ve started to notice about why I’m playing. I like the games I play, but there’s an uncomfortable compulsion to some of it. Gotta check the crops. Gotta fight the monster. Gotta maintain, update, and generally be in mind of what’s going on in this or that virtual universe. There’s enough “gotta” in faculty life, so why am I adding to that pile?

This isn’t just true of games, it’s true of Facebook, and much of the social media in which I’m engaged (including this blog). I’ve had the “gotta check email” bug since college, which I was first introduced to the internet (it didn’t help that this was while I was “courting” my wife – for a while I checked compulsively in the hopes of a note from her. see, Jess, it’s all your fault). The “gotta check” urge extends into today, and to me it suggests two things: I need to better manage my time online, and I need to rethink what I’m spending time with.

// Note: At this point I went off on a whole tangent about journalism,
// social media, and alienation, but this has mercifully been excised
// for a later date.

Do I stop all social media contact as well? No, or not yet, anyway. Please understand I’m not holding up games, or Web 2.0 as a whole, as incompatible with family life – I know plenty more involved than I am (in both areas) who manage it admirably. But it’s a new thing for me, and I want to experience it with as few distractions as possible.

Right now I’m considering how to go about streamlining my social media engagements, which I’ll discuss here at a later date, but the games are something clear that I can point to as fat that can be trimmed. Understand, too, that I fully intend for my Spawn to grow up with a healthy appreciation for gaming (I’ve already been dreaming up ways run D&D for six-year-olds). But some clarity of vision is necessary first, and that means some housecleaning.

So sorry, Fishville. But thanks.

2 thoughts on “Dis-Connections

  1. Let me know when you get that D&D group for 6-year-olds set up. I’m sure my son will want to join, although I think video games have actually made his attention span dwindle to almost nothing.
    Thanks for the shout out as well. I agree with you on principle, but I think you might find the games serve a different purpose once you have kids. They help you feel that even for an hour, you have a little bit of control over something and a little time for yourself.
    They also help to pass the time when the little ones don’t sleep. When Lincoln was a baby, I would rock him with one hand to get him to sleep and play Diablo 2 with the other because the rocking never seemed to work.

    • Gabe from Penny Arcade actually wrote about doing this with his kid, so I’m excited about it (obviously far into the future) as a way to combine imagination with gameplay. I think they just used lego figures and minis, and kept stats really simple: HP, Defense, maybe some magic or weapon stats later on. The kids rolled the dice, roleplaying and lateral thinking were rewarded, and healing potions were reasonably plentiful.

      I should probably clarify about my own gaming ban. I expect you’re right about their personal utility for whenever you actually DO get a free minute. The problem for me right now is that my backbrain is repeatedly reminding me to check in with my meaningless engagements. While I know this’ll change once I’ve got a crying, pooping life to take care of, I’d like to take steps to shutting it off beforehand so there’s not even the beginning of a conflict. Once I begin to figure out what I’m doing, the games can come back in.

      Diablo? That’s the best parenting story I’ve ever heard – that kid’s gonna grow up not afraid of ANYTHING.

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