Growing up, my brothers and I had a great life. We were raised well, provided for, and given the things we wanted, within moderation. But the one thing that was always out of the question was video games. Every year we’d put Nintendo, Sega, Gameboy, etc. on our christmas lists to no avail. We’d save our birthday money and plan out a way to ask nicely for a ride to Toys ‘R Us but it was always futile. My Mom was a school teacher and “saw what video games did to kids.” So that was that. The only exposure I ever got to video games was when I’d get to go to a friends house who had an NES, SNES, or Sega, or when we’d go to my cousins house and spend hours upon hours in the basement.
I gave up on begging for video games at around age 12. I continued to play at friends houses when I could as well. I kept up with the industry information through the internet and soaked up all I could. During high school I got my own computer and started dabbling in emulators desperately trying to catch up on games I had never completed during my sparse jaunts to see my cousins in New Jersey or at my friend Steve Ayers house.
In college I had an even better PC and was finally able to play some of the latest game releases. I played through Max Payne probably a dozen times as a college Freshman. A year or two later I got my hands on a copy of Half Life and finished it just as Half Life 2 came out. I was entranced. Half Life 2, to this day, remains my favorite game of all time. I played World of Warcraft for about a year and a half before I started needing to get serious about finishing my college education. I hit the books instead while I finished school.
I was never a bored or game addicted kid, so my interest in video games was always spurred from my interest in technology and computers. Not being able to have video games as kid only increased my interest as an adult. So after I graduated college, moved out of my parents house and got a job in a new city, I finally did it. I bought an Xbox 360.
Currently my biggest dilemma is not when or how I’m going to get my hands on a game again, because I know I can play any time I want. Instead it’s actually finding the time to play and enjoy gaming. I have a full time job that occasionally requires me to work overtime, a girlfriend, homework during the week, and graduate classes in another city all day on Saturdays. I probably get to spend about 6 to 8 hours a week playing video games. Now as most gamers will probably tell you, this is probably the length of an average single player game these days. That doesn’t account for taking your time and enjoying the game, playing online multiplayer modes, or the fact that you probably paid $60 dollars if you bought the game new. But all dilemmas, commitments, and annoying industry trends aside, I’d consider myself and extremely informed and extremely satisfied gamer. Here are some things that I do to to keep myself entertained, informed and satisfied being a gamer with a life.
- Set gaming goals for yourself each week – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost track of time playing a game. But if you’re as short on time as I am when it comes to gaming you can’t really afford to spend an entire day playing Halo 3 sniping n00bz in Valhalla. Instead, to conquer the storylines and garner a fair amount of achievement points in every game I play, I generally set a point or a specific set of objectives for whatever game I’m playing every time I sit down to play it. Which leads me to my next point.
- Do your research on games before you start playing them – I hate starting games and not finishing them. But naturally I find it extremely hard to play through terrible games. This is why you have to do your research. Knowing what you’re about to play before you play it will save you a lot of time if you find yourself trying to pick a game to play. The best source for information on what sucks and what doesn’t suck is all at your finger tips. Joystiq, Destructoid, Kotaku, Giant Bomb, and Cheap Ass Gamer are all really great places to start.
- Stay on top of the video industry game current events with podcasts – All of the sites I listed above post industry news on a daily basis. All but one have great weekly podcasts as well. Sure, you might get some overlap in the news but an informed gamer is a happy gamer. Most of the podcasts run an hour to three hours long so if you drive as much as I do, you always have something to rely on to keep you interested in gaming throughout the week.
- Get a Gamefly account – Do yourself a favor and stop buying games at full price. Then do yourself one better and start trying games out before you buy them. If you’re sick of the hastle of buying and trading then Gamefly is for you. $16 a month gets me two games out at a time, and I get to play them for as long as I want. When I’m done I just drop them in the mail and wait for the next game on my list to come. It’s simple and that’s the name of the game when you’re playing with your precious time.
- Don’t over-do it – There are really only so many hours in a week and yes, video games may be an important part of your life, but you have to have your priorities straight. Playing games may be a great stress reliever, but remember not to play until it causes stress in other parts of your life. Sometimes it’s okay to put the controller down and ride your bike, or cook a meal, or talk to someone who isn’t a racist 13 year old who is freakishly good with a pistol in Call of Duty 4.
- Embrace casual gaming – as much as hardcore gamers might hate to admit it, casual gaming is here to stay. In some cases it can be pretty addictive too. A quick five minute game of Peggle or N+ can be really satisfying if you have the means to get them. And don’t let Peggle fool you either. Unicorns and Rainbows can be manly and competitive too.
These suggestions are only what have helped me be a gamer with a life, and they might not neccesarily help you, but it’s a start.