Why Is It So Hard To Keep Playing Video Games?S

How did I do it?

When my Super Nintendo arrived I remember playing it during the Christmas holiday. Nine hours a day. Every day. For two weeks. I had no reason to stop, no responsibilities. My Mum once rattled my bedroom door making a big fuss about how I should go outside and play and whatnot, but this was Scotland. It was winter. It was raining every single god damn day of the holidays. I had no reason to go outside in that grim, sodden landscape dotted with ominous cloud cover. Screw that. I had me a Zelda to rescue, an M. Bison to beat up, Mario Karts to shellac.

Fast forward 20 years and I find myself in a rare situation, as close to childhood as possible. My wife and child, in Melbourne for 10 days. The house: clean as a whistle. Work commitments: nada. Friends to visit? Bugger that. For the next two days I was as close to childhood as I’d been in a decade. No responsibilities, a brand new video game in sleek cellophane. A whole weekend to play it.

What was this stupid feeling? Why was I… hesitating?

Across the city of Sydney, to the south, my brother in-law (and Kotaku tech wizard) Ben White was in a similar situation. His wife had accompanied my wife (they are sisters) to Melbourne. Ben was also all alone, with the same game and the same intentions. Video game intentions. On Monday I asked him how much he played — the answer astounded me.

Friday 7pm until 2am. Played Grand Theft Auto V.

Woke up: 10am. Played Grand Theft Auto until 2am again.

Sunday: 11am till 11pm. Grand Theft Auto.

Ben told me that his weekend had three waypoints: bed, couch and kitchen. The kitchen for food. The bed for sleeping and the couch for video games. He played with a ferocious intensity, with a terrifying consistency and sense of purpose that I simply could not match.

My schedule was more like this…

7-8pm. Faffed about on the internet.

8-9pm. Exercised for some reason.

9-10pm. Played Grand Theft Auto V.

10pm: went to bed like a complete lightweight.

My Saturday contained a little more gaming, but not much.

Woke up, 7am. Had breakfast and went climbing until 11am. Came home, did a little more stupid exercise.

Why am I not playing video games? THIS WAS MY CHANCE. I AM SQUANDERING MY ONLY CHANCE!

After lunch I decided to play. I got a good hour or two into the game. Grand Theft Auto has never been my favourite series, but I was enjoying myself. Round about 2.15 I started looking for reasons to stop…

“Maybe I should watch that AFL Grand Final thing?”

AFL? Jesus Christ I don’t even give a single rat’s ass about AFL, why in the name of Beelzebub’s butthole was I seriously considering watching it? [Ed's note for international readers: Mark means this]

But watch it I did. Then I did some chores. I cleaned up some of the house, I restrung the acoustic guitar I never play, I played a little more Grand Theft Auto and then I went to bed. At 9.30pm.

Adulthood has done something strange to me — I have internalised something. When I was younger I didn’t have this problem, but I have somehow internalised the idea that video games are something to be done sparingly, in moderation — or something to be done in reward for something. It’s a difficult concept to shake.

It’s an idea I can trace back as far as high school, when I used to reward my good study habits with sessions of Goldeneye on the N64. I did this throughout my academic career. One hour of exam practice, 30 minutes of video games. It worked well for me, but back then it was a conscious choice. Nowadays? It’s something I’m barely in control of. After 30 or so minutes I start looking for something I should be doing: dishes that need washing, laundry than needs drying. It’s ridiculous.

My brother in-law Ben can switch it off, but I can’t. He’s a different breed. I struggled to give a video game my full attention for more than an hour at a time, but he could disappear into that universe at will, watch the clock hands rotate endlessly and feel nothing. I wonder if it’ll ever be possible for me to play video games like that again. I just don’t know. There’s a guilt that makes no sense, built up through years of a brutal, mind-altering campaign to make adults believe that video games are a waste of time; that responsible people should be doing something more constructive with their time. I think that’s utter crap: I think there’s a time and a place for a sustained, stupid video game marathon.

That time was the weekend that just passed — but I squandered it. And I’m not sure why.