Typically when I sit down with a video game, I play until I’m either a) bored, or b) teeth-grindingly furious. Lately, though, I’ve been trying something different: quitting when I’m feeling goddamn fantastic. I recommend it!
Here’s an example: the other day I was playing Overwatch (shocking, I know), and I was just on. I take a lot of pride in my skill with Pharah, but this was something else. I was untouchable, unstoppable. It felt like I’d become one with the concept of rockets, and other players had become one with the concept of exploding when I looked at them funny. I was a storm of lightning, adrenaline, and fury. I was the final picture in one of those expanding brain memes.
At the end of the match, I got four gold medals, and people used their actual words to tell me how good I was. I wanted to play more. I shook in anticipation. I ached to continue feeling so good.
So I quit the game and read a book.
Why? Because I’ve seen how this ends. I’ve lived it too many times to count. Yeah, the next match or two go well, but I start to fall out of The Zone, because keeping up that level of concentration is exhausting. My vision blurs, my reflexes go haywire, and I get sloppy. Or fate stops smiling on me and starts scowling, and I end up on a crappy team. Before I know it, I’m cursing up a storm and mashing my fist into my keyboard. “Why?” I ask as I marvel at how durable my keyboard is. “Why can’t I be the player I was an hour ago? Why do I keep losing?” I know the answer, but it still feels bad. And I want the bad feeling to go away, so I keep playing. It becomes a war of attrition, except there’s no win state for me. The only way to win, as it turns out, is to not let myself reach that point in the first place.
Another, more positive example: yesterday I was playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I was trying to light a bunch of lanterns with special blue flame. It had been a long, treacherous trek—one fraught with monsters that could nearly one-shot me and SO MUCH DAMN RAIN ARRRGHHH, I SEE YOU, ZEUS, I SEE YOU. But finally, my destination was within eyeshot. I did a happy little waddle in its general direction, torch aloft. Then I heard the noise. The dreaded noise. That one that translates roughly to, “I’m a Guardian, and your shit is about to get wrecked, lol,” but sounds like “boopboopboopboop” and then Nathan Grayson shouting, “FUCK FUCK FUCK... SHIT.” I tried to run and light another torch, but the laser hit me dead-on. My body tumbled down hill, wreathed in disgraceful flame. I only survived because Mipha’s Grace—an ability that revives you when you die—had just recharged.
This, of course, meant war. Problem: I’d never killed a Guardian before. Solution: I’d recently come across a lone Guardian arrow, but I was afraid to fire it from far away, for fear that I’d miss and waste it. I tried to creep toward the giant infected toenail jerkstore of a thing, but it kept seeing me at the last second. Finally, though, I took the long way around and found a perfect approach. I was about 15 feet away, behind a tree. I peeked out. It still didn’t see me. I took a couple shuffle-steps until I was completely out in the open. With a deliberateness that bordered on painful, it swiveled until, finally, it saw me.
In this moment, it occurred to me that I’d never used a Guardian arrow, and I had no idea if it would actually one-shot the Guardian. If it didn’t, I was kinda screwed. But oh well, it wasn’t like I had any other options at this point. The Guardian’s eye lit up.
“Look at me, motherfucker,” I said, out loud, sweat beading on my forehead.
I launched the arrow straight into its eye, and it exploded like a damn Fourth of July parade. I felt incredible.
So I quit the game and read a book.
In this case, it wasn’t just about avoiding future frustration (though that played a role). I also wanted to savor the moment, to really appreciate this little story I created that might become less important and impressive once my Link becomes more powerful.
Perhaps more importantly, though, I got to ride that high through the rest of my evening. It put me in a damn good mood, and when I later went out to see some friends, I was still in a damn good mood. Whereas before, I let some games become a kind of negative force in my day-to-day life (believe me, you don’t want to be around Frustrated By A Video Game Nathan; that’s not a fate I would wish upon even my worst enemies), now I try to spend more time appreciating the good stuff, even when I badly want to keep playing. It’s a nice change of pace. If you’re prone to beating your head against walls like I am, you should absolutely give it a shot.