GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
As video game collections go, mine is pretty large. It’s not setting any records, of course, but it spans generations of gaming platform all of the way back to the early 1980s right up to the present day; upon a whim* I can boot up any one of dozens of platforms and have a game of Manic Miner, Super Mario World or Streets of Rage. So why is it that I can’t stop playing Breath of the Wild, a game which I’ve already completed once after sinking more than 150 hours of my time into it? Why do I find myself considering digital purchases of decades-old Neo Geo games and the latest re-re-re-re-release of Streetfighter II just to spend more time with my Nintendo Switch**? The explanation I find myself coming back to is that, like it or not, my gaming habits have changed, and despite how often I have convinced myself that at some point I’m going to play most of what is in my collection the sad truth is that it’s probably not going to happen.
As a child I would play anything I could get my hands on, often for hours at a time; new games were expensive and rare, so I made do with what I had. A lot of the time it was enough for me just to be playing video games. As I entered double figures I began to specialise a little; I would devour any point & click adventures that I came across and would usually dabble in anything that I thought looked cool, working tirelessly to get Doom and, later, Quake running on a series vastly underpowered, second-hand PCs***.
As I drew towards adulthood I began getting lost in expansive, time-consuming titles like Dungeon Keeper II and Final Fantasy VII; this is when I learned that video games could be as absorbing and escapist as books and began to fall in love with them as a media form. In my early to mid-20s there was a period in which I gamed very little – some people close to me at the time had begun to mock me for my love of “childish” games from “children’s publishers” like Nintendo – and it would generally only be the announcement of a new Final Fantasy game which would tempt me to pick up a joypad again. The rest of my gaming time was taken up with the Knights of the Old Republic series on PC, continuing my habit of lengthy RPGs – a habit which kicked in again hard in my 30s, when I finally embraced my inner gaming nerd and discovered Mass Effect.
For the next few years, as somebody who was mostly single and in long-distance relationships the rest of the time, I had a lot of time for gaming. After a period of focusing on the Xbox 360 – still my favourite console hardware and experience of that generation – and becoming obsessed with Fallout 3, I rediscovered the PlayStation 3 and along with it a number of franchises that I had either had never encountered or I hadn’t thought about in a while; titles like Ratchet & Clank, my beloved infamous, and the glorious and increasing insanity of Saints Row. I also discovered quirky small-press titles like Pixeljunk Monsters and Flock. I was a gaming gourmand, sampling everything that I could get my hands on, and having a blast whilst doing so.
Two years ago my life – and gaming habits - changed again. I met the woman who I will be marrying next year and wanted to spend all of my free time with her. Gaming became something that I generally only did on the move, as I was constantly making the journey North to see her or journeying to meet her at the station when she came to stay with me. I became reacquainted with the Pokémon franchise, burning through X, Y, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire as I obsessed over completing my Pokédex; I also downloaded arcade-like titles from the Virtual Console – pick up and play stuff like Fantasy Zone.
Last year, I moved in with my fiancée and our roommate permanently, bringing with me all of my gaming gear and building the Mattcave in our basement. I had a space of my own and all of the games I could possibly want to play in it… and yet it had gone largely unused. Although I still play those wonderful RPGs for hours at a time – Fallout 4 consumed me last year, for example – I feel very antisocial doing so; I’ve realised that I now prefer to game in the living room, alongside the rest of the household. The problem is, of course, that there are only one television and limited space, and handheld games very rarely convey the same experience as big-screen ones. If the Wii U screen controller didn’t feel so heavy and clunky that would have provided the perfect solution, but it’s really not comfortable enough to game with long-term. There are also streaming options, including Steam and the PS4 app for Windows, but the feed always seems to stutter at the worst possible moment.
And then Nintendo released the Switch. A set-top console that I can pull out of its dock at any given moment and game with privately whilst still being social. The rest of the household can catch up on the latest episode of Twin Peaks or The Americans whilst I grind away hunting for materials or shrines in Breath of the Wild, and we’re all happily social; more importantly, I don’t miss out on any quality time with my future wife. I can even take it on the road with me, whiling away long car or train journeys with exactly the same game and save file that I play at home. It’s perfect; a match made in heaven. My Switch now gets far more attention than my PS4 Pro, which for now remains in the Mattcave – a state of affairs that I could never have predicted before the Switch was released.
It’s been interesting to look back over my gaming life, so to speak, and see how my habits have changed; it makes me wonder how or even if I will be gaming in another ten years, or another after that. I certainly hope so.
* Alright, a whim plus a lot of hunting for cables and loud swearing.
** I have not bought any of these things. Yet.
*** Usually built by my father out of parts discarded by the IT department at his office.