How a Career Change and a Dash of Minimalism Rescued My Love of Video Games
We’re drowning in toxicity instead of fascination.
I spent 1/3 of my adult life getting paid to write strong opinions and criticize things that dozens or hundreds of other people spent years of their own lives creating.
Most of those criticisms centered around video games, a medium of entertainment I’ve been fascinated with since I was 3 years old.
The peak of my career in casting judgment was writing for Forbes. Four years in, I was inundated with reviews and overextended from content obligations (which is indicative more of my enthusiasm and willingness to say “yes” than it is a complaint of things being dumped in my lap), and I found myself rapidly devolving from passionate to apathetic.
It wasn’t the work itself. I loved writing for Forbes. I took pride in it.
No, it was the peripheral ramifications of a critic’s job in the pseudo-spotlight, the things happening in the background and on social media and at the bottom of the page. The disturbingly gleeful eagerness of the gaming “community” to shit on seemingly everything.
To praise your work when it bolstered their confirmation bias, and to casually call you a shill when it didn’t. To spill endless unpunctuated paragraphs insulting you because your opinion took a slightly different turn. To dox you and badger you because you were loosely associated with someone else who represented some label they detested.
They don’t shoulder all the blame, though. The content creators make sure of that. It feels like the conversations happening in the game industry are becoming more and more vitriolic, at times reminding me of TMZ rather than anything resembling journalism.
Looking beyond the community, looking beyond the creators, I had to tilt the mirror to show my own reflection. It turns out that years of being critical had simply eroded my childlike enjoyment of video games.
It extends even beyond that.
It just doesn’t feel like we’re celebrating games anymore, instead preferring to attack them and the people who devote their lives to creating them. Reveling in being offended by them. Getting off on insulting anyone who doesn’t dare to align with our passions.
We’re drowning in toxicity instead of fascination.
Wait, Is This A Nintendo Switch Article?
Late last year I accepted a corporate marketing job and left the realm of journalism and judgment. A few months later, I pre-ordered the Nintendo Switch with a vengeance because I’ve always adored handheld gaming systems.
See, the Nintendo Switch is the first console I’ve purchased in more than a decade that wouldn’t be even remotely associated with work. Coming off the necessary misery of what I called “one week stands” with the newest releases, I can’t adequately express how liberating that feels.
(HA! I bet you had no idea this was an article about the Switch! See, I could have spelled it out in the headline to bait all the Nintendo haters and seek the adoration of the Nintendo faithful to exponentially increase my views, but that’s behavior better suited for a games blogger, not a writer. I don’t rely on clicks anymore to get paid. The reward is the writing itself, and the icing on top is your appreciation of it.)
When the Switch arrived, I made a semi-conscious, half-hearted decision to do something completely uncharacteristic, but this weird confluence of things ended up cementing that decision.
That resolution sounded something like this: “Huh, what if the Switch is the only console I play from here on out?”
Let me explain why that sounds batshit insane to people who know me.
I spent two years with an unhealthy obsession, driven to gather up my childhood and early adult years. Hellbent on surrounding myself with the intoxicating nostalgia that had been lost to time, moves, divorce, and financial struggles. The Sega Saturn, the NES, the original Xbox, the Gameboy Advance. The G1 Transformers (yes, the good ones constructed with actual goddamn quality materials like die-cast metal and screws) like Optimus Prime and Soundwave who probably ended up prisoners in a cardboard box and hostages at a yardsale once the Walkman and girls had replaced them.
To put it another way, I was desperate to piece together the fragments of my early life that gave me such immense enjoyment — and especially respite — in the face of abuse and dysfunction and constant upheaval.
So here sits a guy who developed an enormous and frankly embarrassing backlog hopping from one game to the next and squeezing in “leisure” gameplay between the cracks. A guy who exponentially increased that already ridiculous backlog by stubbornly re-collecting heaps of systems and retro games he didn’t have time to play. And he’s telling you that with all these choices, all these toys that held unlimited amounts of enjoyment and immersion and escapism, he’s going to play a single console that supposedly has a dearth of launch content.
But I was crippled by choice. Paralyzed by the weight of undiscovered content. Guilty over all the eBay purchases, even if a small sense of fleeting satisfaction did wash over me when I saw my family of little plastic funboxes in the corner of my dining room. They completed me. Or so I thought.
Wait, This Is An Article About Minimalism Now???
I recently finished reading “Everything That Remains,” a memoir from established minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. (Funny story: I initially considered buying this book about minimalism in physical form, which seemed instantly ridiculous given the subject matter. Seriously though, buy the digital version for easier access to Ryan’s snarky interjections.)
This is a book extolling the virtues of living precisely the opposite life that I currently live. A life unencumbered by an endless sea of shit cluttering up your time, your space, and your thoughts. A life empowered by following your artistic dreams and having full control of your time. A life enhanced by possessing only meaningful things, instead of things lacking any true meaning possessing you.
While I’m not quite ready to jettison 95% of my belongings or downsize my living space, I was eager to embrace the notion of less mental clutter. So I started there. I deactivated my Facebook account, made a conscious effort to spend less time on Twitter, and cut down on the amount of industry news I consumed.
My minuscule taste of minimalism, though, did cement my decision to exclusively enjoy the Nintendo Switch; to treat it as my one and only console. I stopped reading reviews for the majority of games on the system and started buying them based on simple things like my level of interest, the game’s art direction, and its price. No more outside influences seeping into my thoughts and subtly affecting my opinions. Instead of judgment and criticism being the first things activated in my brain when firing up a new game, there is only enjoyment and satisfaction.
The Switch won’t get every game I’m accustomed to playing, but it will get games I’ll love playing. Those games won’t have the most eye-popping graphics, but I can play them anywhere on earth, instantly.
I’ll admit, it was a bizarre first step to take on what I think may be an eventual (and probably excruciating) path to minimalism — or at least my definition of minimalism. But I was exhausted from trying to consume everything. I was deflated by the negativity surrounding seemingly every aspect of video game culture. So from here forward I’m simply ignoring it.
In proofreading this before publishing it here on Medium, I realize it’s a strange little essay. Is it just a therapeutic rant about the games industry? Is there a takeaway for the reader? Is this about minimalism or a weirdly disguised pro-Nintendo Switch post? Whatever you want it to be, my friends. As long as you find your own slice of value in it.