Left Behind

On being too old and slow to keep up with video games

Left Behind

I’ve thought about it, and I’ve come to a conclusion: there are simply too many video games.

When I was a kid, I loved the song ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.’ Partly because of the banging saxophone solo, but also because I genuinely liked the sentiment. I remember sitting in the back of my parent’s car after a Christmas concert at the local theatre. I had to sing in front of hundreds of bemused parents, and I was buzzing with the adrenaline of having survived the ordeal. Wizzard came on the radio, and I asked Dad to turn it up.

‘You wouldn’t want it to be Christmas every day, though, would you.’ Mum was in high spirits, too, presumably glowing with the pride I feel now when I watch my own children nervously mumbling their way through school assemblies.

‘What do you mean?’ I remember feeling genuine outrage. ‘Yes, I would.’

‘No, you wouldn’t! Roast dinners and presents every day?’

‘To be fair, she probably would want presents every day,’ said Dad.

‘Exactly!’ I said. ‘I would want that.’

‘No,’ Mum said, ‘Because it would get boring, and it wouldn’t be special anymore.’

Anyway. That is how I currently feel about the state of video games in 2023. We need to stop with this barrage of huge, exciting games because it’s starting to not feel special anymore. Oh, Mario Wonder, the best 2D Mario game in decades, is it? Just casually dropping after a year of Tears of the Kingdom and Pikmin 4 and Baldurs Gate 3 and Starfield? Oh, and what’s this? Alan Wake 2? Best survival horror game we’ve had in a long time? Stop it! I can’t take it anymore. I’m exhausted.

I am the mum in the front seat telling you to be sensible. Let’s all just calm down and breathe a bit.

I’m still pretty new to writing about games, and it’s been a rollercoaster so far. I mean, when they say it’s a fast-moving industry, blimey, they’re really not joking. Even trying to keep up with the news is quite a lot of work. Every day, it feels like another must-play game drops, and if I don’t play it, I feel anxious and out of the loop.

I mean, so many indies have released this year and I haven’t had time to finish them (or even start them in the first place): Dredge and Dordogne and Terra Nil and Venba and A Space For the Unbound and Cassette Beasts and Oxenfree II and now Jusant which I really want to play too. You know, I could go on. I literally don’t have enough hours in my day to play them.

On top of that, I’ve been able to review some incredible games this year, and I obviously feel really lucky, but those games take priority. Even finishing those in the timeframe to write a review is tricky.

Anyway. I’m moaning about a good thing, obviously. I’m hoping you’ll indulge me in having a whinge about it because you know me, and you know that I genuinely love all this. I’m just, you know. Tired.

It’s ironic because now, because of my job/our Xbox/the general availability of games on sale, I own more video games than I have ever done in my life, and I have the least time to play them.

When I was a kid, I got a new game every now and then. They were expensive, and we weren’t the wealthiest family, so we got a new one whenever we found a good bargain in the Game second-hand section or if I saved up my pocket money for a while. And the new game was a big deal. We’d play them over and over and over again. Sometimes, we’d buy Official Playstation Magazine, and I would play the demo discs over and over again. And I’d read it from cover to cover and draw circles around the games I’d buy if we won the lottery or something.

I never felt deprived. (Because I wasn’t.) I just made the most of what I had.

Then, in our twenties, Chris and I got married and moved in together and we spent so much time gaming it was ridiculous. We could pull all-nighters with friends to play Silent Hill, we could dedicate a whole weekend to playing Final Fantasy XII, and I could stay up late because I got stuck in the deliciously moreish gameplay loops of Viva Pinata: Trouble In Paradise. I worked in a nursery back then, looking after babies. I should have tried writing about games earlier, in hindsight, when I had the energy of my youth.

Now I have so many games that it almost feels a bit obscene, and it’s kind of my job to understand what’s happening and keep up with it. But I also have children and freelancing and a degree to do, and my evenings are spent studying while trying to prop my eyelids open with matchsticks. (Not literally, although I might get desperate eventually.) When am I meant to do this? Why didn’t I decide to do this years ago instead? Help me.

I’m joking, obviously. Having too many good games is a nice problem to have. I just wish it translated to a thriving, booming industry in which people working in the industry get to have long-term job security and don’t suffer from burnout or abuse from angry, always-online Gamers.

The speed at which we move between ‘look at this new incredible game, everyone get excited’ and ‘big company lays off a shitload of employees’ is giving me whiplash. Those very devs that make the games that we hold dear are losing their jobs and struggling to provide for their families. They’re having the rugs pulled out from under them, often with little-to-no warning. It’s unfair.

I dunno. It’s been a weird year, and I’m quite tired. I’m excited for the future; I feel incredibly lucky to get to write about games even on a part-time basis, and I love the people I work with, and I want to feel optimistic about where it’s all going. It’s worth the late nights, the tiredness, and the sense of always being slightly behind everyone else.

I’m trying to let go of the anxiety about everything: the fear of the ever-shifting industry and the job losses in gaming media, the looming threat of AI making it difficult to land jobs as a freelancer, and the general guilt I feel when I don’t have time to finish a game I’m genuinely enjoying, and the low-level sense of impending doom I feel when I start to think I can’t juggle everything anymore. I’m hoping to learn to, you know, go with the flow. To do what I can and take every day as it comes.

Anyway. I’m off to play Mario Wonder and do my thumbs in a bit more. Early-onset arthritis, here we come!