I’m officially an adult. In the dying days of the Australian winter I married the most amazing person I’ve ever met after a lengthy 13 years of what Jane Austen would suitably call ‘courting’. It was – I think it’s fair to say – the best day of my life, so to celebrate, we took a two week journey to Australia’s eastern island, travelling from the ski-heavy town of Queenstown all the way up the west coast to Greymouth, before crossing over the Christchurch and then heading home. It was a pretty full on schedule, driving from destination to destination, on a seemingly daily basis. And that was great, because in a relatively short two weeks, we saw a hell of a lot of what New Zealand’s south island has to offer.
But despite being a hectic schedule, there was plenty of waiting. Waiting to catch planes at airports. Waiting to catch trains in Greymouth. And in the coastal town of Hokitika, waiting for the sandfly hordes to devour my exposed legs, while keeping a campfire going on shitty damp wood. And as the ‘loud’ flowing stream running in front of our tent kept my new wife awake, waited for the hours until we headed back to the relative civilisation that Christchurch offered. And finally as I travelled across the admittedly breathtaking scenery that the scenic transalpine wound itself through on the way.
I knew there would be downtime going in, so in the days leading up I carefully planned what I’d need to pass those hours. Books were the first consideration, and I had an almost romantic image of sitting on the bow of a boat as it made its way through Doubtful Sound, only the sound of its engine and the stillness of the sound as my soundtrack. So it seemed fitting that the first book to make its way into my bag was the rather heavy hardcover copy of Rob Mundle’s definitive biography of the rather brilliant Captain James Cook, Cook: from Sailor to Legend, who happened to name the fiord “Doubtful” 250 years prior to our journey, simply because he was unsure he’d be able to sail out if he and his Endeavour entered from the Tasman Sea. Being an admirer of Cook, I’ll admit that my imagination ran wild as the boat veered into the rather choppy Tasman sea, recalling my time in the surprisingly cramped replica HMS Endeavour two years ago.
Of course no trip was going to be complete without a book on Australia’s favourite pastime, and going to New Zealand, it seemed fitting that Australian cricketing great Greg Chappell’s autobiography Fierce Focus made the cut. Why Greg Chappell, you ask? Well because of his infamous direction to brother Trevor in 1981 to bowl the final ball of the match – with Brian McKechnie requiring a six to tie the game – underarm. A low blow sure, but short of running around and opening wounds of New Zealand’s thrashing at the hands of Australia at the Cricket World Cup earlier this year, it felt rather good having a nice subtle pisstake of our friendly rivals across the ditch. And if that wasn’t enough cricket reading – and seldom is it – I picked up Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography on a whim at a bookshop in Greymouth. Sadly the little master’s story didn’t get a look in (if you fancy learning more about cricket, i’ve written posts here and here on the matter!).
Of course then came the decision of what games I would take to fill in those painful moments of inactivity. I needed a line-up that catered to my fickle tastes and restricting myself to just three made for some hard decisions. And so for a solid hour I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the shelf housing my 3DS collection, making a mental pro and con list for taking each and every game with my on my travels. Super Smash Bros 3DS was a shoe-in, having been the game that has practically lived in my 3DS since its release, recently pulling me through the late nights of Australia’s failed Ashes campaign in England, where I reckon I clocked up a solid 30 hours of nonsensical brawling mayhem. It’s the sort of game that I play when I can’t be arsed playing a game, and for that reason, I assumed it’d fit the bill of companion to a weary traveller. Second, I needed something I could sink my teeth into, y’know in case I got stuck anywhere unexpectedly. “Fire Emblem would do nicely”, i thought to myself. Turns out I did get stuck somewhere, as freak snow hit the Haast Pass, bogging the car and stranding us in the freezing cold for a few hours. Fire Emblem however never got a look in as we instead chose the mature option of building snowmen.
The last game was a captain’s pick, based less on how they’d dovetail into the trip, and more because it was a flavour of the month. Lamenting the fact that I was missing out on the launch of Hideo Kojima’s opus and finale to his long-running tale of nonsense and espionage debauchery, Metal gear Solid V, I chucked in the somewhat compromised 3DS port of Metal Gear Solid 3 as a sort of consolation. Having struggled with the controls years ago, shelving it after only a handful of hours, I felt it was the best and perhaps only chance it’d ever have of getting a look in.
It didn’t. And that became the story of the trip. Because despite having ample opportunity in the hours spent periodically checking my watch waiting for the next leg of our journey, not once did I care to pick up the 3DS located conveniently in my backpack. Not once did I think “You know what’d be better than watching New Zealanders very slowly go about their business? A video game”. Instead there I was staring into space, wondering why McDonalds in New Zealand sells meat pies, and all the while having an unplanned hiatus from video games.
Two weeks later, I arrived back home, a newly married and slightly more well travelled but tired man. New Zealand is a beautiful country, with beautiful people, and if you haven’t been you’re certainly doing yourself a disservice. But if there’s anything our two week dalliance with our beautiful neighbouring nation, it’s that there’s nowhere I’d rather be than right smack bang in the middle of Oceania on this enormous, dry and beautiful continent we call Australia. But it also revealed something about myself and my gaming habits, while perhaps giving me a glimpse into my gaming future, or more aptly lack of it. I left as someone who was up in arms that he’d miss the launch of Metal Gear Solid V and returned as one who hasn’t given a moment’s thought to running down to the shops and picking it up. And as my 3DS still sits in my backpack, probably fully charged, it almost feels as if I’ve played it for the last time. I haven’t of course but it’s hard not to think that the sun is starting to set on videogames’ place at front and centre of my free time. And that’s a rather exciting prospect.