As a freelance writer specialising in video games, it’s rather important that I keep my finger on the pulse when it comes to what’s happening in the gaming world. I need to know about the latest trends and the hottest games so that I can pitch timely and insightful features, or request review copies of titles well ahead of their release.
But sometimes that ambition to keep on top of all things video game feels incompatible with… well, with life. And this time of year, just when many of the biggest games get released in the run up to Christmas, is the most gruelling. I mean, look at all of the amazing games that came out in September alone.
It’s a never-ending task, not helped by the fact that the world of video games tends to move – and move on – very quickly. A game that’s the height of fashion one minute might be all but forgotten the next, as some other glitzy title comes along to wow the public. I try to keep up with the pace as best I can, checking news sites and Twitter regularly, and subscribing to several games magazines of note. I feel like I can just about keep abreast of what’s happening, even if it can be exhausting sometimes – but keeping up with games in terms of actually playing them is another matter entirely.
Between long work hours, childcare and all of the various tasks that come with running a household, I only really have a handful of hours every week in which to sit back and play some video games. The Nintendo Switch has been a godsend in many ways, allowing me to sneak in the odd bit of gaming here and there, like when waiting for the kettle to boil. But really I only have the bandwidth to play two or three games a month, or just one especially long one. It’s kind of ironic that I can tell you all of the hottest games of the moment, and could hold a conversation about the games industry’s most pressing issues, yet I’ve hardly played any of the most notable titles released this year. It’s always with a sense of panic and disappointment that I put together our annual ‘best of the year’ list and realise there are so many games that have simply passed me by.
I’m still only halfway through Eastward, released way back at the start of September, so the AMAP review of that one is going to be very delayed indeed. And I’ve managed to play Metroid Dread in one-hour bursts since its release at the start of October, but it’s taken me all month to get anywhere near the end. I’ve got review code for Sable, Growbot and Tim Sheinman’s new game, Echo Beach, but I’ve yet to really start any of them. There’s just no time. Once work is finished, the kids are in bed and I’ve got all my household tasks done, there’s perhaps one or two hours left for gaming – and even then there might be nights when I’ve got other stuff to be getting on with. Long gone are the halcyon student days when I could spend hour after hour playing my favourite games.
So here I am, in the strange position of being able to write about games for various magazines and websites, yet having very little chance to actually sit down and play them. It’s bizarre in many ways – the hours I spend writing and reading about games vastly outnumber the hours I get to play them. Still, I’m far from unique in that regard. Many game developers I speak to admit that they have hardly any time in which to actually play games other than the one they’re making. And any writer I know who has kids is in a similarly time-poor state.
Frankly, it’s a situation that’s going to get worse rather than better as my home and work responsibilities grow. The only real solution is for me to let go. I have to accept that the vast majority of video games will remain unplayed, and I can only really cherry pick one or two titles a month to spend my precious time on. I’m not going to have a hot take on the latest Fallout game, because I still haven’t got around to playing New Vegas from ten years ago, let alone any of the ones released since then. I’d love to catch up, but… well, have you seen how long those games take to play? The Witcher III has likewise been sat on my shelf for years, too long a game to allow me to consider starting it. I still haven’t played Breath of the Wild.
As a response to this relentless shrinking of my gaming hours, I’ve stepped back into the past. Now I tend to write much more about retro games, partly because I’ve played them already, back when I had such a thing as free time. There’s no need to stay current, because all the news happened years ago. And people increasingly want to hear about these old games and consoles: there’s a whole generation now who weren’t even alive when the Super NES and Mega Drive ruled the roost, so they’re keen to learn about all this gaming history. And of course, old farts like me get a nostalgic kick out of reading about the consoles of their youth.
Hey, did you hear? The past is so hot right now.