For a long period of time, video games have been one of my favorite ways to de-stress and re-energize myself to work on my daily responsibilities and obligations. I have found that my interests in playing games tends to wax and wane over time, but I always had a hard time pinpointing exactly why I would experience video game burnout the more involved that I got.
It finally dawned upon me this past week when I was sitting down mapping out the exact amount of time that I needed to invest in Injustice 2 to maintain my position within a guild. At this point it hit me that part of what I enjoyed about gaming was that what I did was completely up to me. I could run through the streets in Yakuza Zero, grind out gear and explore in The Surge, go on a few hunts in Monster Hunter, or whatever I felt like.
The moment that I made the interpersonal commitment of joining a guild that was focused on competitive numbers, that part of my down time became another obligation. I found myself stressing out about what was not a particularly lofty requirement: winning 150 AI matches, or 15 ranked PVP matches a week.
I could not figure out exactly why those numbers gave me so much stress. 150 computer matches, at roughly 2 minutes a match would only be about 5 hours a week. I have easily gone over the 5 hours that I needed in a single day with other games, and I had been doing that with Injustice 2 until I joined the guild, but something had changed.
My mindset going into gaming to relax had shifted. Instead of sitting down and playing whatever I felt like, I found myself immediately booting up Injustice 2 because that was what I had to get done first before I could play what I wanted to. My session lengths immediately took a nosedive as I focused on my “game I have to play before I play what I want to,” and started dealing with video game burnout.
I realized that “had to” has been the catalyst for just about every video game burnout that I’ve had in regards to playing games. I “had to” play World of Warcraft every day to work on a side quest for a mount, I “had to” keep up my leveling pace in Killing Floor 2 so I could continue to play with my friends at the difficulty they wanted to, and now I “had to” play a certain amount of Injustice 2.
After laying down to get some sleep before work, I saw a message on my phone in my Discord app. It stated that everyone below the competitive threshold would be removed from the guild before the next week of ranking started. I got out of bed, fired up my PS4, and checked how many points I needed to maintain my spot. Then I tried to force myself through some matches before going to sleep. I played sloppily and hastily, trying to burn through the matches as fast as possible, and then it hit me.
I was not relaxing, I was not having fun, I was trying to get points because I felt like I had to. The next morning I quit the guild. I realized that while it was not a hard goal to meet, that I as a person do not want that level of obligation in my hobbies, and that if I had not joined the guild I probably would have actually played the game more.
If you use video games as a stress release or just to have fun it is very important to know when they are not serving their intended purpose. I do not mean to say you should drop a game the moment it stops being fun. Sometimes it is better to admit that despite your best efforts, you are not having an enjoyable experience. Knowing when you are not enjoying something that your are doing purely for enjoyment seems like a simple concept, but sometimes it can still slip under our radar.
Whether it be because we want to stay competitive, or want to Platinum Trophy or 1000/1000g a game, or feel like we are missing out by not doing daily quests, we have ways of tricking ourselves into thinking we are still having fun even though something has become a chore. If you find your primary enjoyment in games from completing all of the trophies or achievements, or by competing online, or by doing dailies, that is great. Just hold onto whatever you love about playing games so you don’t start on your way towards video game burnout with that “game I have to play before I play what I want to.”