The lights are on
Power Member - Level 9
In junior high, I used to smoke cigarettes after school on the practice field with a friend of mine. I liked them well enough, though smoking was never an everyday ritual, not for me at least. I didn't smoke to be like the cool kids, given that they wanted even less to do with me than I with them. I remember most the fun of sneaking around, of hiding something from my parents and teachers, discarding cigarette butts among those piles left by the school’s football coach so no one knew we were there. That rush felt better than the nicotine buzz. We never got caught.
I hadn’t thought about clandestine middle school smoke sessions until recently when I traded in my copy of Grand Theft Auto V. I couldn't help but recall how those moments sneaking behind the building coincided with the after-school activities of playing around in the first Grand Theft Auto, a top-down crime simulation that let me exorcise adolescent rage through digital carnage. I would take turns playing over at my friend's house, and the one without the controller kept one eye on the screen and one on the door, should an inquisitive parent step in and innocently ask what we were playing before we switched out the disc for Crash Bandicoot. We never got caught.
Like so many others, I looked forward to the GTA V release with shared expectation: a new world explore, revolutionary sandbox gameplay, and boundless opportunity to become a digital kingpin. Nevertheless, my excitement for the game felt a bit muted, and I didn’t know why. Even when I waited in line at midnight, I felt the need to rationalize my trip to mall with “Well, I’m up anyway.” It should have clued me in that something had changed.
The game, of course, bears little mentioning. Glowing reviews and thoughtful articles speak almost as loudly about its worth as the game itself. Grand Theft Auto V was everything I could have wanted from a GTA title in the best way possible, only it wasn’t a game I wanted to play. Those thrills of doing criminal, monstrous things all but evaporated as I never felt meaningful weight behind my transgressions like I had in the earlier titles. I didn’t hold on to the game too long.
I understood then that part of what made the first GTA game fun was linked to the fact that I was about twelve or thirteen when it came out, and with each criminal act, I felt that violent, ecstatic rush of early teenage rebellion crystallized in digital carnage. After I finished the main campaign of GTA V, I realized that I had not actually enjoyed a GTA game since Vice City, a game that coincided with my last years in high school -- appropriate considering how I longed to leave my hometown to build a new reputation elsewhere. To return to its sun-soaked strip would be an exercise in nostalgic futility.
It’s only natural to reflect on the context of the time we spend with games to better understand our relationships with them. Sometimes waning interest telegraphs in advance. I, for instance, lost interest in Call of Duty since the friends I originally played with had fallen out of touch long before the game found new life in Modern Warfare. Now, there’s nothing I want from the franchise, but I knew, even when I played it, that it wouldn't last.
Other times, however, disinterest sneaks up on you and you find out the games you had seen yourself in no longer reflect the person at the controls. Sometimes, a game can seem either far too familiar to hold your interest, or it can suddenly become alien in ways too uncomfortable to overcome. The last time I tried to play Twilight Princess, Hyrule felt more distant, like trying to reconnect with an old friend without anything to say. There was still plenty of depth and life to be appreciated, but I wasn't the one to do it anymore.
I suppose it’s hardly surprising that video games hold and lose players’ interests like any other media does. I don’t laugh at Tommy Boy anymore or buy into the ethos on display in Reality Bites and High Fidelity. I no longer sympathize with Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye in the same way, lament the trials of the soldiers in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried with pained fascination, or embrace Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club with the same anarchic fury I maintained crashing into puberty.
Still, the directness of interaction transforms a growing disinterest in a game into a different type of monster. Tiring of a writer's prose or a film's visual language is a largely passive experience that, while never pleasant, doesn't carry quite the same sting. Video games often ask us to be in their worlds, and when the player becomes less a denizen and more a tourist, a game can lose its appeal. About a month ago, I booted up Far Cry 3 to see if it still worked for me. I traded it within a day.
So I felt a bit guilty when I slid my copy GTA V across the GameStop counter. What had once seemed subversive and fun now felt routine and boring, and I struggled to find fault in either the game or myself to try and explain this disconnect. The answer was coldly simple: I'd just lost interest in what the game offered. I knew that there's nothing I want from GTA V anymore, nothing from maybe even the franchise. I'm just not the same person I was when I first took to those teenage streets, ready to bring them to their knees. As I stood there, wondering if the game failed me or I failed it, I decided it didn't really matter; the trade was inevitable. I took the credit and put it toward a copy of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. I have no regrets.
The melancholy yet hopeful truth about leaving games behind, about growing up is that changing tastes often lead to new discoveries. For every title I let gather dust until I trade it in, I take a chance on something new, often with enlightening results, such as discovering the charm of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, the horror of Spec Ops: The Line, the mad brilliance of Saints Row IV. If I were honest about my collection, though, I could tell which games I'll keep and which are just waiting to be sold. Dust gathers quickly, after all. They'll do for now.
I've always considered the concept of "timelessness" a hollow one, a pleasant lie our parents tell us to keep us from embracing ephemerality too soon. Our relationships to games can often be just as fleeting, even if the games are still as brilliant as when we first engage with them. The years I've spent gaming can be measured not only by the games I've kept but also by those I let go, each containing some ghost of who I was at the time I played them. I don't think I'll revisit them any time soon, as there's not much there for me to back to.
Still, I find myself craving a cigarette every now and then as I leave some crowded to bar to get fresh air. Every drag I take, though, always comes as a disappointment. The taste of ash overpowers a muted chemical rush, and I inevitably wonder why I go back to something I no longer want. Funny enough, I habitually find myself looking over my shoulder with each drag, only now there's no threat of getting caught.
So what games, if any, have you left behind? Why or why not? How does it feel? Sound off, and let's reminisce.
David is working on his PhD and currently writes for awesomeoutof10.com, where this article was originally published. Follow his hilarious acts of academic vigilantism on twitter and please feel free to ask questions and offer criticism!