I loved video games, until I turned thirty-three.
A few days after my birthday, while building up the new Evil Empire in Civilization V, I fell into an existential pit, realized how much time I had spent playing video games - and, holy hell - all the other stuff I could have been doing with that time.
As an experiment, I decided to take a year off of video games to see what I could do with the hundreds of hours that I normally spent playing them. The results were pretty astounding.
I learned to play guitar.
Video games never stopped me from picking up the guitar, but the extra time left me with a need for something as tough and complicated as a good strategy game to fill it with - guitar hit the spot.
When I first moved to LA, @neilstrauss introduced me to Jason Charles Miller, an excellent musician and voice actor.
He said, "This is Jason, he plays D&D." Which was all he needed to say, because through the power of D&D we instantly became friends. Over the next year, we played in a fantastic Forgotten Realms campaign.
He turned out to be the perfect guy to ask for help with the guitar. He explained to me that I should get a cheap guitar to start. Something to practice with just to make sure I'd keep it up. Then he was kind enough to let me borrow this matte black custom ESP, he'd taken on tour -- it felt like a real-life magic item.
Despite the fact that playing guitar tougher and more frustrating than any game I've ever played, I love it.
I gained 20+ lbs of muscle and lost 3% body fat.
On New Years, I joined a Gym called Nerdstrong: A Nerdcentric gym that helps you get fit by turning high-intensity gamified workouts that were themed: Dungeons & Dragons, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and just about every other nerd world you care to name.
The motivation to get out of the house came from my first weeks of sitting around with all the extra time. Boredom kicked my ass out of the house.
Six months later, I had radically changed my diet, had started putting in about five hours a week at the gym.
I managed to get up to a weight of 185 and down to about 17% body fat. The fittest I've ever been. In D&D terms, I've improved all of my physical stats: Strength, Dexterity and Constitution.
I had the realization, that I’d much rather be the characters in the games, than play as them. Next, year Parkour!
I learned to speak French.
It has always been an insecurity of mine, that I only speak one language. With all the fascinating people out there in the world, and my secret micro-obsession with French culture and literature, With all this free time, how could I not use this opportunity to learn the language?
I started meeting with a friend who speaks French fluently; I offered her $30 a lesson to sit down for a meal and talk with me. When I'm home, for practice, I use Duolingo and study a book called 501 French Verbs.
Right now, I'm conversational and I can read French better than I can speak it. Next year, my goal will be to spend some time in Paris, attempting to converse with locals.
I got a promotion at work.
Video games were a huge distraction from work. There was always this nagging that I had to get back to whatever I was playing. Whether it was Rome: Total War II or Civilization V -- there were nations to conquer. What could be more important than that?
When I dropped the games, the nagging went with them, and I could focus more on my organization, work ethic, and attention to detail.
Within a month of my one year game break, I was promoted to a higher-paying position in the company. I have not missed a single deadline all year, and have received compliments on the quality of my work.
I read and write every day (plus, I learned to brew coffee)
During the video game years, I would wake up and jump into a few turns of Civ V, XCOM or some other unending strategy game.
With the games out of my life, I made a habit of waking up and getting out of the house. I'd wander down to a coffee shop and reading or write for several hours.
This year I've written three screenplays on top of hundreds of pages of fiction and non-fiction. I've also read 50+ books. My favorite: Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway.
While at the coffee shop, I became more and more interested in the process. Eventually, I had them teach me about brewing. I'm now part of the LA coffee club and brew my cups with a Chemex, scale, and grinder. It's delicious.
My relationships improved. All of them.
Video games were a drain on my relationships. I'd spend hours phased out of reality. I'd come away with that grogginess that one gets from too many hours staring at the screen, not eating and drinking enough, and sometimes stressed out from adventures gone wrong.
Without them, there's been more love, more attention, more listening, more energy, and more sex -- It may just be the best part of the whole experience.
In addition, the only games I was allowed to play this year were tabletop games. I've done more board and roleplaying this year than any other. Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Numenera, Star Wars: Edge of Empire, Fiasco, Microscope, and Dominion, just to name a few.
The best part about this, was that I was interacting with friends, and leaving every session with great memories and stronger friendships.
The year is still going strong, I've got about three months left, and then I'll have the choice to go back to games.
In the end, I still love video games. Many of them are modern works of art, intensely fun, and have fascinating stories. Total War: Warhammer and XCOM 2 came out, and last year, I would have been itching to play. This year, however, I feel like I can wait.
I have a plan for where I can fit video games into my life and I'm going to test it out when this challenge is over.
I will only play when I’m flying somewhere.
In other words, if I want to play a video game, I need to get myself on a plane and head somewhere. The longer the flight, the more gaming I get to do. It's probably a bit drastic for some of the more serious gamers out there, but for myself, I know it'll be motivating. The point is for all the time I spend playing, even more time will be spent exploring the world.
If you're the kind of person that spends hours a week gaming, and doesn't get out of the house much, consider taking a month off every year to explore the world. I can only speak for myself, but it's been an amazing experience.
(Top Controller Image Source: Pexels)