This One’s For the Games.
Today, I want to talk about gaming and minimalism. To do this, I’m going to focus on the time, money, and energy that we can put into gaming. I wish to pursue ways to purposefully play games without taking a toll on our wallets, limited physical space, and avoiding overindulgence. I hope to provide some useful anecdotes towards living a minimalist lifestyle and continue enjoying the hobby.
My friends and family know that I have two or three hobbies. Running. Soccer. You’re here, so you might ascertain the third is gaming. I’ve enjoyed games since I was a young kid. Here’s some of my favorite memories: beating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game with my parents in Virginia Beach. The first time I played Sonic the Hedgehog on our family’s Sega Genesis. Exploring The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64. Simply put: gaming has been a past-time that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over the years and has remained a constant in my life. A more recent development is my interest in minimalism.
Where to start?
While writing on this site, gaming and minimalism are two topics I’ve avoided mingling so far. I wanted to gather my thoughts before covering the subject. Here’s the three ideas I’d like to explore:
- Gaming can be very consumptive, specifically on your time and money, which it can easily soak up.
- Gaming can capitalize on physical space in your home. With minimalism in mind, I keep the games I love the most. Part with the rest.
- My time also comes with the mental energy spent. How do you game with balance and well-being in mind?
What’s Great About Gaming?
Gaming by far has been a social hobby for me. Whether I’m actively playing a game with a group of friends, or talking about a game with friends, they provide quality bonding experiences. Gaming can be a great way to build relationships with other people. Between sitting on a couch and playing a game with others, sharing tips or strategies to beat a game, or sharing our thoughts, reflections, and experiences with a game, these are all valuable experiences. I truly enjoy these aspects of the hobby.
Games are an artistic medium. I love the history of games, how technology and software have evolved over time, and how a series of games usually improves over time. I’ve never explored how they are coded and designed. Rather, gaming offers worlds that I can explore, stories and characters I can immerse myself, and challenges and puzzles I can solve. I can also enjoy their beauty and intricacies often at my own pace. They provide social commentary in engaging and thought provoking ways other mediums cannot.
I also enjoy gaming because it allows me to get inside my head a bit. I’m an introvert. I tend to do a lot of thinking when I play games. My work also revolves around people, to the point where I need a moment for myself at the end of the workday. An hour or so allows me to decompress and shed the day’s baggage if I need to. I don’t view games as an alternative to getting outside or exercising. Additionally, I end my screen time (usually) by 9:30PM.
What’s Not-So-Great About Gaming?
It can become quite consumptive. You can quickly form habits that simply drain your money and time, and sap your productivity. There are moments in my life where I’ve let a game or two consume me, for a day, week, or even month’s worth of my time. That’s not a place I like to be anymore. I realize now that the behavior can become addicting if you allow it. There’s one particular culprit that comes to mind…
World of Warcraft
I used to play a lot of World of Warcraft (WoW), a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), created by Blizzard Entertainment. I grew up with Warcraft’s real-time strategy games, Warcraft, Warcraft II, and Warcraft III. I enjoyed the challenge they provided, and could play a round or two and be finished within 45 minutes to an hour. They were great games that offered a unique setting and a lot of strategy and skill.
At first, WoW was novel — Exploring the World (of Warcraft) was something awesome. However, WoW is designed specifically to capitalize on the investment of time you put into the game. There are some skill-based aspects, but MMO’s in general and WoW in particular are gaming treadmills. Your focus is to upgrade your in-game character with new levels and equipment, gearing them out, sometimes for several hours a day. Perform a task in the game. Improve your character ever so slightly. Receive a little shot of dopamine. Rinse and repeat. It can amount to a second job, one that costs you, $14.99 a month. I would love to see Blizzard’s analytics for average time in-game spent per user. They’ve made billions of dollars, but did you know as of 2012 (more recent data needed), over 5.9 million years of human time have been spent in the game? That is truly mind boggling.
For some people, they are able to limit themselves to how much they play WoW. They can play an hour or two and have no attachment. For me, I don’t think that’s the case. I’d often get sucked in and lose all sense of time. I wish I had the capacity to better moderate myself, but WoW is a game I simply can’t indulge any longer.
What has transformed me away from WoW? Discovering mindfulness, and developing strategies around digital minimalism. How much technology I consume (in the mental sense), is of my own choosing. Living into this, I tend to spend between an hour or two an evening playing video games every few days. I admit there are moments where this is challenging.
The Monetary Cost of Gaming
We’ve established that games can eat into your time. What else does gaming do? Gaming can be costly and can also lead to large amounts of physical stuff. Fact: I still have virtually all of the games I had as a kid. Many of them were given to me by my parents, friends, and family over the years. There’s memories and nostalgia attached to them. I love them. And of course, I have many games I purchased myself. In periods of my life I’ve been both a collector and a gamer. I frequently purchased the newest games when they came out, often paying the full retail price. Can you relate to any, some, or most of these?
There’s the consoles, controllers, and software, which can all pile up to significant amounts of money. It adds up quickly if you’re not budgeting what you spend. New consoles usually range in the ballpark of $300 to $500. Want another controller? That will be $60, please. New game? $60. Tack on a $60 yearly subscription cost for online gaming services. Given these costs, I’m usually never an early adopter of the newest technology. Instead, I wait for a price drop or a fantastic sale.
In terms of physical space, video games take up household real estate. Some gamers have large personal collections in a room solely dedicated to gaming. There’s nothing wrong with collecting. I think it’s important to do what you value and what brings you enjoyment. It amounts to a personal decision. I myself used to have a pretty large collection, around 500 or so games. It took up a majority of a second bedroom. I decided I had too many games that I’d never play again. At this particular junction in my life, I want to be able to enjoy my games, and hold onto most important ones.
Today, I have a small personal and curated collection of the games I love. Everything is organized in a tidy manner, kept in place and orderly. I display the game consoles on a cool custom shelf my dad made me. My games are stored on a shelf I built. As a family, we’re likely to move to somewhere more permanent in the next three to four years. Having less to move will definitely be a benefit.
I’ve also explored my thoughts on this a bit on my Decade of New Aspirations Post.
Find Balance and Truly Enjoy Gaming:
Time: I limit the amount of time spent on screens. By 9:30 on weeknights, if it has a screen, I’m done with it. Honoring this rule of thumb really helps me avoid the overindulgence I’ve had with games, where I lose all sense of time and what’s going on around me. Additionally, I feel more mindful and present when I limit my technology use, and it allows me to appreciate the time that I do spend with gaming. I’m much more intentional about what I choose to play, and don’t get hung up on what I might be fearful of missing out. If this appeals to you, check out Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.
Budget: To avoid sounding redundant here, I’ve talked about this topic extensively on the site. Pursuing Financial Independence as a Gamer is the backbone for my budget. Games are not an investment strategy. Money spent on games is money not going towards our financial future. A lesson learned is that pursuing financial independence has also made me content with what I have and more choosy about what decide to buy.
I purposefully budget gaming expenses, to keep costs reasonable. Over the past several years, I have kept track of every expense for my hobby. I don’t take any liberties. If I purchased or sold something, it’s logged. I’ve continually reduced what I’ve spent on my hobby drastically over these years, with the ultimate goal to pay nothing out of my own pocket. Here’s what I have logged as averages each month, for the six years I’ve kept track:
2014, I spent $124 a month.
2015, I spent $80 a month.
2016, I spent $40 a month.
2017, I earned $21 a month. (Beginning of FI Journey)
2018, I spent $60 a month.
2019, I earned $2 a month. (I made a decent sum selling, but I used the proceeds to buy our couch.)
Over these six years, I’ve spent an average of $562 a year, or $47 a month on gaming. This is such a tiny tiny portion of our limited household income. I’m aiming for even less spent. But, this span of time has been a great learning experience. It has provided two incredible take-aways: 1. being content with what I have, and 2. curbing unnecessary, impulse purchasing habits. It has allowed me to play down my backlog. I take joy knowing the past few years have really tapered my spending down to something very manageable.
Stuff: Collecting isn’t the goal. I am content with the games I have. My collection has grown, shrank, and ballooned throughout my life. It’s pretty cumbersome to move. With minimalism in mind, I’ve pared down plenty of games I have no further interest in. Now, I am much more selective of whether or not I decide to keep a game. Will my friends enjoy playing it? One day, will my child enjoy playing this game? Is it from a series I love? Will I enjoy playing it again? Usually a game has to satisfy most or all of these criteria whether or not a game stays.
So, the games I do have, take up far less space. Eventually, I do want to display what I have, in a cool, unique and pleasing way. I’ve thought about moving to digital games, but I’m just not there yet. The games I have carry a lot of meaning. They’re cool. They look great on a shelf. They make me happy. I enjoy them. That’s plenty enough justification to them to stick around.
I hope this article brought forth some fresh ideas. I enjoyed exploring the gaming hobby, an activity that often expects us to part with our precious time, money, and energy. Incorporating a minimalist approach, I hope I can continue to enjoy more of the positive parts of gaming and say goodbye to the negative aspects of our hobbies. Does this translate to the leisure activity you enjoy? If so, are there things you’d change? Ways to cut costs? Get rid of that unused stuff that’s sitting in your closet? I’d love to know! One way or another, I hope you’re having a good week and thanks for reading!