A lot of people say that college is “the best for years of your life” and, in many ways, it is! That first taste of independence coupled with unprecedented access to friends who live in the same building as you is, for many, a perfect recipe for a good time. In fact, it looks so great in hindsight that college graduates will often look back longingly at those years well into their twenties. Although the independence and social factors are certainly worthy reasons to long for the good old days of college, there’s one thing that’s not always quite as apparent in hindsight. Free time.
When I was in college, I had no idea just how much free time I had on my hands. You feel so busy bouncing from class to class, working on assignments, and trying to arrange group projects that it starts to feel like a full time job. Looking back, my absolute busiest weeks were probably somewhere around 30-35 hours of classes and homework. As someone who didn’t keep a part time job during college, that left a lot of time to fill in my week.
I didn’t know it at the time, but college was probably the most I’ll ever play video games in my life. Between my roommate and I, it seemed like the consoles were always on. We’d spend entire afternoons creating custom rosters in sports games and simulating out multiple years into the future. Competitive games of Halo 2 and 3 over the dorm’s LAN became commonplace. Thinking back, we even had a huge library of games to choose from because of how many people actually had gaming consoles on my floor. For the first time, I was exposed to a decent sized group of people and their opinions on gaming.
I was pretty spoiled growing up and had a lot of the consoles that have come out in my lifetime. Despite that, I never did a lot of research into which games I should play. Sure, I got into the odd gems like THPS 1-4, Metal Gear Solid, and Crash 1-3…but those were the standouts in a sea of licensed games and bargain bin deals. When I got to college, I started getting exposed to titles I would had never given a chance to otherwise. For example, Half Life is a series I had never thought to play because I didn’t have a PC capable of gaming at the time. Then, during my junior year of college, The Orange Box was getting a lot of buzz. When I asked some friends about it, they were shocked I hadn’t played the series up until that point. Because of their reactions, Half-Life 2 and, even more so, Portal are two huge stand out moments in my gaming memories.
Social gaming is something else you take for granted in college. There are so many great games that are markedly improved with a group of people playing together. In my college years, the standouts for my friends and I were probably Mario Kart Wii, Smash Bros. Melee/Brawl, Guitar Hero, and most of all, Rock Band 1 & 2. Rock Band was just something that brought people together in college. We’d typically leave the dorm room door ajar while playing and just about every time we’d turn the game on, there were 4-6 people in the room within the first half hour trading instruments and playing through the same 15-20 songs on repeat.
Some of that social aspect to gaming carried forward into my early twenties because I lived with three friends for my first two years after college. At the time, we were all just getting started out in our careers living in an expensive city so it wasn’t uncommon for the four of us to grab a case of beer for the night and hang out on the couch with a good game. New Super Mario Bros. Wii came out around that time and I’ll always remember the countless hours spent tossing each other off of ledges while Mario’s signature noises echoed out of our Wii Remote speakers.
For me, those first years out of college showed a shift into more narrative-driven games. In college, money was tight and every purchase needed to justify itself. The more hours I could get out of a game, the better. Games like Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare became my gaming staples when I couldn’t afford to keep up on what was coming out. Once I was making a salary, though, it became a lot easier to go back and pick up titles I had missed out on. In fact, my favorite gaming franchise to date was introduced to me around this time.
I didn’t have a PS3 when Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune came out in 2007, so I hadn’t really paid any attention to it. Then, in 2009, Sony began hyping up Uncharted 2 with a huge marketing campaign. Having picked up a PS3 earlier in the year, I found a used copy of Drake’s Fortune to play through and just loved it. When it was over, I ended up going back and checking out all of the trailers and marketing materials that were available for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Although I didn’t typically buy games on their release date around that time, I made it a point to be there at launch for Among Thieves.
Playing Uncharted 2 at launch sort of opened up a new world to me. Podcasts and online video were becoming much bigger around that time and there was so much content to pour through about the game. I had loved playing the game on my own, but coming across other people’s impressions of the game beyond the typical reviews opened up a much broader sense of the gaming community that I had been missing out on up to that point. It brought about a whole new appeal to single player games.
In my mid-to-late twenties, social gaming continued to fade even further into the background. I moved out of the apartment I shared with three other guys and into an apartment with my now wife. With less free time and a much more geographically dispersed group of friends, online gaming has become my primary form of social gaming. Even so, game nights still have to be planned to some extent. With busy careers, less time together, and a young puppy at home, it’s hard to randomly declare to my wife, “hey I’m going to put on Destiny (a game I can’t really pause), throw on some headphones, and ignore you for a couple of hours.”
I’d say that this affects how I game as an adult in two major ways. The first of these is that I buy way more games than I’ll ever finish. I still feel that pull to be a part of the conversation around new games that started back with Uncharted 2, which leads to me buying a lot of games. This is my pile of shame for just the current generation of consoles…
I have it separated into three piles. The small pile in front are both still in the shrink wrap. I’ll call these the deals I couldn’t pass up since I think each game was around $15 when typical retail was still $40+. The medium pile on the left are games that I haven’t started yet. The common theme among them is that they were all gifts or heavily discounted purchases. The much taller stack of shame are the games that I’m somewhere in the middle of. There are a couple of themes among these titles. The biggest is that a lot of them are huge open-worlds that I got distracted from (GTA V, MGS V, Far Cry 4, etc). Yeah, I really need to stop buying games unless I’m sure to play through them quickly…
The second way life has affected how I game is more about getting in games where I can. This has meant a lot more handheld and mobile games. Some of my current standouts are Clash Royale, The Pokemon TCG Online, Pokemon Yellow on 3DS, and Smash Bros for 3DS. On the 3DS, Vita, and, to a lesser extent, PS4, the ability to suspend and resume a game quickly has become invaluable. It’s hard to play a game like Destiny or the Division when your wife may want to chat about something while you’re playing or if your new puppy could pee on the carpet at any time.
Although video games have been a hobby of mine since I was very young, each phase of my life has seen me incorporating them in different ways. Sometimes that meant playing the NES and SNES after school in the family living room. In college, it meant binging on any game I could get my hands on. More recently, it’s more like buying up every well-received game I’m interested in only to not play half of them. No matter what shape my life has taken, gaming has been a part of it and, as it always has been, it will be interesting to see what the next phase brings.