Burnout in Games: Myth or Misery?

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Lets Take a Look at Burnout in Video Games. Not to be Confused with Burnout the Video Game.

burnout 3

Burnout is a term that I have come across in various discussions surrounding video games. Most specifically, Penny Arcade’s Extra Credits addressed the problem in their episode dealing with fan mail asking how to go about becoming a reviewer. It is a contentious topic with some viewing it as a problem and others as a sign of growing out of one hobby and into another.

It might seem like a dubious subject for someone in my position to write on. I was excited to see the new titles for next-gen consoles start pouring out but when it came time to pick one up and play, found myself unable to shake the lethargy. It was quite an unusual feeling of distress.

What is burnout?

No. Not this one.

No. Not this one.

Burnout is a very common and potentially serious psychological affliction. In general terms it is characterised by diminished interest in an activity – usually work. This is often also accompanied by a feeling of apathy toward said activity. Obviously professional burnout is more serious than that related to video gaming but reading has shown me that it is a common feeling amongst gamers.

The point that fuels most of the arguments I came across is whether or not video game burnout represents an actual problem. Naturally professional burnout can be an issue but if you do not feel like taking part in a (unproductive) hobby, is that so bad? In the same sense that we grow out of kids’ TV shows, stop watching them, and start watching more grown up programs.

While it may be true that feeling indifferent towards your once-favourite games can be a sign of your tastes changing, feeling burnt out can be a frustrating experience for gamers who still enjoy playing on the whole.

How does it feel?

Like opening the fridge looking for food.

My experience with burnout coincided with a rapid increase in the amount of obligations in other areas of my life. As a gamer, playing games is what I do. Truthfully, I want to play the new Thief, Dark Souls 2 or finish finding all the collectibles in Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze. Commitments for university and work mean that gaming is something akin to an obligation, not a luxury – an obligation I simply do not have time for.

There is a lack of enthusiasm to begin single-player games. A significant time investment is required. Not to mention the initial burst of momentum needed to get through the tutorial level where you waste an hour having your hand-held by incessant tip boxes. Burnt out gamers can feel daunted by the blank save files and impending 40 hour trip. Imagine facing a blank page with a bout of writer’s block.

The quicker games that can be started and stopped after a short while feel almost trivial. Starting a round in a fighting game or a couple of levels in a platformer seem to pale in comparison to other tasks that demand one’s attention. It dwindles down until the time is just wasted. There have been reported ties between this sort of procrastination and perfectionism; delaying activities in order not to see them completed to a less than perfect standard. The proliferation of eSports works to this end. Taking part in a fighting game is an exercise to reach the highest (or at least a very high) level of performance.

How to cure it?

Like I said earlier, the experiences each person will have with burnout will be different. Similarly, no one cure will work for everyone. Below are a few of the tips I found to be helpful and came upon in reading.

Dig out an old favourite game.

Looking through your game collection and finding a classic game that really resonates with you. The nostalgic charm and existing connection with the game should enable you to get through the initial barrier that prevents the starting of some other single-player adventure. For me, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Toy Commander all fit the bill.

Take care of other commitments first.

This ties in nicely with opinions that video game burnout is a blessing not a curse. Using the time that you would once have spent playing games to instead do something productive. Maybe it’s washing your car, cleaning the kitchen, or completing homework for school/university. Once other tasks have started diminishing in numbers, you may find blocks removed or greater energy for games. Even taking the time to do some exercises can really bolster your mood if feelings of burnout go beyond just gaming.

Invite some friends over for a split-screen party.

Just don't let anyone pick Oddjob

Just don’t let anyone pick Oddjob

Get some good friends round to yours for an old-fashioned split-screen game night. Whether it’s a classic like Mario Kart or Goldeneye 64 or a newer title like console Minecraft or Diablo 3, the effects should be obvious and immediate. The energy levels may well let you get back into the gaming world.

Have you ever experienced video game burnout? Is it a problem? Do you have any other methods to get through it? Share your story in the comments below.