If you haven’t yet made a New Year’s Resolution, it’s not too late. Really, there’s never a bad time to try and improve yourself, whether it’s January, February, or September. And one thing everyone could use is less stress in their lives, especially these days. That’s why I’m suggesting you try the following:
Quit your favorite game. Walk away from something you’ve been playing for years and don’t look back.
Alright, maybe you can look back, but not for a while – months, at least, I’d say. And I’m not suggesting you quit something you enjoy, but rather that you quit something you think you enjoy but you know, deep down, you really don’t any more but are still doing because it’s just, you know, what you do.
I’m talking about that MMO you’ve been playing for the past three, five, or maybe 10 or more years. You know, the one that you were so hyped for prior to its release, and then when it came out, you took the day off from school or work, no-lifed it for a solid month and then worked it into your daily (or nightly) routine? Even after it ceased being an obsession, you still did your dailies, showed up for raid night, and took part in all the festivals. You know, that game?
Only … now you get done with your real-world tasks for the day and you say to yourself, “Well, I guess I should log in. I’ve got dailies to do.” Or maybe it’s just a daily login reward you’re looking to claim, “and maybe I’ll play for about 30 minutes or so.” Raid night with your guild is still fun, when you win, at least. And that festival is still going for another week, you should really work toward those rewards …
The point comes when you realize you’re only logging in to fulfill your obligations, whether to yourself or to your friends/guild. You’ll have nights when you don’t really want to play, but then you’ll be missing out on today’s rewards, whether virtual or social. You actually did skip last Wednesday, but seeing that gap in your “Claim Your Daily Reward!” pop-up filled you with feelings of shame and loss and you vowed, “Never again!”
Do it. Don’t log in today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. Or … well, for a really long time. Trust me, you’ll be better off for it.
I’ve gone through this process multiple times, with multiple games. The most recent was with Conqueror’s Blade. When I first got into it, I loved slashing my way through battles and seeing all the stuff flow into my (well-managed) inventory. I logged in every day, doing a handful of random battles and joining my house (a.k.a. guild) for territory wars once or twice weekly.
It’s a solid game, and I highly recommend it if you’re into that sort of thing, though it does put significant weight on you with its daily logins and two types of weekly quests and season-long unit unlocks and battle pass rewards. It’s fun when you’re into the game and doing it all, but it becomes a lot to keep track of and, even if you play for a couple hours a day, you might not fulfill it all because there’s, say, a quest to kill cavalry and your enemies aren’t using cavalry. I’m at 49/50 kills? Well, I guess I need to do one more battle …
After a while, after the initial rush of enjoyment wore off, I realized that I was logging in just to try and make progress on those weekly quests, ideally by doing three battles per day (which was one of the dailies; the other was five per day, which I’d achieve every other day). Over time, I’d do my best to churn away on the seasonal quests and unlocks, which I had about three months to finish, but I never did get all of them.
Even with my attempts to optimize my play time to do as little as possible to hit my modest goals, I could tell I was hitting some serious fatigue. One week, I decided to log in just three times instead of the usual seven, and on those nights when I didn’t play, I felt free. There was no more “have to finish dinner so I can make the two-hour window for the special battles tonight.” The next week, I didn’t log in at all. And, apart from a handful of logins over the past four months, that’s been the end of it.
I only played Conqueror’s Blade heavily for about nine months, but I’ve been through similar situations with other games that I played much longer, like Guild Wars 2 and and The Lord of the Rings Online. Some of you out there might be even more aged veterans of games like World of Warcraft or EverQuest.
It was tough to walk away from an MMORPG I’d played for four or five years, even one that my friends weren’t playing much any more. I’d spent so much time – and in many cases, money – building up my characters through the years, with all their gear, achievements, cosmetic items, and so on. I’d spent literally thousands of hours with these characters, to the point that I couldn’t just abandon them. What would I do if I wasn’t playing every night?
That was a question I’ve actually answered a few times in my life. I played The Lord of the Rings Online virtually non-stop from its launch in April 2007 until May 2008. Then I decided both that I was spending too much time on it and that I needed to save some money – it had a required subscription at the time – so I let my sub lapse.
Those first few days were tough. I got done doing what I needed to do for the day, it was about 7:00 and I’d log into – oh, no wait, I can’t log in. I mean, I could, if I really wanted to, but … no. I guess I’ll watch TV? Or something. I don’t know. I’m not quite ready to equate playing an MMORPG with a legitimate addiction, but I imagine that’s what withdrawal feels like. I had everything to do but also nothing to do.
(As it turned out, just over a month later, I got a gig working for a magazine to cover LotRO, so I was back in. I was both happy and sad about it.)
I felt the same way when I decided to stop playing City of Heroes (back when it also had a sub), Guild Wars 2, and even when I cut my cord and canceled my cable subscription in 2013. CoH and cable were more for monetary reasons than enjoyment factor, but I slipped out of GW2, as I did with Conqueror’s Blade, because I simply wasn’t having as much fun with it any more and it felt more like an obligation than a pastime.
That’s a line that MMO games have always tried to toe. How do we make the game difficult enough – whether through level of challenge or amount of grind – to keep people playing but not so much that they quit? And, if we change something, will it drive away players who are used to having things be a certain way?
There’s no doubt that your long-time game has changed significantly since you started playing. Maybe that’s the reason you fell out of love with it, or maybe it always had those flaws, but you were so smitten that you were willing to overlook them. Or maybe you’re just like me and LotRO in 2008, and your realized that you need to step away for a time, for your own good. “It’s not you, it’s me,” and all that.
Do it. Take that challenging step and prove to yourself that you’ve got the strength to walk away from something that is no longer serving your needs the way it should. Don’t let it control your schedule or your life. No matter how many good times you’ve shared, or how much time you’ve spent together, you’re not obligated to keep at it if it’s no longer making you happy.
(Pro tip: That last paragraph applies to a lot of things in life, not just video games.)
This isn’t the same as the prototypical “MMO burnout,” when you know you’ll be back in a few weeks or months once you’re feeling fresh and ready to play again or a batch of new content drops. I want you to have the willingness to walk away completely, ready to abandon something you’ve done for years but is now more of a chore than a good time. Maybe you’ll go back, maybe you won’t, but don’t let the game control you. Don’t set your schedule around the game let the time you’ve sunk into your hobby be the reason you devote even more time to it.
Those first few days away will be hard. They’ll test your will and you’ll likely feel restless and adrift without your usual routine. But I promise you, things will get better.
And if you go back, as I did with LotRO (which I largely abandoned again in 2012) and Guild Wars 2 and cable TV, and probably will someday with Conqueror’s Blade, do it on your terms. Missed a weekly quest? Oh well. Didn’t raid last night? That’s fine, I had fun doing what I was doing. Games are supposed to be fun, and if you’re not having it, it’s time to take a break, whether it be short, long, or permanent.