It’s time to come clean.
This is my confession.
Forgive me, father, for I have sinned… or forgive me for I know not what I do?
Phrases like these enter our minds every time we talk about our guilty pleasure games, right? No? They don’t. That’s because the term guilty pleasure isn’t something we really mean, I think. A little background on this thought, if you please.
Recently, I’ve been playing through Stardew Valley again, for what seems like the billionth time. I already have an avalanche of a backlog. I have new purchases I want to get to. I have editing and brainstorming and writing and community-building and connections and correspondence and social media presence to attend to. Yet here I am cutting down another tree to make room for another turnip patch. Heck, I’m even marrying the same bachelorette all over again.
What is wrong with me?
Well, nothing, really. That’s because video games will always and forever be for me largely a hobby and a pastime.
“But Red, you write about games! You get press keys for new games you have to create coverage for! You have responsibilities here!”
Yes, I do, conscience. Yes, I do, but things like press keys don’t dominate my gaming diet and I don’t want them to. I want to play what I want to play, and when that involves press keys well then great, but if not, then forget it.
There’s kind of an unspoken pressure, I think, purely internal perhaps, to buy up everything, play everything you can as a gamer, “keep up with every new release”, and if you’re a games writer, then it’s to put out as many requests as you can and publish all these articles on new titles. It feels like a kind of award, a badge you can wear to validate all your hard work and show that people see me, to be able to get all these press keys… but in the end, am I forgetting why I play video games in the first place?
That to me is why I don’t buy the guilty pleasure phrase, not with any seriousness, I mean. When we use that phrase, we all know what we mean, but if I spend my time playing Stardew yet again to relax after work, great! I’m relaxing after work. The content is secondary to the hobby.
The last thing I want to do, despite all the ambitions of crowdfunding, paying contributors, and turning The Well-Red Mage into a full-time interest, is actually turn this into a full-time job. Legends tell of the woes of games journalists lamenting hobbies become duties, having to cover games they’ve little to no interest in, or worse, no practice in understanding.
Some reviews are rushed out as quickly as possible to capitalize on the release hype surrounding the game without even fully comprehending and experiencing the game, a critique-at-a-glance which potentially saps all the fun out of the act of “playing”. Of course, this is not as important for all games, given their variety, but how much would you trust a film reviewer who only watched 20% of each film or a food critic who only finished the appetizer or a critic of the theater who walked out during the second act? Many opinions are valid but not all opinions are as informed as others. Perhaps that’s too controversial.
It might seem like I’m contradicting myself here, or at least getting away from the central issue, but there’s a fine line between having the success of TWRM dictate what I need to play because big releases attract more traffic with timely coverage or because press keys measure the prestige and importance of the site… and simply enjoying what I do both online and off. What the success of TWRM means to me is that enjoying what I do is marketable. I don’t have to play the umpteenth “16-bit, brutal, retro-styled, indie roguelike” in order to mean something. That road has already been paved to death.
So, moral of the story: Play what you want to play, whoever you are.
Guilt implies shame which implies incrimination. The nature of guilt is such that there’s a negative connotation to anything attached to it. I’ve always said in my life that guilt is a terrible motivator. But there’s nothing wrong with you playing what you want to actually play in spending the most precious resource we have: Time. My guilty (and non-guilty) pleasures are here to stay and I’ll write about whatever the heck I want to write about while adding my voice to the diverse team of writers here, thank you very much.
I won’t be keeping up with the Joneses and I won’t shame you for playing what you play if you’ll return the courtesy.
-The Well-Red Mage
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