Taking breaks from gaming

We’re coming into July, so a lot of people who drink regularly try ‘Dry July’ to reset their relationship with alcohol, and I’ve decided to do the same with games.

As much as I love thinking about games, the vast majority of my time spent with them is in a kind of pleasant fog where I keep pushing the buttons to make the neurons fire in my head.

So I’ve decided to include gaming in my Dry July. I’ve never gone more than a week without playing some sort of game so I’m very interested to see how my day-to-day feels as a result. I’ll also not be watching twitch streams or LPs, basically anything that simulates that experience.

Have you every taken the conscious choice to step away from games for a bit? What were your reasons? Did you find it changed your relationship with games after taking that break?

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I can’t say I’ve ever taken that substantial a break from games before. Previous breaks (usually a few days, occasionally as long as a week) have either been for medical reasons, work reasons, or “I found something else interesting to do with my time for a bit” reasons (a new LEGO set, for example). I usually find that if I take a break like that, it’s because the game I was in the middle of wasn’t super captivating in the first place and I was more playing it to watch the numbers go up than I was out of any particular sense of joy.

I’ve definitely taken substantial breaks from games - or at least “almost all games”. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say that over the past few years, I’ve tended to have bursts of “playing the games” separated by longer periods of “barely playing the games” [or only really playing one game, which I’ve played lots already].

In my case, I think it’s more a case that a lot of the time “playing video games” can be a bit, well, much. It’s overwhelming sometimes to have to provide inputs to things and give them a lot of attention. I think, in general, realising that it’s fine to take breaks from video games - and that playing them can make things worse not better - has also made me happier to just… not play… various popular games; or not feel that I have to like them. (Before I got this epiphany, I basically ruined Christmas/New Year break for myself the year Shovel Knight came out by deciding I should definitely play it over break because that’s a thing people do to have fun. And, trust me, it was not a fun time, and I should have stopped trying to enjoy it a week before I gave up.)

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I’ve definitely had to consciously take a break from video games. At times games can start to have a negative effect on my life. They become the default way to unwind or avoid problems and then result in poor sleep and less time spent with loved ones. Going cold turkey and putting a hard stop to it for a period of time is a good way to break that defaulting behaviour and re connect with other things.

I think your comparison with alcohol and dry July is pretty spot on. Both games and booze can become a compulsive habit for me. At times I’ll be in the habit of going straight to the fridge after work for a beer because it’s an easy endorphin hit to unwind after a long day. Then I find I’m doing it every night, one beer becomes two or three and it’s no good for my health. Video games can provide a similar easy endorphin hit to booze and become a bad habit for me.

Good on you for giving a month off a go! Always good to break up the routine and shake habits and see if it makes a positive impact on your life.

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The only time I remember formally taking a break is when I was a kid and gave up video games for Lent. I am not Catholic or Lutheran or any other denomination that typically observed Lent. In fact, I’m the son of an evangelical pastor. I don’t remember why my parents took part in Lent that year, but we did. So, I gave up video games for 40 days. I don’t remember much about it other than being bummed when we went out of town during that period and the hotel we stayed at had this old school arcade.

Outside of that, though, there have been periods where I just don’t really feel like playing video games. During that period, I tend to read more, or catch up on TV shows I’ve missed, or something like that.

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I have done this exact thing in the past and I highly recommend it. I have this concern all the time where it feels like I’m only consuming media. Whether its books, movies, or games I get this sense sometimes that I’m reading/watching/playing only so I can check it off a mental list as done. That’s not a way I want to engage with media and I’ve found taking an extended break can help recharge my interest as well as be a check to make sure I’m enjoying what I’m doing, and it definitely has led me to think deeper about what I play, which has made me appreciate my more limited gaming time all the more.

Also, best advice I’ve ever received was just to do less. Less reading, fewer movies, and less time playing games, etc. There’s just too much out there to engage with. So find what you like and love it, and tell FOMO to fuck off!

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Your comment about media becoming a mental list you need to check off is spot-on. So far this year I’ve played through all of the Gears of War games, all of the God of War games, and was just in the process of downloading all the Uncharted and TLoU games because hey, its been a year since TLoU2 so obviously I need to play every modern Naughty Dog game leading up to TLoU2 so I have proper context going in.

I’ve spent the past couple of months with the low-level fear that I will run out of comforting, multi-game series to marathon in my downtime, which probably isn’t healthy.

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i think this is a fantastic idea. i often feel like my relationship with videogames is on the unhealthy side, a borderline addiction even, in the sense that i just play games habitually. i’ll play games without even wanting to play games or thinking too much about games; it just happens.

i mostly justify it by telling myself that at least i don’t have any REAL unhealthy habits like smoking or binge drinking these days … but it is just that; justification of a potentially unhealthy habit.

i’ve never tried to “quit” for as long a period as you’re setting out for, but within the past couple of years i’ve attempted to set a few boundaries like “on weekends i won’t play a game within three hours of waking up”. it’s surprising how difficult it can be to even make such a modest cutback as that.

i wish i read more books. i used to read a lot of books. but to me reading books is harder, requires more time, more attention, more discipline. is also ultimately probably a better use of my time. if i were to put down games for a month i’d get so much reading done. my brain would probably feel cleaner and healthier. some day i’ll do it! anyway, props to you on your no-games decision. i’m sure you’ll be pleased and it will be fulfilling when you pull it off. i should probably do the same.

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About two months ago, I tried sitting down at the beginning of the week and designating an activity for each night of the coming week. Monday and Wednesday may have been video games, Tuesday reading, Thursday writing or watching a movie. I only managed to maintain it for a couple of weeks, but I found that worked really well for me as a boundary. I need to get back into that, I think.

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A few years ago a particularly bad experience with the game-de-jour of the time had me questioning if I wanted to play games at all anymore. I thought if that is what the medium has to offer at its very best, are games even worth playing anymore? I ended up taking a 3 month or so break from games. Looking back, that was a dramatic overreaction, but I my relationship with games has been much better since. These days I only pick up 3 or so new AAA games at release every year. If I’m not completely certain I’ll enjoy a big game, I’ll pass on it until it goes on sale and no one is talking about it anymore. I’m filling my gaming time mostly with older games that I hadn’t had a chance to play before. If I don’t like something, I put it back on the shelf, and I don’t feel bad for it because I didn’t spend $60 and I’m not missing out on any discourse. I’m only playing things that I really enjoy or find interesting/edifying.

So, yeah, taking a break from games is good! My relationship with games is as good as it’s ever been since that reset.

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I have had a few week+ long ruts where there were no games i wanted to play and i ended up just doing nothing and wasting time online.

The issue is I don’t really have a back up hobby to do when I’m not gaming. I don’t watch many movies or TV shows. I usually listen to podcasts/audiobooks while gaming only doing that makes me feel restless. I love cooking and biking but can’t really do that for as long as I can game.

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For me, gaming is one of 3-4 hobbies that help me wind my anxieties down. I’m not sure I consciously take breaks, but I tend to rotate between them as each take a fair bit of time and focus. When I start to miss one of them, I make it my new wind down. I definitely take breaks in the sense that I will sometimes just go camping or to a beach with my partner for a week, and turn the phones off. But that’s more of a break from ‘waves at everything’.

I think it’s healthier not to feel like you need to do a particular thing, and if a dry period helps reset that relationship back to wanting to, then it’s a good practice. But there are other ways to do that if that’s stressful.

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i had a unhealthy relationship to games as a teen. so i definitely had a break once i had to have the choice made for me. i think part of what keeps me on the healthier end personally is splitting completeist nature between games comics and wrestling. with comics taking up the biggest portion at the moment

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