How to play long video games when you have no time
For a lot of gamers with demanding jobs, marriages and/or families, the excitement of reading good reviews for games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is tempered by the sinking realization that they’ll never have time to play them. How do you make time for a 60+ hour game when you have a busy life?
I’m lucky that sometimes I get to play games for work, which gifts me a few days to play games I’d never otherwise fit in. But my leisure time is very limited: when I’m not working or standing around in parks with my toddler, time must be split between friends, family, my partner, books, films, TV, games, the gym (lol, who am I kidding?) and anything else I might want to do. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to being a student, but one of the few saving graces of being a young adult is that you have a lot of time for your hobbies. Why did I spend so much time binge-watching middling Netflix series? Why!?
One solution is to prioritize games that only require five or ten hours of your time, and there are plenty of those around. But if you’re efficient, you don’t have to miss out entirely on the huge games that everyone else seems to be playing. Like many working mothers, I have, by necessity, become frighteningly efficient. Here are some tips from the frontlines.
Pick one massive game
When I was a teenager, money was my limiting factor. I could afford one game every couple of months, so it had to be a good one. Now, my limiting factor is time, which I must budget just as carefully as I budgeted my money as a kid so that I could afford a Gamecube on the day it came out. That means I can’t be getting on with games that don’t respect my time, such as unnecessarily bloaty open-worlds, excessively slow-paced JRPGs or online games that involve too much grinding. Also, bouncing between a giant Assassin’s Creed game and a live game like Destiny is just going to frustrate you because you feel like you are achieving nothing in either. I recommend making a careful choice and sticking to it.
Take what you can get
One of the biggest mental hurdles for me is accepting that I am never going to have three uninterrupted hours to play a video game. Those Sundays when I could just sit in my pajamas and play XCOM for the entire day are officially gone, if not forever then for the foreseeable future. Now I look at my PS4 controller and think, what’s the point? I’ll only have to turn it off again in an hour.
Take that hour. It’s what you’ve got now. You could finish a 60-hour game in a couple of months if you can find an hour a day, or spend two months hoping that your partner will go on a trip so you can play it for a whole weekend and get nowhere.
Get a Nintendo Switch
This isn’t just Nintendo fangirlism talking: the Switch lets you use time that would otherwise be dead for playing games, whether it’s 20 minutes on the train, a lunch break, an hour while the baby’s napping or half an hour in bed before going to sleep. I played 80 hours of Breath of the Wild on maternity leave, almost exclusively in 30-minute sessions. Even if you hate Nintendo, the Switch is now home to pretty much every significant indie of the past several years. I’ve caught up on so many excellent games in the past year and spent 40 hours playing Hollow Knight, and it hasn’t eaten significantly into time that I could have been spending with my family or at work.
If you have kids or live with a partner, play games with them
There is a golden period when kids are between about 3 and 10 when they may actually want to play games with you, or watch you play. (After that they’ll exclusively want to play with their friends, and any game you might take an interest in is automatically boring.) Keeping to kid-friendly games does rather limit your options, of course, but if you can get them into something you want to play anyway, like Ni no Kuni 2, you’re golden. This can also be an opportunity to reconnect with series like Pokémon that you might have played as a kid but drifted away from as an adult. I know one family with teenagers who all play Destiny together.
If your partner is into games and you can afford it, consider—no matter how sad this might sound—setting up a spare TV and console so you can both play your individual massive games companionably. This is how my partner and I got through all the Dark Souls games.
Bargain with your partner
If there’s a big game that you really want to play coming up, why not valiantly volunteer to stay home once the kids are in bed for a couple of nights that week so your partner can go out with their friends? If you’re extremely organized, take the kids away for a day the month before, then you can reasonably bargain for a day to yourself to play. What never works is rolling along as usual without making any special effort for your partner and then acting baffled when they object to you being essentially absent from their evenings because a new game has come out. If you make an effort in advance, they may be happy to give you some time to play in return.
Let go of guilt
One of the things I realized on maternity leave was that making time to play games was important self-care, not some guilty pleasure. I’d had a baby, not a personality transplant. It can sometimes feel like games aren’t important enough to make time for, like you should always be prioritizing work or parenting or, I dunno, learning Italian. But you need time for yourself. So go home at 5pm, or give yourself permission to spent 35 minutes with a game in the mornings rather than checking work email before you head out.
I encounter so many people who say they used to love video games but just don’t have space in their lives for them anymore, or who’ve given up on finding time to play something like Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s fine if there are other things that give you pleasure that you’ve decided to do instead. But if games are something you really love, don’t feel guilty about making time for them.