It’s Sunday afternoon, I have no pending deadlines, the weekend chores are done and my partner has offered to cook dinner. I have hours ahead of me I want to dedicate to playing a game. I go to pick one and… can’t. A paralysis of choice. I have too much to play and if I’m not decisive, I’ll fritter away the next three hours, playing nothing, with only a vague recollection of internet memes to remember the day by.
In 2004 American psychologist Barry Schwartz published The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less wherein he argued that an abundance of choice was making individuals anxious, particularly when shopping. However I’m not worried about making a poor purchase, instead I need to validate the purchases I’ve already made. According to Schwartz’s theory, I’m anxious about the missed opportunity I might have by playing the wrong game. When my steam library sits at 499 games, and God knows how many hundreds of those are unplayed, that anxiety is amplified to paralysing levels. When did it get like this?
Most recently I played Dropsy, an indie point and click adventure that wasn’t quite the LSD simulator I imagined it might be from the rainbow coloured title. Before that I played a few engrossing hours of Alien: Isolation and I should really get back to that. There’s another four games from the bundle I bought those two from that I should try too. The choices I face aren’t just to do with what game, but what system. On the iPad I need to get back to Oceanhorn. On the 3DS I should really play Fire Emblem: Awakening. Even with Steam the games installed on my laptop are different to my desktop machine. On the Wii U, I need to get back to Xenosaga Chronicles X, which I’ve barely played since the new year, not because I don’t want to but because something doesn’t feel right.
Choice isn’t the only thing paralysing me, another is the environment. I need to set the mood. Pulling up my GOG Galaxy library, I decided that right now wasn’t the appropraite time to start Planescape Torment, that is to be saved for a rainy day. It also doesn’t feel like the right occasion to play through the second chapter of Kentucky Route Zero. I played the first chapter in the dark of my parents’ sitting room on Christmas Eve while Mum was watching reality TV around the corner. It’s as if I need to recreate that setting to sit down for chapter 2. In fact, the perfect summer’s day that only a nerd like me would prefer to spend inside feels like a day I should playing a simple fun game like Super Tennis, but that would involve setting up the SNES, which involves going behind the TV, which begins to feel like work.
Being a contributor to a gaming blog doesn’t help the situation either. Now I feel obligated to play games, it’s my responsibility write about my experience. Then I’ll play a short amount, like with Alien: Isolation, and feel this is insufficient to have a valid opinion on it. And then when distracted by a different title, my absence from the site becomes protracted and I feel guilty about that. Is it my job to help Pietriot readers make gaming decisions? It was never meant to be that but somehow my brain lumped this and other assumptions on top of me to add to the paralysis. I owe it to the readers, to the other pietriots, to play games. And I’ve been bad, and not playing many games, I feel guilty and that somehow makes it all the more paralysing.
Finally there’s my partner. She studies way too hard all week and I really, really should be spending this free time with her. I think our corporate overlords even declared today a special day for romance. This sense of obligation makes me all the more resistant. As I type now, she’s cooking that dinner I mentioned earlier and this entry has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m going to finish this entry, enjoy a meal, proof read, and publish it. After that I’ll try again to play a game. Let me know in the comments what I should play and if this has ever happened to you.