I have, like most of you reading this, frequently been a victim of criticism for my love and hobby of video games. I’ve fielded questions from friends and family that range from “How much does that cost you?” and “You’re watching other people play games online instead of playing yourself?” to “Don’t you feel like that’s a waste of time?” and “Isn’t there anything else you could be doing with your time?” As if we had to justify what we do with our spare time, there always seems to be someone who disapproves of the use of my personal finances and leisure. Nevertheless, as much as it isn’t anyone else’s business, the principle behind these questions is sound. Are you budgeting your finances appropriately to allow you to safely and comfortably play what could easily turn into an expensive hobby? Is your time being used wisely so that all of your responsibilities are being met, including personal enjoyment and mental well-being?
It’s unfortunately true that as we age, our responsibilities pile up on us and leave us with fewer resources, be it financial, emotional, or attentive. Another unfortunate truth is that as these responsibilities compile, we sometimes find ourselves unequipped to actively task each of these appropriately in a way that leaves us feeling accomplished and complete. Sadly, since the school system in the US doesn’t necessarily teach us actual adult life skills and instead seems preoccupied with the importance of the inner workings of cells and other largely useless information for the general populace (don’t get me started, I could go on and on), many of us are aging without the simple advice and skills that with very little effort could ease the burdens of our daily life.
I do not claim to be a finance or life management expert, but I will say this: at certain times in my life, I have found myself anxious about my duties, unable to manage all that I had to do. Those responsibilities have not ceased. If anything, they’ve increased; I now have three children and a wonderful wife to keep happy, work 40-50 hours each week, cohost a podcast, write video game reviews and editorials, and visit the gym regularly. I certainly wouldn’t be able to fit video games into this schedule without the help of my wife, whose contributions can’t be ignored, but also not without researching, practicing, and implementing time and money management skills. These are some things that worked for my life and have allowed me to incorporate gaming into my days and nights, and hopefully, some of these can help you too.
Time is Money… but mostly, it’s Time
Some years ago, a friend of mine remarked on his bafflement that all of his friends were slowly leaving him alone in his online video game communities. As his friends aged and accepted the responsibilities of aging, they slowly slipped away from their favorite pastime. He questioned whether marrying caused a rift in personal interests that led his friends towards sacrificing what they wanted to do for the better interest of their newfound matrimony. “I can’t imagine,” said he, “that I will ever be in a position where getting married causes me to stop playing video games.” Years have passed, he’s since been wed, and I’ve noticed, to no fault of him, a significant drop in the time he spends playing video games. Some of our mutual friends have, in fact, accused him of succumbing to the same trap of which he was once the critic.
Needless to say, marriage is just one of the many obstacles I’ve faced in my quest to do literally nothing else but play video games. I must be conscious of my wife’s time and the precious minutes we get to spend together during the day. Add into the equation children, fitness, meal preparation, grad school turned career, and regular every-day obligations, and days seemingly turn to minutes, becoming increasingly shorter. How are we to find time in a busy world for something as trivial as entertainment, let alone video games?
The key to this enigma is how we manage priorities. When you arrive home from work at night, how do you spend the time given to you? Do you crash on the couch for an hour to watch a basketball game, eat a heavy meal sure to weigh on your eyelids, and then spend 45 minutes reading political arguments on Facebook from people we haven’t spoken to since middle school? Do you deny yourself of time that could otherwise be spent on constructive hobbies you enjoy, solving puzzles or socializing with friends and family?
With young children in my home, it is difficult for me to play games while they are awake unless the games are simple enough for them to join in. Frequently, I attempt to play games that they can play with me, saving more mature games for after their bedtimes. Other duties that require my attention are also sometimes accomplished with their assistance and involvement – exercising, making and cleaning up after meals, and household chores are a little less dreary when I’ve got an exuberant toddler helping me in their own special way. This leaves time to game in the evening’s later hours, something that I sometimes also do with my wife present or cooperatively participating. By incorporating gaming as a hobby into my family’s life, I’ve been able to sustain a healthy active lifestyle while also enjoying my leisure with those around me.
Examine the responsibilities you have on a day-to-day basis. List the things you have to do, as well as the things you want to do, and give yourself an appropriate time frame for each of them. Map what a typical day looks like, and how much time you’ll spend doing each task. I presume that there is more time in your day than you imagine, and with scheduling these simple duties and setting times and expectations, you’ll be able to eliminate the downtime between and after your responsibility, increasing the amount of free leisure time that you have. Again, if video games are a priority for you, then make it a priority. Schedule it in, set a time limit, and make sure your other responsibilities get handled as well.
Time management is a difficult skill to learn and even harder to regularly implement, but with practice and diligence, learning how to juggle responsibilities effectively while making the most of the time available to you will ease your burdens and free some of those lost minutes into time for entertainment. You still may not be able to play games every day, but you will be able to enjoy your leisure more readily.
If Time is Money, then Money is… Also Money
Let’s assume that you’ve scheduled into your busy calendar dedicated time in front of your favorite screen, playing games to your heart’s content. This would be great, except that you’ve spent all of your money on your bills and now have none for video games. With rent prices on the rise, an increasingly competitive job market, and the inevitability of rising costs of living as we and those around us age, we have to be cognizant of where our money is going. Nevertheless, as with time, it is important that we budget even a small amount of spare resources to keep us mentally stable and allow us to unwind from the grind.
Luckily, for those of us living in 2020, it has never been cheaper to be an active gamer. If you own a PC, digital storefronts like the Epic Game Store, GoG, and Steam all have frequent sales, discounting some of their most popular titles to more affordable figures. You may not be playing games immediately upon their release, but good games are good forever, and they’ll be waiting for you when you (and your wallet) are ready. Keep an eye out for daily or seasonal sales on these platforms – the savings add up very quickly.
For console gamers, the ease of purchasing and playing used games has only increased since the advent of internet marketplaces. Gone are the days of trading old games for pennies and purchasing overpriced used games from GameStop. Most releases can be had at a significant decrease only months after their initial release date from sellers on Amazon and eBay, as long as a lightly used disc or cartridge doesn’t upset you too much. Personally, I’ve purchased a handful of games secondhand from these sources, and have never had a negative experience with the product.
Game subscription services are increasingly popular on PC and console, with the likes of Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Now, Origin Access, and (to a lesser extent) Nintendo Switch Online. Most of these services are very affordable, around the price of (or less than) a Netflix subscription. These services offer between tens and hundreds of games from each consoles back catalog to play to your heart’s content. These games aren’t bargain bin busts, either; I’m currently playing Bloodborne on PlayStation Now for a much cheaper price than had I bought the game! Examine the options available for your current gaming situation and which game catalog is right for you. I think you’ll be surprised by what these companies are offering.
You will, of course, be paying premium prices to stay current in the video game sphere of influence. This year, gamers are anticipating the release of next-generation consoles from both Sony and Microsoft. These consoles are likely to retail at around US$500 apiece, no measly sum. Taxes and games to actually play on said systems only increase this financial burden. But as I’ve said, it’s never been cheaper to be an active gamer as it is in 2020. The NES, Nintendo’s first home console system released in 1986, would cost nearly $450 in 2020 if we adjust for inflation. The ill-fated Sega Saturn, released in 1994, would cost almost $650 today. For $500 this fall, you can get a much more powerful and interactive gaming console.
But a lot of good that does if you don’t have that $500 to begin with, right? Knowing that these consoles will release, however, is key to procuring this money for use. I began saving $50 per month (or less than $25 per paycheck) in November of 2019, anticipating that I will be spending approximately $600 on the Playstation 5, a game, and some peripherals at its presumed release in November of 2020. Most adults with a full-time job in the US could spare a $25 investment per paycheck, if they know in advance where that money will be going. Even if you start right now in February of 2020, only $33 per paycheck (assuming you get paid twice monthly) should save you nearly $600 by November. That originally daunting sum suddenly becomes a lot more reasonable. Please note: this strategy of budgeting does not apply only to consoles. If you want new games but don’t have the on-hand funds, stash a little away each paycheck prior to the game’s release, and that coveted experience shall be yours.
If the investment for up-to-date consoles is too big of a bite to chew and the financial struggles you face are too great to invest seriously into gaming as a hobby, then there have never been more free (yes, FREE!) gaming options than there are right now. On both PC and consoles, free-to-play structures are becoming ever more common, as cosmetic microtransactions support developers in ways that traditional game sales once did. Some of the most popular games in the world at the time of this writing, including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and Fortnite, are all free to play and relatively easy to run on most computers. Even the Epic Game Store gives away a free game every week, and has for over a year! If your computer can’t run some of these games, there is a nearly endless supply of free and/or open-source games available on the World Wide Web. Some of the most popular include Spelunky, Starcraft, Cave Story, and Dwarf Fortress. Each of these games have large bustling communities and – most importantly – are completely and legally free.
As with time, if you prioritize how your money is spent – and spend what you do have wisely – it is not always difficult to budget in a small amount for what can reasonably be considered a relatively cheap hobby. Find sales, browse local and online used markets, and make use of free offerings to build a game library that will never leave you bored again.
Do What You Love
The older I get and the more time and effort I spend on providing shelter, food, and safety to those I love, I find that it becomes increasingly important to carve time for myself and retain pieces of my identity. For me, that includes spending time and money playing and reviewing video games for Level Down Games, and appearing on the Max Level Podcast. This takes sacrifices from myself, my wife, and my children. I have to work harder to ensure that my responsibilities are sufficiently met prior to committing to video games. I also have to ensure that I’m appropriately budgeting my expenses to allow myself financial stability in buying and subscribing to different video game services. Nevertheless, when the sacrifices are made, I’m always glad I worked a little harder to be able to enjoy the time I’ve been given. If any of these tactics work for you, or if you do anything in your life to ensure a stable and healthy gaming life, let us know in the comments below!