Halo 4

I want a new drug.

So Halo 4 is coming out tomorrow, and I’m still on the fence as to whether I’m going to take the plunge.

No midnight release for me, as I’ve got work starting at 11 P.M. tonight, but I could easily swing by the local Wal-Mart afterwards and nab a copy.  Besides, I stopped waiting in line for most things a long time ago, if I can help it.  I no longer feel I have to inconvenience myself and yell “FIRST!” to be a fan of something.

I must be getting old, and either wise . . . or lazy.  Probably both.  (No Kinect for me, thanks, unless Microsoft’s magic camera can somehow allow your to pilot a Scorpion tank by thrusting your hand in a bag of Doritos and shoveling them into your mouth.)

That I’m not sure about picking up Halo 4 has nothing to do with the fact that this is the first post-Bungie iteration of the franchise — the advance reviews I’ve been glancing over all weekend have quashed any doubt of that.  343 Industries seems to have everything well in hand.

I’m not a hardcore gamer anymore.  I’m barely a gamer, period.  For the most part, I just watch videos on my Netflix Xbox 360.  For the first time in years, I actually let my Gold Live account lapse, and to be honest, I really only renewed it because I’m having some issues with the WiFi on the PS3, and it was easier to renew Live than it was to hunt down an ethernet cable for the PlayStation and sit through Lord knows how many software updates, since it hasn’t been online in a while, just so I could watch a movie.

Part of the reason for my lapse in gaming is simply lack of time.  Most games these days, require a level of commitment that I just can’t seem to muster, whether it’s poorly designed save systems that force me to play for an unpredictable period of time per session that wreaks havoc with my already fragile time management schemes, or the game experience itself is too complex and deep to be able to pull off once or twice a week whenever-you-can-squeeze-them-in sessions.  Like a high-maintenance significant other, you can’t just show up on Monday evening with roses and then disappear without calling the rest of the week and expect to be greeted with open arms.

Another is that I’m still, years after the fact, slightly burnt out on gaming after a good stint as a semi-professional gaming critic / journalist.  When you’re getting paid to play and obsess over videogames on a daily basis, it necessarily becomes more work at times than fun.  The best way I can think of to equate that is being hired on the crew of a porn film: your friends are just a little jealous that this is how you pull down a paycheck, but the truth is, it’s not all attractive, well-endowed people performing on cue.  Lots of times it’s strictly train-wreck amateur hour, and you usually don’t get to pick and choose your call sheets.

The real reason I’m reluctant to jump into Halo 4, though, is the same reason a recovered alcoholic might think twice about going into a bar — the temptation is too great, and ‘just a little’ isn’t an option.  Oh, sure, first it’s one or two matches of Team Slayer, maybe one — JUST ONE, I can stop anytime I want — Capture The Flag, just for old times’ sake . . .

. . . and the next thing you know you wake up late the next day, completely discombobulated, reeking of flop sweat, and cuddling up with this:

Halo 4 Grunt

History has proven I’ve got a very serious case of HalOCD — I don’t recall my exact stats from Bungie.net, but the number of multiplayer matches I’ve been involved since the franchise went online in Halo 2 is in the thousands.  I’m not a leet player, by any stretch of the imagination — I’ll cop to slightly above-average, at best — but it’s not from lack of dedication.

Right now is the worst possible time for me to fall off the wagon: I’m neck-deep in the research and pre-planning necessary to relaunch mine and James Lyle’s DoorMan property as a webcomic, followed by self-publishing a collected physical edition of the comic, as well as a couple other projects I can’t quite talk about yet that are also in a nebulous genesis state — at least until I actually get to sit down and really dig in to get them started beyond just discussions with my collaborators.  My role in these projects isn’t just creative, but an entrepreneurial one, trying to figure out how to make something and get it out there to generate some meager income, or — far more likely at first — at least draw some attention to myself.  So I’m not just writing, but wearing the hat of webmaster, marketing, merchandising, you name it.

The deadlines and schedules I’ve set up to attempt to achieve these goals don’t really have the leeway for a serious Spartan bender.  It’s only November of 2012, and 2013 is already shaping up to be an insanely busy year.

And that might be all the more reason to get me some Halo tomorrow.

I’ve intentionally put myself in a pressure-cooker scenario because I’ve tried going easy on myself and that doesn’t seem to work.  It’s a peculiar form of tough love.  I know myself, and I know I can’t just have ill-defined, lackadaisical goals, or I’ll find plenty of room to procrastinate.  It’s not going to be an easy path, but I think it will be effective (successful is a whole other descriptor entirely).  I’m putting myself far outside my natural comfort zone, forcing myself to develop new skillsets and challenging myself at every turn.  The pure creative end is actually the easy part, but it’s going to require a lot of day-to-day lifestyle changes, not the least of which is making sure I’m working at some facet of it each and every day.  It’s going to take willpower, and if I can’t manage to engage in a little stress-relieving recreational activity in the form of a videogame a couple times a week without losing focus . . . well, I’m in serious trouble.

I read and engage with other people’s stories and writing in the form of books, comics, films and TV shows as a way to relax, but when you’re doing that and you’re also a writer, then the line between work and play immediately becomes blurred.  When I’m reading or watching something, it’s not solely as a fan: my brain is running multiple subroutines in the background, looking at the style of the work and using it as a source of inspiration — what cool little bits can I take and apply to my own work?   The same processes I use while I’m reading over my own work and editing it, I’m applying to this third-party effort.

And my muse never sleeps.  All it takes is a single image, a bit of dialogue, sometimes just a single word and that particular chain of neurons fires, generating a new idea for a story or a character.  So while I’m trying to relax on the beach with a tall, cool drink in my hand, my subconscious is still chained to the desk, pounding away at the keyboard.  I’m not complaining — my muse is very prolific and I’m never wanting for some seed to plant and see what I can grow it into.

But it can be stressful to never really be able to tune it out or switch it off.  I’ve found from experience that playing Halo multiplayer does put me into that Zen-like zone where I’m not multitasking, consciously or subconsciously.  For that period of time, I’m all in, completely focused.  It’s a nice feeling, not to be torn in multiple directions and have my attention subdivided.

I’m also concerned that the same way that I got a lot less enthusiastic about playing games when I got paid to write about them may carry over into other forms of storytelling.  I monetized a hobby, which immediately made it . . . well, not quite a hobby.  If I’m primarily using stories for entertainment, I’m concerned that at some point, I’ll get tired of staying late for work every day.  I’m already in for some long days and nights, so it would be nice to have something that’s completely unrelated with what I’m spending large amounts of time doing as a hopefully professional career, at least at some point soon.  I’m sure that eventually I’ll get tired of Halo 4, but if I can make it a routine of forced downtime to decompress a little, I can always swap in a different game.  Maybe this will rekindle by interest and desire to play videogames again . . . which is actually something I do miss from time to time.  Working the game journalist job did teach me a lot of important writing skills, but it also did take something from me that I’d like to get back.

And, let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like the stress relief of just grabbing a rocket launcher and shooting someone point-blank in the face.

Virtually, of course.

— mal


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