The Play Clock

The video game’s play clock ticked over the forty-eight-hour mark. Time was, that would have been something to celebrate; “Yeah, man – I’ve literally spent days of my life on that thing.”

It was far from the only game I’d spent time like that on, too. The record was still somewhere around seven days.

Seven whole days of my life.

Not that I racked up all this time in one sitting, mind. I did other things too. The strange thing was seeing how my emphasis changed over the years; from play clock numbers being something to celebrate, to something to monitor and keep an eye on.

You see, it wasn’t so much about just the fun of playing anymore – it was making sure I got bang for my buck. A return on my investment. the clock was a way to check that the amount I played warranted the initial outlay.

Besides, it was a hobby. Other people have hobbies that are equally ridiculous, if not more so. I once saw a clip of a guy doing some ironing on top of a mountain. It all takes time and money.

But, the older I got, the more I began to wonder what my life would be like if I had sunk those hours and days into something else. I always hesitated to say something more constructive – just something else.

I know people who sunk their time into music – its something they still enjoy, but it’s hardly as if they are selling out concert halls or anything. In fact, a few of them ended up in cosy office jobs. They could have been huge, back in the day.

Other people went travelling to weird and wonderful places. Some of them made careers out of it. Some of them just used all their money to get out and get away for a while.

Some raced cars. Others devoted themselves to art.

Most of them still have day jobs and responsibilities. Or rather, they did last time I spoke to any of them. In most cases that in itself was a while ago, thanks to Facebook constantly spouting a stream of their filtered lives anyway. They all seem to be OK and enjoying showing off. Facebook arrived late for us, when we were in university, and I always seemed to get on better with the people who were too busy to waste time on it anyway – the people actually doing what they loved, instead of wasting valuable time showing the world.

But don’t get me wrong – I like travel, music and art, too. I just like video games more.

Anyway, the point is that, ultimately, most of those lives didn’t pan out radically different to mine, despite the fact they sunk their spare time and money into other things.

The play counter ticked over to 49 hours. I was definitely getting my money’s worth with this one, even if I couldn’t recall much of what had happened in the last hour. I had been that lost in my thoughts.

It was all moot, anyway; I couldn’t go back and change any of it. I couldn’t suddenly go “Yes, I’ll play bass all the time. I will be great.” I didn’t even start mucking about with music until I was in the tail-end of my teens and finally starting to get a bit of self-esteem after a slow start.

Besides, to go back and do it differently would be to erase a lot of cherished memories of playing with friends, back in the day. Laughing, joking, yelling. All huddled around a screen as a universe of shapes and colours danced in front of us. Stories would suck us in and stay with us. Confused adolescent feelings would get channelled into realms where we had control, and power, and could be victorious.

We all lived in different places now. Did different things.

The sun slipped over the houses outside my window as another day began to draw to a close.

My character jumps and yips and cheers on the screen as brightly coloured things dance around the screen and tell me what a good job I’ve done.

I tell myself I don’t regret still spending my time this way. At least I’m not wasting my life doing drugs or watching TV or something.

I make myself smile at the screen. This is far better than watching TV.

I tell myself I’m still happy. I can’t change anything I’ve done. Not that I’d want to.

There’s no point changing what I like to do now – I’m too far gone and I’ve spent too much money on it over the years. Besides, that play clock needs to hit 60 hours before I feel as though the purchase has been justified.

And anyway, I’m still enjoying it. So what if everyone else moved on – I’m still having fun.

I think.

The play clock continues to climb. It gets dark outside and I don’t even really notice.

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