On the Joy of Replaying Old Video Games as an Adult

I play video games a lot. Most of my free time is spent playing some kind of video game. This is just how I spend the time. But of note is my choice in which games I choose to play.

I tend to stick mostly to games I’ve played before, but not always with those games I’ve previously finished. I’ve been spending a lot of time revisiting games that I tried when I was younger but had bounced off of at the time.

I’ll pick up Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and continue to make my way through the mission list in just a few hours here and there. I’ll pick up Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town and play through a few days of farming, tending to livestock, fishing, and foraging. I’ll dust off my save of Animal Crossing after a few months, fire up a save editor to remove the weeds, (I really can’t be bothered with being punished for not playing the game) and then play every day for a few weeks.

What differentiates my current playstyle from before is that when picking up a game that I’d dropped for a few months, I am no longer tempted to erase my progress, start fresh, only to go through the same motions when I eventually grow bored of the game and find something else to play. Now, even with long interruptions, I persevere.

If this seems like a trivial development, it’s because you haven’t extrapolated this change outside of mere entertainment. The same thing happened with my creative pursuits.

In March 2021, I was laid off from my full time job as a software developer. Not wanting to repeat a previous mistake, I decided to immediately fill my day with creative pursuits. Between searching job boards and applying to open postings, I tried to dedicate 40 hours a week to a chiptune project I had been working on in my spare time. The main purpose of this was to keep my daily routine and avoid having my sleep schedule drift from my usual. In other words, it was self-care.

Bucking tradition, I found a job within a month of my redundancy. The new duties of this job soon took most of my attention and the chiptune project fell to the wayside. I would write some bits here and there, when I found the time and motivation to continue, but I spent many months not focused on it... until I realized that the project was somewhere around 75% complete. It was nearly finished. I was almost there. This realization brought with it a new desire to see things through to the end. Outside of my usual work hours, my time was dedicated to getting this project out. It was still hard to motivate myself, but it was no longer impossible like it had been once before.

Eventually, I finished my chiptune cover album. I didn’t trash it when I came back to it after dropping it. I picked up what was left unfinished, and I kept chipping away at it. I fulfilled my past desires long after the all-consuming passion had faded into my background thoughts. When all was said and done, I was left with something I felt proud having assembled, and that I feel I can actually share with others. More than that, I was left for the first time in my life feeling like I was actually capable of following through with my own motivations over a lengthy period of time.

It’s sometime later now and while my current health situation makes deep focus nearly unattainable, I still find myself carrying this sense of long term motivation and effort. Most of my free time is spent playing video games, once again attempting adventures I’d failed at in the past, but I am persevering so much better than ever before.

As a child and teenager with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD, my desires to explore virtual worlds and conquer their challenges never translated into the results I desired. What was once demoralizing to my younger self I understand now was just an impossibility. Without an understanding and a mastery of my brain, motivation was just setup for my eventual failure as understimulation sets in. The joy of playing and overcoming games that I just couldn’t stay focused on when I was younger comes from my new perspective. I have capacities I just didn’t have back then. I have perseverance and self-control. By overcoming once impossible challenges, I learn just how hopeless I was without treatment. Every time I continue a game I haven’t touched in months, I learn to let go of the self-hatred that comes from a life of executive dysfunction.

The joy of revisiting old frustrations is the joy of learning to forgive yourself and embrace progress, even if it’s slow and haphazard.