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  • Writer's pictureKara San

Me? A Gaming Addiction?

The first ever games I played as a kid were educational games like the Jumpstart series. Occasionally, my parents would allow us to play other games like the Detective Barbie game I received for my sixth birthday. There was this large plastic box we used to have in our home back in Cambodia, where my sibling and I kept all our computer games; there were only about three which didn't count as educational.

When I was nine, my dad bought a Game Boy Advance—while most of my schoolmates were playing on their Nintendo DS—for us to share. We had about ten games, and those had to be accumulated over the course of three years. After finishing most of these games at least 5 times, the games lost their appeal, and the Game Boy gathered dust. My sibling and I would return to these old games every now and then, for nostalgia's sake; they were straightforward and we knew how the stories went. It was just something to kill time.

Then came smartphones and mobile games; most games didn't last particularly long in my phone. I played cute and simple collecting games like Neko Atsume because they didn't really require commitment, and then I fell into Love Live and Mystic Messenger, both of which lasted about a year in my phone. Even then, I eventually grew bored of them too. That, and Love Live took up more space than my phone could handle.

It wasn't until all the hype around ACNH that I started taking an interest in games again. When it was announced that Singapore would go into Circuit Breaker, and with so many of my friends talking about getting Nintendo Switches, I decided that was the best time to pick up a new hobby, so I splurged on my own Switch—since by then I'd been working for almost two years and I didn't need my parents to buy these things for me—and downloaded Untitled Goose Game. I balked at the prices of most of the games—why did the big games cost $75? For the first few days, I stuck to indie games like the Goose Game and Stardew Valley. There was something oddly calming and addictive about Stardew, even if I eventually abandoned it for ACNH, seeing as everyone was playing the latter. At one point, I downloaded Breath of the Wild and Ni No Kuni too. Breath of the Wild stressed me out because I wasn't used to open-world games and I didn't enjoy the prospect of Link dying simply because I was bad at fighting and dodging enemies and I had never needed to be so familiar with all the different controls and their functions; sometimes I wanted to swing my/Link's sword and ended up whistling because I forgot which button I was meant to press. Other times, I forgot Link had these special abilities like creating bombs and all I did was swing a club at a crowd of enemies. As for Ni No Kuni, I couldn't get the hang of the battle mechanics, even if I loved the animation.

Towards the end of 2020, I started hearing about Genshin Impact, be it through ads, or some of my favourite artists getting into it, or because certain characters dominated the Twitter trends (primarily Zhongli). I heard about it being somewhat reminiscent of BOTW, and eventually decided to try playing it on mobile—only it burned up my phone and I deleted the app after unlocking one teleportation point. Earlier this year, I decided to download it on my iPad, since the Switch port didn't seem to be coming any time soon. The iPad wasn't the best platform to play the game, but the moment when I made the Traveller climb up a ledge and I saw the layout of Mondstadt before me, I was very strongly reminded of that scene in BOTW when Link left the shrine he'd been dormant in. I stopped playing the moment I spotted my first ever hilichurl tent, simply because the number of enemies stressed me out. I didn't return to the game until over a month later, when my sibling decided to download it to their laptop and I returned home every evening to them playing it in their room.

On Good Friday, seeing as we had a long weekend ahead, they offered to let me try playing on their laptop (since the game didn't run on Mac). I picked up from where I'd stopped in front of the hilichurl camp, took out the enemies, met Amber, met the Knights of Favonius, unlocked the gacha and pulled Chongyun (my first ever main DPS just because he was cute and not because I understood his kit), Beidou, and Noelle, and started clearing domains. I must've been playing for about two hours; I was incredibly fond of Chongyun, because he was a small kid with a big weapon who had the cutest idle animation that I kept taking him around Mondstadt to snap photos of him whenever I wasn't exploring. Genshin became my stress-relief after a long day of work, especially since I was in the middle of the deadline crunch time and I hardly had the capacity for anything else. It became my escape from the depressing reality of the ongoing pandemic and the different Covid variants, of all the things happening in Myanmar. Teyvat was where I virtually ran to, exploring different landscapes in a time when I couldn't travel and talking to different NPCs, following a rich storyline and taking on side quests, playing the role of a hero who formed valuable friendships along their journey.

Reader, I was hooked.

Playing Genshin after a draining work day became a routine for me; my sibling and I would co-op to take down enemies together, I'd complete my daily commissions in order to earn primogems, which I could then exchange for "wishes" to roll for new characters—yes, the gacha rates were atrocious, but I enjoyed pulling new characters and trying out different playstyles. I liked being left to explore the digital scenery of Mondstadt and Liyue (and recently, Inazuma, if the enemies didn't stress me out so much) in a time when I couldn't get out of the country, I liked learning more about the game-world and its characters, and—this is where I'm more comfortable with Genshin than BOTW—I could bring healers on my team. In other words, I didn't have to worry about running out of food and my character(s) dying from taking too much damage. There were also special statues that I could teleport to if I wanted to heal up my characters immediately. I developed parasocial relationships with my favourite characters (special mention to Kaedehara Kazuha for being such a well-written character despite his limited screen time throughout the archon quests, and for his fun playstyle and pretty character design).

With the developers continuously churning out new content, new events, new storylines and characters, there's almost always something to do, even if the grind of "farming" materials to build my characters could get tedious at times. It was satisfying to see my characters' damage numbers rise as I levelled up their artifacts, weapons, and abilities. It was fun trying out different team compositions and different characters' synergies, challenging myself by using a character who wasn't Yanfei as the team's damage dealer (since she replaced Chongyun as my DPS not long after I pulled her). It was fun trying out characters I didn't have, be it in their banner trials or as part of special events. It was addictive trying to roll for new characters, keeping my fingers crossed that I'd pull someone I wanted, even if I didn't have the material to level them up.

Yet, there is a downside to being kept busy by the game: my other hobbies took a backseat. I might still experience stories through this game, but that meant I had less time to read books, I spent less time writing, listening to podcasts, or drawing. More often than not, I would watch gameplays and character build guides rather than shows on Netflix, instead of getting through my ever-expanding list of anime and movies to watch. While I'm glad the art and character designs of the game meant I had an expanding folder of references to practice my art on, I wasn't putting in enough time to draw or paint anything new. But with the unpredictability of my current job's working hours (haha capitalism and lack of unions or workers' rights), Genshin Impact also became an easier alternative to unwinding after work; instead of reading or drawing, I could just take out a camp of minor enemies to blow off steam and gather materials to ascend my characters. I could walk around enemy-free towns and cities and simply enjoy the game's soundtrack and graphics, or I could explore Inazuma and hope my characters don't get attacked too often as I activate teleportation points.

What started out as a coping and escape mechanism is now a favourite conversation topic between my sibling and me, a hobby that doesn't demand "productivity" through the number of books I read or the number of paintings I churn out, the number of shows I get through or how much I've written. It's been another way for me to bond with my online friend, someone I'd met on Twitter through our love for the same bands, when she co-ops into my world to help me take out enemies or clear domains. It's a hobby free from expectations because I get to play it how I want, and I won't be guilt-tripped into completing particularly difficult world quests. I don't exactly have to be good at anything, and nothing says satisfaction like finally beating a particularly hard boss by yourself for the first time without any of your characters dying. With the game's story still ongoing and several more patches (and regions and new characters) to be released, I think this is going to be a game that stays with me for a long time.

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