The last few months have been difficult on both the writing and the editing fronts. Part of it has been because, like so many others, real life has been interfering. Part of it has been because I’ve worked pretty much non-stop for several years with no time off. Even when I’ve had what passes for vacations, I’ve taken work with me. So there really has been no down time and, as a result, I hit the wall. Full-blown burnout happened and for a long while I didn’t realize it. All I knew was that it felt like I was walking through molasses and not getting anything done.
It finally dawned on me about two weeks ago what was happening. It didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks. Nor did the sun suddenly shine and bring with it the realization of what was wrong. No, it was a slow process that, once completed, had me wanting to hit my head against the wall for being so dumb. Looking back, I could see the symptoms. They were plain to see, if I’d only been looking. But I hadn’t been looking and paid the price.
However, it is a price that — surprisingly — has a bit of a silver lining. As my brain started coming back to life, I started looking at what I was doing and why. What I was doing was gaming, a lot of gaming. In the evenings and into the night, whenever I was home, I was gaming. In particular, I was playing three games: Mass Effect 1 – 3. More than that, I played through them not once, but twice and did so back-to-back. That’s not something I normally do. Sure, there are some games I play more than once. But I have never finished a game and then turned right around and played it again.
So what was it about these three games that had me doing just that? And was it something that could be put to work with my writing?
For those of you not familiar with the Mass Effect games, you can get all the info you want here. The short version is that the games are science fiction adventure games: part shooter, part real time strategy, part role playing. You can create Shepard, the character you play as, to be male or female, choose physical appearance and class, much as you can in many games. So that isn’t why I kept coming back to the games. That still begs the question of why I did.
That’s really simple. Bioware, the creator of the games, created an over-all story arc that had me invested in it. My choices in dialog and action had an impact not only on the game I was playing but also on the subsequent games. I became a part of the story. So I had to think about what I was doing and not just pressing a button. Hmmm. So if I answered this questions one way and this happened, what would happen if I answered it this other way?
But it was more than that. Bioware had done this same thing in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and other games. It’s a fun way to keep your gamer interested, but it wasn’t what kept me going. Especially not when I was as burned out as I happened to be. Making me think at such times is usually the quickest way to send me off to something else. So what was it?
It took me a bit, but I finally figured it out. It was the storyline and over-all story arc (although, like many who have played all three games, I’m not completely satisfied with the ending). But most of all, it was the characters. Throughout the three games, there is a core group of characters Shepard works with. These are more than just placeholders, there to give your character something to react to. They have their own histories and you can develop them and their powers. With downloadable content, you can find out more about them. If you are so inclined, and “talk” with them in the right way, you can even have sexual encounters with some of them — and let me tell you, it’s damned embarrassing when that happens and your 80 year old mother happens to walk behind you and gets and eyeful (not that it is anything but PG-13 if that).
For me, at least, it was wanting to know what happened to each of the characters that kept me playing. There is a point in the first game where you have to choose which of your two main companions you are going to leave in a situation you know will mean that character’s death. There will be no respawning. What you choose will impact the plot for the next two games. Do you sacrifice a potential romantic interest? Do you sacrifice the specialist? In the second game, can you move fast enough through the enemy to keep another teammate alive? In the third game, what do you mean there’s nothing I can do to keep this member of my team from sacrificing themselves?
So I became invested in what happened to my team as much as I did in my own character. More than that, as I came to the end of Mass Effect 3, I could see how almost every member of the team had a story to tell, a story I wanted to know. Even though the series is supposedly done, I want more. I want to know more about these characters, both before Mass Effect began and after the events of Mass Effect 3.
In other words, the games captured my imagination and, in doing so, jump-started me out of the burnout I’d been in for so long. It started me thinking about how I can keep readers invested in the Nocturnal Lives series, how to keep it from becoming stale. It jump-started the space opera that has been demanding to be written for two years but that has had me stymied at the same time. It has, basically, turned on the writer in me again and that, in turn, has let the editor come back out to play.
Maybe it was simply taking time — well, being forced to take time because I couldn’t do anything else — and not trying to force myself to do something that just wasn’t happening that got me over the burnout. But I honestly think it was being able to play through these three games, to enjoy the writing of them and the possibilities presented, that had a hand in it. The simple truth of the matter is, by doing so, my subconscious started thinking about issues that had been bothering me. I worked out a lot of the issues before I even realized I was doing so.
That still leaves me with the questions of how to continue the Nocturnal Lives series without it growing stale. But I have ideas now, ideas I like a whole lot better than the ones I’d been working with. Then there’s the space opera that I mentioned. I’d put it on the back burner long ago because it was too much like stuff already out there. Now I have an idea of how to make it mine. The same with another project, the secret project, that is so far behind schedule that I’ll be lucky if my editor will still take it.
Burnout can happen to any of us. How we manage to get past it varies from person to person. For me, for now, I’m glad to say I’ve manage to pull through this bout and in better condition than I’ve been in a long time. Better yet, I’ve done so with inspiration for not only my own personal projects but for my professional role as well. Here’s hoping it is a long time before faced with this again. Fingers crossed.
Of course, my fingers are also crossed that Bioware isn’t completely through with the Mass Effect universe. I really do want to know more about the characters and about what happened as a result of the ending(s) of ME3.
Um. Sorry. Overlord creeping through there.
Yeah, for me the Overlord series has the same effect. Apart from the sheer delight of being evil and having ugly-cute gremlinesque minions gleefully smashing everything in sight, the storyline of these games has so many layers that I’m still finding them on the… oh man, 6th, 7th play through?
The more time I spend Overlording, the more burned out I am. And when I start spawning Overlord fanfic, I know I’m on the way to recovering.
All I need now is for the company to make Overlord 3. They know evil. Their teaser a couple of months back was pure unadulterated evil.
You know my thoughts on Overlord. I freaking love it. But that is one I tend to play whenever. I haven’t just sat down and played each iteration of it back to back. Although, it may be time to do so 😉
Hey, Gnarl is the snarkiest baddy in a long time.
Gnarl is wonderfully evil. You do have to be careful not to have anything in your mouth when he’s talking, because a lot of his commentary is spray the keyboard funny.
I love Rhianna Pratchett’s description of him as “the cuddly face of evil”.
Well, there’s always the “Kirk method”. Hack the game so your characters don’t die. [Wink]
And I’m sure someone has done so, but it will screw with the rest of the series 😉
Actually, it has been interesting to see how the different decisions impact the games down the road.
Most of the games I like are a little more simplistic than that. The Onimushaa series by Capcom,…although 3 is a tad more into story arc…lots of movie cut scenes you HAVE to sit through til you’ve beaten the game the 1st time through. Mercenaries, Ratchet and Clank, Doom…..
I’ll admit it…I like to kill people and break shit
Hey, I love Ratchet and Clank. I pull out the PS2 periodically to play through those games. Same with Jak and Daxter. And yes, I like to kill people and break shit too — it’s a great stress reliever. That’s why this bit was so different and why I figured I needed to think about why. I simply don’t do the long games all the way through and certainly not back to back to back like this.
I play ‘Defense Grid’ – I enjoy the tower defense games, but with the story line and the exceptionally good voice actor, I get so drawn into the story that I just want to keep playing – because that guy is my *friend*. OK, he’s been downloaded (uploaded?) into a computer thousands of years ago – but that doesn’t make any difference. He’s still real. It’s him and me against the invaders. There are moments when his grief makes me weep with him – and higher praise than that, I have for no game. Yeah, it takes time away from stuff. But, funny thing – when I was being so very sick for several months, and couldn’t write because ‘that’ part of my brain wasn’t functioning (and it’s still not 100%) — I couldn’t play Defense Grid. It used the same areas, or at least tapped into them. Realizing *that* was really weird!
For me, number games and writing work together. If I’m doing artwork, I have massive stoooopid when I try to switch to either writing or sudoku.
Lin, that’s another reason why playing these games when I’ve been so burned out surprised me. They do require thought, at least they do from me. As I said earlier, that usually means I move onto something that I can do simple button-pushing on without having to make decisions. Now that my brain is working, I can really appreciate the way the story arc has been developed in ME and how the writers for the series managed to hook me and keep me hooked through three games that do take time to complete, especially if you try to do everything in the games.
And Amanda, I’m glad you got out of the burnout. Next time you’ll recognize it sooner, right? And games . . . sometimes I think books and games are going to meet in the middle, somewhere.
Pam, I’d like to think so. This is the first time in a very, very long time when I haven’t realized that burn out had hit and hit badly, at least not until I’d been in it for much too long already. As for games and books meeting somewhere in the middle, they are starting to already. The tie-in books for some of the more popular games are starting to garner larger reader numbers and that’s the first step.
‘Ah, yes, Visual Novels. A Video game that wraps multimedia content around a branching story. Many have been marketed to the Japanese audience, and there are notable anime adaptations. We have dismissed this claim.’
Anyway, I dunno if you are aware of these, or if there is some reason they don’t fit the criteria you describe. I had the same thought the last time I noticed a similar comment here, I don’t think I said anything then. (This was probably some years back.)