Hi, I'm Chris Carter. I play a lot of videogames. I mean, seriously, a lot. Specifically, this year I've played about 100 new games in 2013 (and by "new," I mean released after January 1st, 2013). Over the past few years, I've gotten a lot of questions as to how I manage this as a married man with multiple responsibilities.
Obviously every situation is different, but I'm sharing some tips in the hopes that you'll find more time to manage your passion. Because let's face it -- there's more great videogames out there than any one individual can enjoy.
Manage your time
This is easily the biggest way to maximize your gaming -- breaking down your daily schedule, and find time to fit it in. It sounds so simple right? Well, obviously depending on your mindset, it may be extremely difficult.
Now, I personally don't get a lot of downtime, by my own design. If I'm not working or spending time with my wife, in all likelihood I'm consuming media, or at the very least, researching something, so I don't have to spend hours learning about basic mechanics when I pick up a future game. That's not to say I don't relax -- everyone needs to relax -- but when I feel the need to unwind and I feel like playing games, I find games that do the trick (grinding in MMOs while listening to trance music works great).
Not everyone is that tenacious, but if you find yourself wanting to game more while relaxing in other ways perhaps finding a genre that you can casually enjoy in bits is the best way to fit things into your busy schedule. Smartphones and portables have an increasingly large amount of games that make it easier to experience in small chunks, but they're not the only thing you can partake in.
The easiest way to eliminate a backlog, I've found, is to arrange your games in order from shortest to longest. Starting with Xenoblade (a common backlog perpetrator) is generally not a good idea if you want to start chipping away at your library of unfinished titles. As you start to clear the games that are under ten hours, you'll find yourself getting in a groove, and normalizing your schedule around playing shorter games.
Eventually, you can work the longer games in, but you'll also have to face facts -- some of the larger JRPGs you cleaned out as a child just won't make the cut. Don't stress about it, just come to terms with it, and adjust accordingly. Of course, if you took those RPGs on the go, it may be a different story.
Portables are by far the easiest way to get more gaming in. Ages ago, many people would call portable experiences "inferior," but this is by and large a notion of the past. The 3DS, smartphones, and the Vita are all capable of great experiences that can rival or in some cases surpass any other machine out there.
For instance, instead of slowly plodding through your Persona backlog on your PS2, think about investing in a Vita and playing Persona 4 Golden, or any number of downloadable PSP Persona ports instead. As a reviewer, I love when I'm assigned portable games, as I know there's no doubt in my mind that I'll be able to complete the game and deliver on time. Portables allow a convenience I just can't get anywhere else, as I'm able to play them in bed, spending time with my wife while she reads, on vacation or day trips, and on the go.
Even if you're at work, and you don't like the idea of playing a portable at your desk, use your lunch break to drive out somewhere, and just relax while playing something. Use our reviews landing page to find a ton of great games on all three of the major portable platforms. You may be resistant at first, but I've met plenty of people who now almost exclusively game on portables.
By the same token, don't underestimate the power of remote play on the Wii U -- you may find yourself wanting to play more when you're not tied down to the TV, even if you don't share it with anyone. It's a psychological effect that may allow you to justify more gaming, or at the very least, make you feel more comfortable during your sessions.
Manage your sleep
As a general rule, it's important to get plenty of sleep to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Of course, not every human being needs eight to ten hours of sleep every night. Every person is different, and studies vary, but the "sweet spot" in many instances is six to seven hours of sleep per night.
Learn your sleep cycle and build around it. If you don't wake up that well, play games at night and force yourself to wake up -- always shower, even if you aren't planning on going out that day, as it helps you normalize your routine and keeps you energized throughout the day. If you find yourself in bed fairly early, wake up a little earlier and get some time in with a game before you go to work or get ready for your weekend duties. You may find yourself more refreshed if you're mastering your sleep cycle, and able to get more gaming in.
While I don't recommend energy drinks or caffeine pills for health reasons, trying out tea or coffee can be beneficial in moderation. If you aren't a fan of either beverage, you can modify both in plenty of ways to suit your needs. Anyone who knows me is aware of my love of iced tea, which has gotten me through many mornings.
Manage your relationships
Similar to giving advice on sleep, giving general relationship advice can be counter-productive. Every single couple is different and to act like there's some golden ticket to relationships is naïve. But if you're in a relationship right now, being upfront about where your passions may lie (in this case, videogames) is always important.
In many cases, easing non-gaming significant others into your hobby isn't easy. But with the right games (mindless hack-and-slash titles like Champions of Norrath, or easy-to-pick-up puzzle games like Layton), they may develop a more casual interest. The rise of smartphones has made this even easier with an increasing amount of social games.
Not everyone is going to want to marathon a hardcore JRPG -- some people just don't like videogames as a hobby, and you have to be prepared to be at peace with that. But by the same token, most significant others will be receptive and supportive if you're upfront with them, and more open about it. If they absolutely positively do not want to play games with you, more likely than not they will be okay with your hobby in moderation.
My wife grew up playing games casually with her father (NES and SNES), but isn't into as gaming as much as I am. So I attempt to ease her into other genres and play co-operative games whenever possible. If you're finding your significant other resenting you for hoarding up and playing 80-hour JRPGs all the time, try to be more inclusive, and offer her a controller in a multiplayer game. You may not only get more gaming time as a result, but you'll develop a healthier relationship.
Wheel and deal
What good is time when you can't afford to buy games? I've spoken about this subject in the past, but this advice is eternal -- be thrifty when it comes to purchasing media. In the age of the Internet, a deal is always a click, or a day away, and patience is a virtue. Many, many games have dropped from $60 to $40 in a matter of weeks, so if you find yourself spending too much on games, just wait. Really, stop and think about whether or not you need that game with massive quantities of day-one DLC, and ponder on whether or not that publisher usually does Game of the Year editions.
Don't count out one retailer or outlet just because of perception. I've picked up many rare games through GameStop, and I've made tons of profit from trading in things at the right times. Through careful deliberation, utilizing the "50% extra trade-in" offers in conjunction with other promotions can earn you tons of extra cash. Always check aggregate deal websites like Cheap Ass Gamer, as well as general outlets like Amazon, Green Man Gaming, and Newegg (yes, Newegg has tons of great gaming deals). Also, don't underestimate the value of GameStop, Target, or Walmart brick-and-mortar cold-calling for trade-in values or prices, and the value of an in-store price-match. Thrift stores can also net you crazy deals if you take the time to explore them.
Keep in mind that many outlets will sell you a Steam code, even though they don't advertise it upfront (Amazon and Green Man Gaming do this often). A thrifty shopper uses all of their options, not just the ones in vogue at the time. My rule of thumb is "research before you buy, then research some more." Don't just look up things like replay value (if that matters to you) or quality -- research prices, deals, and deal patterns.
While you're waiting for deals to happen for bigger titles, check out Steam, XBLA, PSN, the App Store, or the eShop for cheaper games to pad the time until that next big AAA sale. Massive Steam sales are one of the best ways to pad your gaming collection, and hooking up a controller and HDMI connection to your TV is an easy way to get more involved with your PC backlog.
Another great tip is to amass a collection of free iTunes games, even if you don't currently own an iOS device. If you create an account and "purchase" all of the free games you can (whether it's a one-day offer or not), somewhere down the line if you ever pick up said device or get one as a gift, you'll have a ton of free stuff to play. You can do this to some extent on the PSN or other places as well, but many of them restrict registration to people who actually own the device.
Play more games!
If your goal is to game more, there are any number of options available to meet that goal. Don't let anyone set your individual parameters, and don't be ashamed if you're going to miss out on a certain game -- it can always wait.
Whether you go on this journey alone or with others, everything is up to you. But always remember -- you have plenty of communities at your disposal, so never be afraid to open up and talk to others about your passion.