What is burnout?
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines it as "Physical or emotional exhaustion, especially as a result of long-term stress or dissipation."
For our purposes, games burnout is a state where you feel less or no desire to play games for an indeterminate period.
Burnout implies that the state prior to burnout is tolerable as worst, or desirable at best. Before you were burned out, you were happily going about your life as you wanted to. On the way to burnout, you became more and more dissatisfied with something. Probably, you ignored these warning signs, continued doing just what you were doing, until something that used to be tolerable suddenly and very quickly became intolerable.
What causes burnout?
There are two possible seeds that lead to game burnout: the person or the games. In either case, the rewards you now gain from playing games has now diminished versus the effort involved.
When I speak of reward, I am referring to why you play games. When I speak of effort, I am referring to mental effort to think through the games, the social effort to tolerate your game companions, and physical effort to attend, set up and clean up after the games.
Burnout: the person
People burnout on games as a result of normal, healthy personal growth or due to leading an unhealthy lifestyle.
People who lead happy lives playing games may simply move on to other activities. They may move houses. They may feel that they once gained something from playing games but no longer feel that it represents a challenge to them or that it is helping them with their personal growth.
They may have found some new interest which is more absorbing, or simply be spending more time with a new group of friends or partner.
I'm not sure if this would be considered "burnout" per se. "Real Gamers" may disparage people for abandoning games to pursue other things, but, hopefully, most of us realize how silly that is.
Mind you, I believe that playing games even occasionally is an important and healthy part of everyone's life. When friends tell me that they don't play games at all, I think they are sadly missing out.
On the other hand, people who were "real gamers", and by this I mean devoted to the hobby of gaming as a whole, as opposed to simply willing to play a game as the occasion arises, may burnout for unhealthy reasons.
Often this will be as a result of realizing that they have spent a lot of money or a lot of time while ignoring other important aspects of their life: intellectual growth, emotional well-being, physical exercise, or connecting with real friends and family. Greg's article, to which I linked above, discusses that aspect of burnout.
Burnout: the games
For this I refer you first to an earlier article that I wrote on this blog: The Game Hordes.
Assuming a healthy lifestyle, and no particular changes in circumstances or dissatisfaction with the idea of playing games, I think that players who play less games to more depth are far less likely to burnout on games than those who buy and/or play new games continuously.
For one thing, there are simply too many bad games. Even good games, which you may rate 6 or 7 on the BGG scale, chip away at your enjoyment of games if you play continuously. You are constantly settling for inadequacy, an imperfection that you can feel on either a conscious or unconscious level, in order to participate in the gaming experience. Play after play, this feeling is going to build up into resentment. Why are you doing this?
I don't blame the game companies any more than I blame the movie industries for putting out vapid movies or the food companies for putting out colorful, expensive sub-nutritious food. That's what they do.
But take a long honest look at the games produced in the last five years, and even your favorite game companies. There are thousands of games produced for one reason, and one reason alone: to take your money. No one is putting out games for the benefit of the game players.
If you are buying a lot of these games, or playing a lot of these games, you are either a) a game reviewer; more power to 'em, or b) victim of the marketing industry that hypes every product as the next best thing.
Do you buy based on publisher? Game designer? Theme? Packaging? Play time? Cost? Don't. All of that is crap. Reiner Knizia's name on a box is just as much marketing smoke as the primary colors and pictures used on the cover of the box. It means nothing. It's a hook to get you to buy the game.
You don't need all of those games. And from the sound of all of you who are suffering burnout, you don't want all of those games. That's not what gaming is about.
You may whine and moan about how much fun it is to open a new box, look at all the pretty components, and learn new rules without having to play people who are already better than you are, but I just shake my head at you with pity. Oh, I believe you; that's what you like. You are addicted to candy, and a whole lot of people are happy to keep you addicted that way.
Playing games is about playing excellent games. Playing new games is about looking for new excellent games. Excellent games are the games that you can replay numerous times without getting bored of them; not ten times, but a hundred times or a thousand times. They have multiple levels of skill and give you a feeling of having accomplished something real after playing them. Or, they are passtimes whose entire purpose is not gaming but socializing, and the game play is irrelevant.
What can you do?
- Stop denying that you have a problem. Start doing what you really want to do: connect with your family, get outside, play games that you like.
- Stop spending all of your time with people who you would not ordinarily have conversations with.
- Have alone time to read or meditate and get comfortable with yourself. Don't define yourself as only happy when you are a cog in a game.
- Say no to bad games. Don't buy the hype.
- Stop playing a lot of new games and start replaying the games that you really want to play.