Have you ever grown tired of gaming?  Perhaps you just didn’t care about any new releases or systems, so your proverbial “gaming itch” had been completely scratched.  I think that every gamer has his or her moment in their lives where playing just wasn’t desirable anymore.  Mine happened around 2009, and I almost quit completely.

Up until that time, I had always been a “big boy.”  I thinned out a little in high school, but as soon as college was upon me, mixed with a full time work schedule, I began eating out much more often.  Fast food was quick, cheap, and tasty; I could pick it up on my way home from a long day at school and eat it while driving.  During this time, I gained a lot of weight. To put it in perspective, I am 5’6”, and during this incredibly obese time, I was 240 lbs.  A year after I had moved to Southern California, I decided it was time for change.

No, I didn’t become an exercise nut.  I began eating less, counting calories, and playing basketball regularly.  I hate running and I’m not a fan of gyms, but put me into some type of competition, and I enjoy it tremendously.  I thoroughly enjoy basketball, so I managed to gather a group of people to play 5 times a week. I was no Jordan by any means, but I had a ton of fun all while burning calories. This simple exercise regime had massive effects on my body and I quickly dropped a ton of weight.

 

Look at that double chin!


Look at that double chin!

I ended up losing about 50 lbs.  I didn’t want to be sedentary anymore.  I kept active all the time.  I never felt like life had passed me by.  I felt good about my life; I was around friends I loved, I felt better both physically and mentally, and for the first time in my life, women actually began looking at me as more than just a really good friend.  Notice anything missing from the formula?  I didn’t play games anymore, not because I hated them, but because I simply didn’t want to anymore.

 

I felt like a brand new man, and met my (creeping) wife during this time


I felt like a brand new man and met my (creeping) wife during this time.

In September, 2009, I met the woman who would become my wife, and we began dating.  This was new territory for me and I was loving it.  We spent time with each other and our friends, which included a guy named Christian.  We were all inseparable.  However, one night in December, Christian decided to skip out on the fun and stay home.  I was confused. Christian was very much like me and his friends were his family.  I had to ask why he was bailing out. He had two words for me: Mass Effect.

He had finished the first Mass Effect some time before and was playing through it again in preparation of the second game, which was being released the next month. I gave an, “Ah, gotcha,” and moved on with the conversation, but Christian wouldn’t let it go.

“Mike, you play games right?”

“No, not anymore.  Not really.  Just out doing other stuff.  Why?”

“You need to play this game.  I know you and your taste for movies.  This game…just trust me, you’ll love it.”

A few days later, after completing the game a second time, he passed it on to me.  I didn’t play the game right away.  It sat on my desk at home, collecting dust, while I was either at work, church, school, or with friends.  Finally, January rolled around, and I found myself with a day off.  Everyone else was working or doing something else, so I stayed home for the day and relaxed.  I looked over at my desk and noticed Mass Effect was still sitting there, begging to be played.  I thought, “Why not?” and proceeded to set the game in my Xbox 360 tray.  I booted it up and began my journey as Shepard.

Just look at all these interesting characters, each with their own backstory

Just look at all these interesting characters, each with their own backstory.

My excitement for gaming was renewed from the opening scene of the game. Sci-fi aesthetics and innovative gameplay elements combined to remind me of my passion for gaming.  I played Mass Effect the entire day, burning away the hours while I burned away the Geth.  Heck, I must have spent at least 45 minutes just creating my own Shepard.  I explored every world I could, nabbing elements to use later on.  Every choice I made was influenced by my desire to become a Paragon; I always try to be the “good guy” in these types of games.  I was also very driven to gather my team and hold the trust of each and every one of them.  The entire game was a balancing act of making the right decision and the popular decision, trying to appease as many as I could without letting the universe fall into destruction and becoming a Renegade.

I had to allocate my time between searching planets, continuing the story,  and deciphering which narrative elements to tackle at what times.  As I leveled up my character and had to choose which ones to bring on missions with me, I had to plot how each person/alien was leveled up.  There was even an option to choose which love interest to have.  It was completely balanced and cohesive until the very end (sorry, but I cannot reveal my formula!)

Click the picture to watch "Race Against Time: The Final Battle"

Click the picture to watch “Race Against Time: The Final Battle.”

The narrative content in the game, both in size and quality, astonished me as well. Racism (“species-ism?”), genocide, “one-life-for-one-billion-lives” decisions; the game seemed to have it all.  My favorite part, hands down, was toward the end in a segment titled, “Race Against Time: The Final Battle.”  A Reaper had attached itself to the Citadel Tower with Saren hiding in the Council Chamber.  The elevator didn’t work and stairs were not an option.  So what did Shepard command his team to do?  Suit up to go outside. 

I was in awe running up the side of the Citadel Tower, battling Geth along the way, avoiding the enormous Reaper’s attacks.  I had to move forward, but also take cover, and take out enemies.  This reminded me why I loved playing games. They have the capacity to bring the gamer into a fictional world and have some sort of stake in it, leaving the gamer with the desire to play more and enjoy every aspect.

I was so struck by the first Mass Effect that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second.  January 26, 2010 couldn’t come fast enough for me.  My interest in video games had been completely revitalized.

Just look at this picture and tell me you don't want to play this game!

Just look at this picture and tell me you don’t want to play this game.

(SPOILERS) From the moment I watched Commander Shepard die, right at the outset of the game, I was hooked again.  The story and gameplay improvements (especially regarding the battle elements and planet exploration) impressed me even more than the original had.  Once I followed the story to its end, revealing the Illusive Man and what he was (somewhat) planning, I realized I had been imbalanced.

Playing Mass Effect 1 and 2 brought me back to the gaming world with a swift kick to remind me what was and is always in my blood; that I just had to balance it appropriately.  This lesson has played a huge part in my life, even presently; I am a husband and father to a beautiful wife and amazing son. I hear so often that when gamers have kids, gaming all but completely disappears from their lives because of priorities. Yes, I have even more priorities and responsibilities than I ever have before, but I’ve managed to balance my life.  I devote my attention to my wife and son daily, and I have been able to make time for extended family, my friends, and of course, myself.

This balance has also proven reliable in my daily diet, keeping my weight off while still being able to enjoy food.  At work, home, in my diet, while I write; in my overall lifestyle, balance is key.

I can honestly say that if I hadn’t played Mass Effect 1 and 2, I might not be writing at all today.  I could very well have left video games behind me forever.  Thanks to Christian, and most importantly BioWare for bringing me back to the gaming community.

Balance achieved.