The Perfect Ten: How to deal with burnout

Perfect Ten and GI Joe
I remember the first time I got hit hard by the powerhouse slugger known as "burnout." It was during my second stint in World of Warcraft, oddly enough, which by then had extended to a year and a half of solid play. I was clocking in three to five hours of game time on a daily basis (this was my pre-children era, obviously) and enjoying the cruise up through The Burning Crusade's content.

Then one day, out of the blue, I realized I was sick of it. A cold trickle flowed down my spine as I couldn't conjure up any feelings of excitement, pleasure, or interest in this game. All of the accomplishments and achievements I had worked so hard to get became absolutely meaningless to me in the space of a couple minutes.

I logged out, canceled my account, and then fell into a several-day funk when I was thrashing about as I tried to figure out how to fill this now-gaping void in my free time. Slightly pathetic, yes, but no less real for it.

In retrospect, I see how I stacked the deck for such an enormous crash, and many years after it, I now have a much better handle on how to deal with burnout than I did back then. In today's Perfect Ten, I want to pass along my meager wisdom and experience about how to deal with this event... because it happens to most of us, sooner or later.

The Perfect Ten #1
1. Pace yourself

Ironically, one of the best things that happened to my gaming career was my getting married and having children. In the space of five years, I went from having every evening available for non-stop gaming to grabbing snatches of playtime between making dinner, talking with my wife, changing diapers, and going out on walks. Life intervened in my MMO gorge-a-thon to limit my play time, and in so doing, gave what hours I could play more worth.

So my advice from the start is to pace yourself. No two people are the same, so I'm not advocating any strict number here, but just because you can spend five hours in a row gaming doesn't mean that you're strictly obligated to do so. By parceling out your leisure time, you're going to be forestalling burnout and making your time in game that much more special.

The Perfect Ten #2
2. Ask yourself, "Is this fun or will this lead to fun?"

Behind the many great aspects of MMO lurk a few not-so-savory game mechanics that prey upon our psychology and behavioral patterns to make us engage in activities that aren't fun at all and keep us playing long past the point that we enjoy it. Cracked.com put up a sobering article about this a while back, and I urge you to head over and read it at some point.

Once I came to accept the hard truth of these mechanics, I embraced a simple yet effective maxim in my gaming time. I constantly ask myself, "Is this fun or will it lead to fun?" If the answer was no, I just stopped doing it. If I'm performing dull, repetitive tasks that aren't fun now and in all honesty won't lead to anything super-fun down the line, forget it. There's always something else I could be doing in game, and if that's not the case, then I need to find another MMO that elevates fun over the grind. Happily, the industry is shifting such that more and more MMOs are designed with accessible fun as a priority.

The Perfect Ten #3
3. Try something new from time to time

One of the reasons I hit burnout is that I get tunnel vision with my in-game goals. I stick to one character way too long, doing the same narrow set of tasks (such as re-running dungeons to complete an armor set). It's no surprise that sooner or later I become completely sick of it. It's like I've voluntarily put myself to work in a factory where my job description is, like, three functions.

This is why I embrace trying new things in my favorite MMOs, such as rerolling an alt, experimenting with a different build, or trying an aspect of the game I've yet to touch. Sometimes we get so in a rut that we grow blind to the rest of the game world around us, and that lack of vision can hide the fun that exists out there.

The Perfect Ten #4
4. Balance your gaming diet

Up until 2009 or so, I strictly played one MMO at a time -- and this despite having way more gaming time than I do today. Now? Now I have a regular rotation of four MMOs, with double that installed on my computer, and I'm not hesitant to take an evening out of my routine to give an older or newer title a try.

It's bliss, to tell you the truth. Sure, I'm no longer able to jet up to the endgame in two weeks and engage in raids all the time, but the trade-off means that my diet's gone from one overeaten course to a virtual buffet of variety and tastes. As the industry embraces longer trials, free-to-play, and other affordable options, money has ceased to be the barrier it once was.

The Perfect Ten #5
5. Be a part of the larger MMO community

Over the years, I've seen two types of MMO gamers: those who are so locked in to one title that other MMOs might as well not exist, and those who, no matter what they play, are at least somewhat aware of and involved with the larger MMO community. In my opinion, the former have a much higher chance of being brutalized when burnout happens because that one game has become their whole world and it's suddenly gone.

Even though I don't play every single MMO out there, or even all the major ones, I love being plugged into the community, reading up on what's happening in these other virtual worlds, and keeping the more interesting ones in mind just in case.

The Perfect Ten #6
6. Have a backup MMO on hand

Speaking of "just in case," it helps to have a backup game on deck for when your primary one blows a gasket. Nothing is more disconcerting than experiencing burnout for a specific title while you're still yearning to play an MMO and have no idea where to go. Even if you merely dabble in a second or third game, knowing that it's there provides a safety buffer for your gaming sanity.

The Perfect Ten #7
7. Join a multi-MMO guild

One of the reasons we stay with MMOs long past our personal expiration date with them is that we get attached to the friends and guildies we've met while playing it. I can't tell you how many times I've read or heard players say that they'd totally leave Game X if it weren't for the people. And while that's an excellent testament to one of our hobby's greatest strengths, it has the potential to make us miserable if we want to leave yet feel like we'd be abandoning friendships.

The best way to counter that, especially in advance, is to join a multi-MMO guild. These are guilds that have chapters in several games -- including upcoming ones -- and are completely OK with members game-hopping. This way you can switch between MMOs without losing those connections, with the added benefit of not having to look for a guild in the new game.

If your current guild is located in one game only, it can't hurt to talk to the leadership about starting up a chapter elsewhere, especially if you're willing to help get it going.

The Perfect Ten #8
8. Take MMO vacations

Once in a while I'll just up and stop playing games for an extended period of time. Occasionally this happens when I head out of town, but I've done this on a whim as well. I'll go for days without logging in -- or even playing any games -- while I spend the extra time catching up on reading, completing a home project, or just being with my family.

You'd be surprised what a few days off from gaming can do for your interest level, since the old adage "absence makes the heart grow fonder" is true enough. On top of recharging your gaming batteries and forestalling burnout, vacations from MMOs can provide a valuable gut-check as to whether you're addicted or not, as well as help you evaluate whether the game is so compelling that you want to come back to it.

The Perfect Ten #9
9. Step back and evaluate just why you fell for this title in the first place

I never, ever start an MMO with my mind full of excitement over endgame raiding or the gear grind. On the contrary, what gets me pumped are often the little things -- the fun setting, the small details, the joy of a new class, the sense of wonder as I explore the world. When those are traded for advancement and leveling, I start to forget why I fell for this MMO in the first place.

So it's never a bad idea to engage in a bit of nostalgia as you recall why this MMO is special to you, and as you're doing so, see whether your initial focus has been sold out for something that you were told you needed but wasn't that glamorous in the end.

The Perfect Ten #10
10. Be OK with walking away

Finally, when the big bad beast of burnout pounces and you crumple to your desktop in misery, realize that it's 100% OK to just walk away from the game. It is, after all, a game, not an obligation or a job or a life-and-death matter. If you're not having a good time with it and have mined all of the thrill out of it, why stick around? Pack up your memories, say fond farewells to those you've adventured alongside, and move on with your life.

There are always other games and hobbies out there, and if you ever decided to return, chances are that your character will still be waiting -- maybe with fully recharged interest as well.

Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.