Recently, and not for the first time in the last year of streaming, I began to feel a period of burnout coming on. It was a slow creep at first, and last weekend it hit me suddenly like a wave. When this happens, the natural instinct kicks in and you either fight it or try to get out of its way, but it is too late. The water surges in and you feel yourself getting pulled around in all directions. To further milk this poetic tidal analogy, there is only so much water you can fight through before you fall in and get rolled around. And the only thing left to do is to scramble back to the beach with a mouth full of sea water and some seaweed clinging to your head
Maybe that is enough fun in the sea for the day, you think to yourself as you towel off and get dressed. Maybe I am being too dramatic in my analogy here, but that is kind of how it feels to me. I spent the two days I took off of my normal schedule on Sunday and Monday to do a little soul searching on several issues. Namely among them being if I am enjoying streaming games at all. Have I hit my wall? Is this really not for me? I ask myself this because I am always aware that, when I got started streaming, I was going to be battling against my own feelings of self-consciousness at being on camera to an unseen audience. This discomfort extends beyond streaming, too. I don’t like being around people, and not in an anti-social kind of way. It happens when I am in a room full of people, behind and in front and all around. Especially sitting with my back to a room full of strangers, like in a restaurant. Streaming is like sitting with your back to a room that you cannot see, but can see you. OK, I don’t want to overstate this too much, as it is not a huge issue for me as such. If it were, I would not be able to stream like I do, or for that matter eat out or leave the house. But there are people with more acute versions of this condition, called ochlophobia, who have it way worse.
Even then, I know this can sometimes make me feel uncomfortable and at times I have to will myself push past my very mild form of ochlophobia. Do I really, though? After all, I have a (very sane and rational!) phobia of wasps as well. I don’t feel the need to force myself to be exposed to any of them by having a bunch of wasps released into my home to live with me for a week. So, why do I need to push past this?
Because, in this case, I do want to. And that makes all the difference. I don’t want to live with wasps though. To hell with that idea.
So, I dismissed this being my self-consciousness making me uncomfortable on camera. It does not feel like I am pushing myself away from my desire to test myself so back to the other reasons. The next one up was the game itself. At the time of current writing, I am half-way through a play through of Pillars of Eternity, a classic style RPG where you control a party of characters who accompany your custom made self character. I have enjoyed the game so far but, oh my goodness there is a lot of writing in this game. And with that comes my next pet-dislike on stream: reading out loud. I am fully aware I am terrible at reading out loud to anyone. I feel like my brain and mouth disconnect and the words stumble out, or I even read a whole sentence wrong by missing words and adding in new words. Sure, it ends up being the same in context, just written differently than I have spoken it. Every time this happens, I know it instantly and thus begins another round of stumbling brought on by self-doubt and recrimination. I recently told someone that I feel like a 7 year old reading out loud at the front of the class, another thing I hated having to do at school.
It is not always an issue, though. Sometimes I nail the line reading and internally high-five myself. Yes! Got it, spot on! Go team! Of course that feels good. I guess like with all things that are a skill, and reading out loud to people is definitely a skill, when you are in the zone everything flows and before you know it you are done and it all felt awesome. Still, that happens only 20% of the time. (I know, I measured it at 20.73% actually, but I round down to be modest.) The rest of the time it feels horrible and I cannot wait for it to be over. As with being on camera, this is also something I chose to push past as much as I can. I knew going into this game that there would be much reading out loud. The voice acting in the game is not complete and much of the text is not voiced.
So, I have challenged myself with this game and, to be fair to myself, I am proud of my progress so far. I give it a solid B- overall, mostly for effort than execution. Still, I knew this was becoming a source of stress. I first realised pre-stream on the Friday before the tidal wave hit me that I was not looking forward to hitting the big, red ‘Go Live’ button. I swapped out games to theHunter: Call of the Wild, (yes it is written that way… no idea why,) and had more fun. Even then, the weight of obligation pressed down on me on Saturday and I fired up the stream with Pillars of Eternity and a heavy sigh. The game was beginning to stress me out.
It was not just the reading alone, too. This is a huge game and there is so much more to go before the end. You get smothered in conversation puzzle dialogue quests where failure means wiping out a group of people who could help you further down the line. Whole new areas to explore as you move through the game and swarms of enemies to fight. Entire cultures to read (out loud!) about. Family histories and personal exposition to drown in like so much alphabet soup.
It is, as another streamer – I forget who – once said, ‘too much game.’
On Sunday I bailed out on the stream with apologies made. I was sinking in my seat and dying inside. One more conversation to read, oh my god will it ever end? And what if it does? I just go speak to someone else and have another chapter of dialogue to press through anyway. Argh!
I guess, in the end, what matters is I recognised the source of the stress somewhat. I knew I was not happy and I knew to just close the stream and go lay down and chill. Streaming should be fun, and if it is not then don’t force it. It won’t be good entertainment for the audience.
It carried through to Monday and another cancelled show before I felt happier about things again and ready to entertain. Right up until the last 5 minutes before going live on Monday I could not settle on something to play that was not Pillars of Eternity. Even the hunting game that I was having fun with did not hit the mark for me, nor did switching to other casual slow paced games that I know I enjoy. I guess I did not know then what the problem was, specifically.
By Tuesday, I had fixed on the idea of putting Pillars of Eternity on the shelf for a week or two and playing something entirely different, fully voiced and simplistic yet fun. I have, for a while now, intended to do a run of point and click games, one of my favourite styles of gaming from back in my early days. They have puzzles, so they are still a challenge. They are usually voiced, especially the modern ones, so no reading out loud. They are often humorous, and either way they have rich stories even if they are somewhat goofy. It ticked all the boxes and I had a full collection of the Deponia games by Daedalic to play through. Perfect.
Most importantly, it was fun to stream. And that is what counted the most.
So, is the burnout over? Will it come back? Well… we shall see. For now the change of pace is nice. It was nice, too, when I swapped to playing Pillars of Eternity. It was different and something new to dig my teeth into. Maybe that is the key to avoiding burnout. Most importantly, though, is recognising when it is coming on and not being afraid to step away.
On that note, I decided I should cull a day from my streaming schedule, too. This was a difficult decision to come to, as it is easy to feel like I don’t do enough hours, let alone removing some all together. Still, I should not feel guilty about cutting down to avoid letting stress build up. It is important in any job to have a work-life balance, even when your job is playing video games. I guess it is not so much about the number of hours I stream as it is a question of when. I had to consider that my streaming times are late afternoon to early evening, however I still get up early in the morning to do stuff in the day that needs to be done. Domestic chores, trips out for the shop or other such stuff, and so on. I prefer to do all my daily stuff earlier in the day so it is done and out of the way. Putting a chunk of work at the end of that, right before needing to sleep, does take its toll in different ways beyond the simple number of hours.
This week I came more to terms with all of this and decided to cull Sundays from my streaming schedule, giving me a free weekend day to decompress. I will see how things go like this. And, as always, continue having fun!