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My Hobbies in the New Normal

As this pandemic continues to stretch out (at least in the US), this new way of life is feeling more normal. Not only has the pandemic affected work life, errands, and socializing, it has also changed our hobbies, and I’m just starting to notice the new normal set in.

Of course, four months is perhaps longer than it feels like these changes have taken, but I have noticed two factors to indicate that the initial shock from the pandemic is transitioning into more long-lasting changes.

First, many usual hobbies were disrupted by the mental drain of the pandemic. Several of my friends who are avid readers mentioned that they could no longer focus on a book or didn’t have the energy to pick one up. In the past two weeks, I have been hearing again about the books they are reading.

Second, many of us burned through our backlog of leisure activities or projects. Julie and I finished both a puzzle and lego set that were sitting on our shelves and have since had to move onto activities. Another friend mentioned that he had got through his immediate video game backlog.

Of course I’m generalizing, but between these two factors, it feels like we have hit both the peak and trough of our hobbies and need to figure out what’s left.

Here’s what has changed for me.

In roleplaying games, I overcompensated and have since scaled way back. RPGs seemed like a good way to stay social remotely, but I quickly scaled up to 2.5 games per week, and something had to give. I reduced from running five groups to only two now. That has freed up the session time, prep time, and mental overhead of all of those stories. I will ramp up again, but it will be more gradual.

I’m reading roughly as much as I have over the past year. I wasn’t affected as much as many of my other friends by the pandemic, so I’m still reading in the hour before going to bed.

I’m in a lull with video games. I played Getting Over It (with Bennett Foddy) obsessively for a few days. I coincidentally started a weekly gaming night of Path of Exile with friends, have played Mario Kart with coworkers once a week, and have enjoyed Don’t Starve Together with another friend. I have time to play more, and although I sometimes fantasize about losing myself in a game for an entire day, I haven’t found other games that have really grabbed me since.

I’m really missing sports. I played volleyball in the park with seniors on the weekends, and I sometimes went long stretches without playing when I was busy. Four months later, I’m really missing the physical activity and friendly competition. I feel my hankering for video games is my restlessness in not playing any sports and moving around.

On the flip side, I haven’t missed watching sports at all. In retrospect, most of my interest was purely social. I do enjoy watching, but I paid attention so to have something to talk about with friends.

We’re watching roughly as much TV as usual. I never started binging, and we have been steadily watching Agents of Shield since it came back on air. Depending on my mood, I have been alternating between Parks & Recreation and Star Trek: The Next Generation while I’m making breakfast and doing other chores.

My biggest change been playing more board games. I was admittedly skeptical of playing board games online: I thought board games were about sitting around a real table for a rare in-person activity. And board games have some elegance in physical presentation that would matter less virtually.

Well, I was wrong: I have obsessively been playing games on Board Game Arena both as real-time games and as turn-based games played over several days. Since joining, I have learned a half-dozen new games and want to keep playing. Come play with me!

Our normal home meal cooking is about the same, though we have done less baking. Sourdough starter is in vogue, but we have scaled back cooking because we have no one to feed. In pre-pandemic times, we hosted or attended dinner parties regularly and could give desserts to guests before devouring the sugar and fat ourselves. Without friends, it’s hard to justify eating an entire cake on our own.

And I have picked up an online course as well. Despite being a software engineer, I (somewhat deliberately) had no ideas how computers work. There’s the hardware made up of transistors, and that becomes binary at some point, which is compiled, and the operating system does a bunch of stuff, and then magically, I can write Python code to make websites.

Well, it turns out that there’s a nice course that goes vertically through all of those levels starting from logic gates all the way to the programming languages I know. I’m through 7 of 12 weeks, and this class is much better than the handful of other online classes I have taken over the years.

Perhaps it should be self-evidence, but we haven’t been traveling or going to performances. I think I would appreciate a change of scenery as much as anyone else.

Finally, writing has been harder for me. I try to write about daily life and have pitched this blog as musings on the mundane. Recently, life has been too mundanes, so I haven’t found much inspiration. I avoid writing about big issues today because I don’t feel like my readers need another dose of that in internet reading. I think I write about games so much because it is an escape.

So that’s my life right now. All things considered, I feel quite lucky: the fundamentals for me are all intact, and the impact has been at the leisure level. No one knows how long this pandemic will last or what life after will be, but I’m glad to have found hobbies to keep me going.

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