On Gaming and Free Time During a Global Pandemic | Covid-19

By: Joshua Francom

Disclaimer: I’m not telling you how you should use your time. If you aren’t able to stay productive, that’s OK and it’s not always your choice. It is much more important to STAY SAFE and ISOLATED. I’m only hoping my small perspective gives some ideas and distracts you for a while. Don’t feel pressured to perform under the events and trauma of a global crisis.

With the recent global event known as Covid-19, I have a lot of time on my hands. Honestly, as an introvert, this is one of the ‘top ten best things‘ to happen to me. Since I’m one of the lucky ones who has been furloughed, but is financially stable, it has been the closest I’ll ever come to retirement as a lower-class yet privileged millennial. My unemployment check is likely weeks away, but my household and extended family will probably be OK. Having this much free time is a God-send since I’ve wanted to thrust myself into my YouTube channel and this website. If this was my only experience during the pandemic, there would be little reason to read this article or write it to begin with.

This paragraph is going to sound like an advertisement, but it serves a purpose outside shameless self-promotion. If this is your first experience with the Francom Brothers website: I extend a hearty welcome. We look to promote inclusion, education, and provide entertainment. The content found here relates closely to gaming culture in general. We try to find lessons to live by uniquely found in the gaming lifestyle. It may surprise you to find out I’ve been playing video games less during my time in quarantine; much less.

You may ask, “What have you been doing instead of playing video games?”

Content Creation

Part of our vision is providing entertainment. We fulfill this eternal quest mainly though my YouTube channel. The most common kind of video content is playing various video games and performing audio commentary over the gameplay. These are called Let’s plays.

During the three years of activity on the channel, the minimum posting schedule is once every three days. Doing some dirty math: that’s 121+ videos every year. The last time I checked, the current total amount of videos publicly visible is just above 450.

I couldn’t have accomplished any of this without Paul or my brother, Bryce. Prior to the quarantine, almost every video featured at least one of those two as a co-star. It is very hard to do let’s plays as a one-man-show; I’ve tried. I do all the editing, but to act extroverted on camera is exhausting. A good number of my removed videos are solo acts which I deemed unfit for viewing. I can be much more productive when depending on them for some of the emotional labor required for show-biz.

Due to the realities of Covid-19 social isolation, I’ve had to start doing solo let’s plays to keep up with my self-imposed schedule. However, I set the goal for myself of releasing a video every two days. Assuming I kept that pace, that’s 182+ videos per year. I’m releasing more videos which require much more emotional effort to maintain the same quality.

This is a hobby and I set my own schedule, but I feel as though I should push myself given it has been three years since I started the let’s plays. I should be able to handle this. I’m definitely not complaining about this or saying I don’t want to do this. I love making YouTube videos. This is all backstory to add to a main point.

For the record, my co-star Paul, has expressed concerns that I’ve been overworking myself. We are keeping my mental health as one of my priorities.

Polyglotism and General Education

As my 30th birthday occurred during the pandemic, I’ve noticed a change in my priorities. I value knowledge much more than I use to. Over the past few years the grand majority of my free time has been spent in acquisition of general knowledge. It has come to a head during this pandemic. I have focused on a policy of self-betterment towards myself and others. I want to learn as much as possible and help others do the same.

My latest binge has been science, history, languages, culture, and gaming history content on YouTube. If it is something generally educational then I’ve probably been watching it.

As discussed in another article I wrote, I have been sacrificing some of my gaming time for language learning purposes. One of my main passions has been learning multiple languages. For more information on my language acquisition goals I highly recommend reading that article.

Since that article, I’ve increased the frequency of my Spanish study sessions and I’ve also begun experimenting with other languages. I am now learning Latin and Spanish at the same time. This is obviously something I would never be able to do if I were working full time. The current crisis has given me a lot of free time and I am making the most of it.

Much of my study time has also been watching YouTube videos for this purpose in addition to using the Duolingo app. Admittedly, most of my designated language studying time is done with Duolingo, but YouTube is a tool used as well.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Need I say more?

What little gaming time I allow myself has largely been hijacked by Animal Crossing. The easily structured game-play loop allows for an easy start and end of the game session. When the chores are done and I feel as though I’ve done enough progress for the day, it is very easy to convince myself that continuing to play has diminishing returns. I’ll play the game for an hour or so and let it be.

After doing ‘gamified chores‘, sometimes I just don’t have the energy left to play another game and search for more passive content like documentaries.



Conclusions



It would seem that my priorities have shifted.
1.
Maintaining an upload schedule appears to be a great source of personal pride for me.

2. I care more about language acquisition, gaming culture, gaming history, and general education than I do about video games.

3. YouTube, Duolingo, and Animal Crossing basically run my life right now.

Replacing Gaming Time with Lifetime Language Learning

By: Joshua Francom

In the past, I’d been a passable intermediate-level Spanish speaker. This was gained from four years in high school and up to 203 level in college. The next level I needed to grow my skill was to begin full-immersion studies either by taking classes exclusively taught in Spanish, or by going to a Spanish speaking country. My formal studies ended around 2011, when life changes forced me out of school. The loss of my skill in Spanish became one of my greatest regrets.

My relationship with Spanish was an odd one. I never felt the need to have a goal in mind for speaking Spanish fluently; I’m not sure why I stuck with it so long. I’d always enjoyed learning about history, political systems, and social studies (for lack of a better term). That being said, the need to travel was never in my blood, nor did I have a particular interest in one culture over another. I also never believed I’d have the money to travel, and I rarely considered the future to begin with. If I had to guess, I may have thought that lacking two years of foreign language studies on my transcript would disqualify myself for college. This is despite having no plans for attending a university. I was on the path towards fluency, regardless of my intent.

Letting my skill fall to disuse by 2019, I struggled to have conversations about even simple topics. The vocabulary was there, but the grammar and conjugation were lost and forgotten. I still remembered some basic idiomatic expressions, but I was definitely not speaking at even a kindergarten level. If dropped off in a country like Ecuador, I could communicate the basics, but it would not be pretty. Communicating in anything other than the present tense was practically a battle; it could not be done with any sense of expediency.

Maybe it was a sense of self-disgust which led me to downloading the app called Duolingo. I needed some way of gaining my ability back after years of considering it. Money for college is hard to come by, time is even harder.

Duo, the mascot of Duolingo. Don’t let the friendly exterior fool you. My family is still missing.

This is where the point of my article begins, and why it relates to gaming at all. I had to find some time in my day, and I found it by reducing my time with video games. I love video games, but lately my will to play them for long periods of time has left me. This has resulted in time being scheduled for video game playing, but instead of playing a video game, I boot up the YouTube app and binge. I then look back on my time and mourn its passing. Other times, I seem to not decide on which game to play; I get choice paralysis because I have a huge backlog to choose from.

Clearly, this isn’t a situation I’d prefer to be in. I like gaming, I just can’t bring myself to actually do it with life happening. I have YouTube videos to edit, a podcast to speak on, a girlfriend to keep happy, a day job to work, articles to write, and a website to run (the one you are currently on). I don’t say this to complain, just to add context to the point. Obviously, something has to give. Since, my video game time has been mismanaged, it just makes sense to take from that time.

Now, video game time is important. It is my primary way to relax. I can’t just replace video game time wholesale with Spanish studies because that’s hours of time to designate. Even during my most active schooling periods, only an hour was designated each day for Spanish. Being in the United States, running across Spanish speakers is rare in my personal life. This means that I’ll largely be teaching myself Spanish alone, with very few people to have conversations with. I would get bored denoting too much time doing anything. Remember, I was getting bored playing video games for too long as well.

Admittedly, when I first started using Duolingo, I wasn’t thinking about any of this. I just spent as much time as I could trying to get my skill back. As time went on, it became clear I needed to find some way to structure my time to keep from going overboard. Fifteen days into my studies, I started considering these things.

The struggle is real.

Out of necessity, I came up with a guideline: I will do my Duolingo lessons before playing video games. Once I get tired of my daily studies, I’ll give myself the go-ahead to play video games. I also decided to try to do my lessons earlier in the day so that I wouldn’t feel rushed to do them in the afternoon. The good thing about this is that if I feel like doing more, sometimes I can do two lessons in a day (morning/afternoon).

This system is working out for me, and I’ve found that my video game time hasn’t actually suffered considering I had a non-functional system before. By the time I finish my lessons, I know what I’m going to do with my time after.

I’ve even considered looking for video games which have a Spanish translation to help with this time. A search has been started for a Spanish language version of a Pokémon game for the Game Boy Advance line or earlier, but I’ve not yet found any. I could search for Spanish translation patches for use in ROMs, but the piracy aspect makes me consider otherwise. Instead of using these patches in emulation programs, I could use them on my Retron 5, since I’d actually have to own the game to use it there. The thing worth considering is whether I trust the site I’m downloading the patches from.

The Classics.

The easiest thing would be to just find actual cartridges of official translations. This is easier said than done. Searching Amazon’s Mexico page yields just English language cartridges for Pokémon. Same thing on Amazon’s Spain page. If this sounds weird, it is because I’m limiting my search to the Game BoyGame Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance titles. The reason for this is because there is less going on in those titles, and I’ve replayed them in English several times. Playing the Spanish language versions would be an easier affair since I have familiarity with them.

Another aspect of my search lead me to asking, Kelsey Spencer of the Pink Gorilla game store, whether any have come through her store. For those who don’t know, Pink Gorilla is a game store in Seattle, Washington. Kelsey was recently at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE 2019), and was part of the Metal Jesus Rocks panel which I attended as a fan. To my joy, she told me they pass through the store fairly often. I live in Portland, so a trip to Seattle is a quick trip, but it’s not one I could just take up without some planning.

I also asked every other vendor selling retro games if they knew where I could find the macguffin I’d been searching for. This yielded no results, which is why I felt compelled to ask Kelsey about it at the panel.

A few days after the PRGE, a fellow coworker told me she was going to Seattle on vacation soon. Further, one of her planned trips was a visit to Pink Gorilla. Unfortunately on her visit, she did not find any Spanish language Pokémon games. I’ll simply need to plan a trip myself some time.

I hate to leave this article in a state without resolution to a problem. But this article, much like my Spanish studies and my search for a Spanish language Pokémon game, may never end or reach its goal.

This is not a paid promotion for Duolingo.

Let’s Plays Saved My Life

*TRIGGER WARNING*

Abuse.


Gaslighting.

Thoughts of Suicide.


Religious Apostasy.



By: Joshua Francom (@Frakbox)

In an episode of the Game Grumps, Dan Avidan said something to the effect of, “There are people out there that not only want to help, but are trained to help.” This was in reference to mental illness. That statement planted a seed, and after years of mulling it over, it resulted in my own search for help.

Around the end of 2018, I was in therapy for a short time. This led me to be curious enough to look through my old journals from 2011 to 2015. Largely, the conclusion of that reading was that many of the thoughts I’d preserved weren’t worth preserving. I don’t recommend reading your own triggering autobiography without the aid of professionals to lean on.

In my previous drafts for this article, I’d waxed on for nine paragraphs about my many troubles during that time. I came to realize informing you of these experiences are ultimately not useful to the main point of this article. Suffice it to say, my troubles could be boiled down to: loss of multiple social groups, being the victim of spousal abuse, and a tumultuous apostasy from the Mormon church.

These were times of suffering through beer-showers and thoughts of suicide. I spent countless hours sitting in bars doing nothing on a daily basis. Honestly, one of the main reasons this article wasn’t finished sooner was the mistake of writing so much about it in earlier drafts. It opened up the flood gates and I wasn’t OK for the next few days. Eventually I shelved the project and it took me months to come back.

Arin (left) and Dan (right).

During that time in 2013, I started regularly watching let’s plays from various content creators, most notably: the Game Grumps. Jon Jafari had left during this time, and had been replaced by Dan Avidan. In my opinion, this is when the show went from just being about big laughs, to a more substantive affair. They were comedians, yes, but it was like sitting down and laughing with two hilarious friends. The friendship they had was growing, but also real. The new era of Game Grumps seemed to be a time of growth. There were obviously big laughs as well, It was more about them as people, and not solely about acting as hyperbolic as possible.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t miss Jon Jafari staring on the Game Grumps. I still regularly watched his videos on the JonTron channel he uploaded to (until his affiliation with the alt-right ruined his career). My needs were changing. When the Internet cried at his leaving, I mourned with them too.

That being said, I never felt that Danny needed to prove himself. Dan was the new guy, that’s how shows work. We were lucky they didn’t cancel the whole show and move on to other projects. Frankly, I enjoyed getting to know Dan. He was growing, and his growth was an important part of my own growth.

Slowly, I began coming home after work occasionally to watch let’s plays on YouTube instead of going to the bar. I’d still drink at home, and was still utterly alone, but at least I had a slightly healthier coping mechanism. I had something else to do instead of pay too much money to drink alone at a bar.

Watching genuine interactions between friends gave me the skills I needed to get my life together. I had watched other let’s players do their thing, but I was never that interested in a one-man-show. When in a time of great stress, I could turn on my laptop or Xbox and binge. I needed that relationship emulation. Most learn these skills over years of adolescence, but for others, they need refreshing after traumatic events. After a year of being disrespected and abused, it was instrumental in putting my behavior on the right track. It was possible for friends to rib on each other respectfully, to disagree and not hate each other, and to laugh one moment and be serious the next.

Yes, there were fart jokes, but you have to crawl before you can walk. I was an adult, still capable of reason. Most of my problem was that I was afraid of interacting with people because I was conditioned to be afraid of messing up due to my trauma. I had been conditioned to never mess up or bad things would happen.

It wasn’t as though I was hopeless, but I didn’t know what things were socially acceptable anymore, so I had to watch and learn. I’d been paralyzed in fear of making a faux pax. Someone just needed to hit the reset button on my NES, blow into the cartridge, and stick it back in.

This is why I do let’s plays now. I don’t watch many let’s plays anymore, and I rarely watch the Game Grumps due to shifting interests. I just hope that someday, someone, in a situation similar to my own, can use my videos to improve their lives. If I knew one person were positively affected in the same way the Game Grumps helped me, then I would be overjoyed. “Overjoyed” would be an understatement. However, there would also be a great sadness; I know how painful your life had to be for my experiences to be that helpful to you.

That last sentence was another one which made me leave this project for a few days.

Thank you, Dan. Thank you, Arin. You both helped me just by being yourselves. Don’t be afraid of moving on to new ventures.

Dan, I was a dinosaur kid too. Stegosauruses rock, but my heart belongs to iguanodon.

Arin and Dan on the set of their show: 10 Minute Power Hour