The 'Diablo' blues: When the games don't change, but we do

The word "Diablo" is magical to me. Before 2000, it just represented a Spanish word that I was largely unfamiliar with other than seeing it on bottles of hot sauce.

Then I discovered "Diablo II," and hit me so hard, I couldn't go a day without playing. The recent release of "Diablo III" had me panting for more.

I stayed up until 2 am the night of the release of "Diablo III," watching the game slowly download onto my computer and feeling a nervous, celebratory brand of glee. The first week of play was just like what I remembered, except with more social connectivity than ever before. Within seconds, I could be in a full party, enjoying all the blissful memories of the past, and finding it all fit so well - like a pair of jeans you've had since college and furtively sleep in from time to time because they're so comfortable.

It knows you, because it's been with you for so long. And you know just what to expect from it.

I wasn't much of an MMO gamer before "Diablo II." (Thankfully, the black death known as "Everquest," kindly passed me over - which kept my sanity intact while my friends quit college to make a living hoarding platinum.)

When I looked at these games, I saw gamers as rats in a wheel, running an endless race. I was the type of gamer motivated by stories with a beginning, middle and an end. It made no sense to me to pour so much time and effort into something that essentially had no real finale.

Why did "Diablo II," break my habit? I'm not sure. Truthfully, at first it was fun to play with friends - that held some novelty for a primarily solo gamer. Soon enough, the game became a familiar face. It always felt good to run through those memorized levels or kill that miniboss yet again (Hello, Rakanishu!). No matter how many times I played through the acts of "Diablo II," I never lost my appetite for it.

But after that first week of jumping back into the world of "Diablo III," I realized something was different.

I still wanted to play. And it still felt addictive. The game was just as well-made as one would expect, and it really had a lot of marked improvements from "Diablo II." Yet I had mixed feelings about playing it as often as I played its predecessor.

It wasn't until I was struggling to pencil game time into my daily schedule that it came clear to me: I never had to do that before. Because when "Diablo II" was in its heyday, I was in my early twenties - and I had all the time in the world to play video games.

I joke about being too busy writing about video games to actually play video games all the time, but this was the first time I actually realized the level of conflict involved. As much as I wanted to play, I also had a lot of other things I wanted to do. It wasn't just annoying, grown-up responsibility stuff like cooking dinner or taking the car in for a tune-up. I wanted to do other things that included getting off the internet and going outside.

I was threatened by the realization. Did this mean I'm not a gamer anymore? Am I not truly dedicated to the medium, the way I once was?

When I wrote about "Journey," I talked about how well that game suited me - and how its short length, themes, and overall presentation resonated with me in a way that many of today's titles do not, no matter how well made they may be or how much fun they are to play.

Somewhere in the midst of my Diablo revelation, it came clear that the type of gaming we require to be entertained may change for each of us over the course of our lives. There's nothing to be frightened of when something that once fit us like a glove doesn't fit quite as well.

Will I stop playing "Diablo III?" Absolutely not. Just because I can't spend ten hours a day playing it doesn't mean I don't still enjoy the game. It's great fun. It's also something that I can only take in small doses.Unlike ten years ago, when I could play it with no limits, now I can only click my way through an hour or two of determined demon slaughter before needing to do other things.

There's some part of me that misses being the kid that played it without a care, of course. That was a golden era.

But as I learn to enjoy "Diablo III," I also learn that while the way you play games may change, there's an essential element about the experience that never can.