Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm less of a gamer than I used to be

Sometimes I walk around and ponder a thought for quite a while before I decide to sit down and put it out in print. Usually I get the final kick in the ass by someone else taking up the same issues and by giving me some views of theirs I have an easier time to formulate my ideas (usually as a response to theirs). This is what happened this time as well. Chris over at Levelcapped asked - "what is it that makes some games stick?". Why is it that we decide to spend so much time with some games and not with others? An interesting question indeed and I can only imagine the millions that have been spent by various game developers to find out the final answer to that question. Blizzard have obviously managed quite well since they have plenty of people who've spent several years and countless hours on their games (even more if you count all of their games and not just WoW). But the way I had pondered the question was really the other way around - how come I don't spend as much time with games today like I did when I was younger? They're not entirely the same question. In one corner you've got things like game design and immersion, in the other corner you've got the development of a person and how that person plays her games. But I will leave the first question to the game developers and the second question to me. It's all interlocked in the end anyway.

It has really bothered me recently that I've got so much trouble to just stick around with a game. Even if game design and immersion and all those things are important parts of why I enjoy a game or not, more often than not it didn't really matter if I really enjoyed the game or not - after a while I just put it down and never got around to pick it up again. It annoyed me, because there are tons of good games I want to play, and have half way started playing through, or would want to play through a second time, but I just never get to the point where I start the game and play it. Why do I lack the motivation? What made me stick with games for weeks when I was younger and what is keeping me from doing the same today? There are several possibilities;

Lack of time
Growing up means having more responsibilities aka more stuff that needs to be done before I can start having fun. Sitting for several hours with a game each evening won't happen if you've got kids and work and spouse to think of too. To many of us it means having to prioritize. Even though lack of time actually is a minor issue for me, I still notice that the prioritizing part is quite important. It might be that game A is awesome and fun, but it only takes for game B to be slightly more fun (or accessible, I'll get to that) for me to choose that game. After all I can only play one game at the time, so it would only be logical for me to choose the one I enjoy the most. But is the other game really more fun, or is it just more accessible? An example - I want to play FFVIII and sit down to start it up. Love asks me if I want to do a heroic with him. That would mean instant queue on my mage, who only needs a little more rep, or a little more vp, or a little more of anything, to get that new shiny gear piece. I put FFVIII away to be able to do that heroic instead - although I probably would've had more fun with FF than in WoW. Don't get me wrong, I never play WoW when it bores me. But the fact that WoW relies heavily on us wanting to complete things and get things done each day, it basically implores us to do our daily chores. Even though I have more fun playing FF, the thought of letting that instant queue hc go to "waste" would really nag on me. I hope you can appreciate this feeling and that I don't sound like a total WoW-addict now. Blizzard are changing this in some ways, for instance you won't have to do your hc each day to get all those vp but can distribute your 7 heroics as you wish throughout the week, but the fact remains. FF waits, WoW doesn't. And so FF will have to continue to wait, because WoW demands my constant attention to be fun.

Suddenly, choices. Thousands of them.
Unlike when I was young, I've now got 15 games ready and waiting for me at any given time. I have a handful of different consoles on which I have a dozen games each which I could and would enjoy to play. Yet again I can only choose one. The competition is murderous. I think a big factor that contributed to me spending so much time with a game when I was younger was simply that there were no alternatives. How many times haven't you tried to replay some old game that you remember as the jewel of your childhood, only to realize that it really sucks. The graphics are bad, the controls are worse and the gameplay is just horrible. Yet you clearly remember spending hours and hours with this game and nothing of it ever bothered you. I have tons of memories like this, games I wouldn't touch with a stick today that I -know- I loved when I was younger. Many of those games are obscure 100 in 1 game pack-games or really old pc games (Monkey Shines!), but there are recognizable games in this bunch as well like Castlevania and Mario Kart. These are still decent games (they definitely don't suck!), they just don't hold up to all the fun I could have with other games today. Yet again, even if game A is awesome, it only takes for game B to be slightly more awesome and I will probably choose the latter. And it only takes for game B to be slightly boring for me to jump to the next game, because I can. Because I am spoiled like this, I am much less likely to stick it through the rougher parts of an otherwise great game. "Oh this was fun up until now, but I really don't like this level. Time to switch!". A good example is the horror game Chtulhu - Dark Corners of the Earth. It's a great game, but it has a few events which just are horrible (and not in the good way). These events are kind of trial and error, and when you've failed the 20th time you will decide to do something else for a while. The next time you think about the game you'll remember that you're at that boring place, and decide not to pick it up. This has happened to me with countless of rpgs as another example.

With a little help of my friends
Thinking back on my favorite games, most of them include my friends in one way or the other. Even the single player games were usually played together with friends, either you discussed them when you met up at school or you actually sat a bunch of people together and played that single player game. I loved watching my brother play Diablo, I loved watching one of my friends play Fallout and I loved watching my ex play Resident Evil (hey, did I do all the watching?). The only game I can think of right now that I absolutely love but that I never played with anyone else, is Settlers 2. Other than that I've had some connection to my friends in all the games I played and really enjoyed. Now, if I pick up Advance Wars or Diablo 2, there is no one around me who plays the game simultaneously with whom I can enjoy the game that little extra bit. No one with whom I can discuss interesting parts of the game, or where to find that certain object or how I managed to kill that boss. This lack of "added value" to the game really does alot. I never even played Diablo 2 until I played it together with Love. I just didn't enjoy it all on my own (I had tried it), but when I had the opportunity to play it with someone else, even if we didn't play at the same time, it really made all the difference. When we had a friend over to visit us for a week, we all played Escape Velocity together. The game is fun but really nothing fancy, yet we all went quite nerdy about it for that week. The interesting part is that it's not even a multiplayer game. We all just played our own game, but together, which made all the difference. Maybe I am especially multiplayer oriented, but I still think that being able to share your gaming experiences with someone else is a big factor to how fun it is as well. I am quite certain I wouldn't play WoW at all if the social bit was taken away.

Drop it like it's hot
Another problem is that many games require me to spend a certain amount of time with it, and can't be put down at a whim. This means I have to be ready to spend that time beforehand for me to want to pick it up. I will stand there with some RPG in my hand and think "if I start this up, I will have to spend at least an hour with it, remember where I were and what to do next and get to the next save point". That is true for many single player games today. Some games are just more accessible than others, and so we play them more because we know we can stop playing them at any time. I've never played Angry Birds (but similar games), but I can imagine accessibility is a big factor to why that game is so popular. You can just start it up, do a level which takes a minute and turn it off. No big investment of time needed. WoW works the same way. Although really we only think we can spend little time with it, in reality it always takes more time than we think it will, but that is another issue.

These are all personal reasons and don't apply equally to everyone in the world, of course. For instance Love plays new games all the time, and he clearly has little issues with being the only one he knows who plays them. But I also know that all of the things mentioned above factor in to how much time he will end up putting into a game to some extent. Maybe knowing about these issues is the first step towards doing something about it. Even though it is difficult to do something about the fact that your friends don't want to play the same games that you do, there is alot that can be done towards devoting more time with other games than the easily accessible ones. Perhaps the next time I decide to start up WoW I just leave my computer shut off instead and go sit in the sofa for some good old FFVIII. No means no.


  1. Good post. I know what you mean about dropping games as soon as you hit something difficult, or as soon as something more accessible comes along. Or more 'necessary' to play. Quite often Hugh and I have started a new game, only to suddenly find that our spare time in the evenings run out - maybe we have to do something for our WoW guild, or maybe it's boring adult stuff like installing a kitchen. Either way, we've got about 3 games we *want* to be playing, just no time to play them.

    I wonder if one could say there's a subset of gamers - "half gamers" or something. Who would have to play/find time to play more to (re)earn our full gamer stripes!

  2. For me, it's the Internet. I'd much rather play a so-so MMO than an awesome single-player game.

    I do miss certain aspects of those single-player games, though. The characters and storyline were often much better, and it was easier to switch around from one game to another.