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When Games Become Hard Work…

By on June 24, 2014

Something that I find myself doing all the time is procrastinating, delaying my playing time with a game in favour of not much else. I love the time I get to spend with games though, don’t I? Games certainly fill a lot of my free time, whether it’s reading about them or talking about them with friends, so why do avoid them? It’s complicated.

I probably spend more time procrastinating around my gaming than I do actually playing them. That’s weird. I’ve had a niggling suspicion this was the case for a while, realising it was one thing but couldn’t put my finger on the cause.

In terms of play style I tend to be a completionist, I don’t like leaving story elements undiscovered, and in Achievements & Trophies the games of today have found a way to poke this part of my brain. I can count on one hand the number of single player games I’ve ever given up on, that I can remember anyway.

It’s not a worry about getting value for money that keeps me playing games through to completion, there’s a veritable stack of games I’m waiting to play that seems to stare at me every day. I genuinely enjoy experiencing a game’s full story. This though is where I think that games have long since started to abuse their influence, and also possibly what signalled the tipping point in my approach to gaming time.

Games increasingly find themselves in a competitive market place, there are tonnes of titles out there, all fighting for our hard earned cash. As a result features and content are added to many games that are aimed at keeping you playing for even longer, increasing their perceived value for money.

All this additional content had slipped in under my radar, and I found myself playing it in every game, side missions, collectibles, you name it, I ate it up. In a weird way there was a little sense of glee (not of the plastic talent-void singing variety) every time you heard the jingling noise that accompanied an Agility Orb in Crackdown. Admit it!

There comes a time though when you realise that you’re just not enjoying something. Mine came in Assassin’s Creed 3. Why was I spending time having to look up crafting recipes and organise trade routes & prices. I’m an Assassin, not Eddie Stobart. Why am I collecting bloody feathers, outfits & codex pages, what am I gaining from these activities?

feathers!

In-game collectible content is all rather obviously filler, but breaking the pattern also extends to putting down the controller on games where I’m simply not enjoying the gameplay.

I know it’s seen as heresy to many, but I’ll use The Last of Us as my example. Survival horror or zombie games aren’t aimed at me, I just don’t enjoy living in fear of jump-frights, and I don’t find zombies an interesting genre of fiction (‘they’re not zombies, they’re infected’, yeah, apologies). I wanted to play The Last of Us because of the universal praise it received for it’s well written story and top notch voice acting, and I can’t fault the game in either of those departments, it is excellently written and performed. It even looks stunning.

I played The Last of Us for around 12 hours. I had successfully steeled myself for dealing with the lurching zombies and the associated tedium, I was making a form of solid but slow progress. What I hadn’t anticipated was the length of the game. In-between the meaningful chapters of the story, I found the game to be overly long and not very interesting minute to minute. I was pushing through the game purely for the cut-scenes or plot developments rather than because I enjoyed the gameplay, I didn’t.

(Even though I eventually stopped playing, I still really want to know how the Last of Us finished. Maybe I’ll just watch somebody else play it on YouTube).

Obviously games need to be a certain length to justify their existence as full price releases, but I would argue that the length shouldn’t be inflated by filler levels, as it dilutes the story. Interestingly this is something that Halo: Combat Evolved’s ‘Library’ level was criticised for over a decade ago. Things haven’t changed that much. Lots of games feel like a battle in parts, but if it’s constant we shouldn’t feel the need to complete, just recognise when we’re no longer enjoying it.

Indie games have long been a source of interesting games, short, sweet & to the point. It can’t be a coincidence that as the big console releases become ever more bloated, indie titles are enjoying record popularity. They allow gamers to experience a new idea or an interesting story without investing forty hours to complete. Procrastination & apprehension experienced when starting new games is probably related to the size of the task at hand, knowing you’ll have to commit to a lengthy session to make progress.

So, rather late to the party, I worked out that I should enjoy the time I spend playing games rather than finding them a chore or something to be endured. I’ve recently stopped playing some other games too, including Simpson’s Tapped Out, which I would question is really a game at all? (Edit: it’s definitely not). Why was I playing games for the endless collectibles, the filler content or the achievement points? Most of us will only have a set amount of time to play games, why waste it?

Although the completionist in me is always tempted to go back, I’m hoping I’ve turned a corner and can address (in an easier way) the ever increasing queue of games I have on the table. Staring at me.

About Mr Vandelay

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