At dinner with a friend last night, I was asked what games I’ve been playing lately. It forced me to vocalize something I had been bothered by and not wanting to say out loud to anyone – I hadn’t played any of the new games I bought over a month ago. The plan was to become a tumor on the couch and breeze through Rise of the Tomb Raider, Undertale, Fallout 4, and a bunch more I purchased but didn’t have the time to play until after my semester ended. Alas – none of that happened.
What happened instead was I also purchased the Legendary edition of Destiny to try and get back into the game (I gave up on vanilla around level 20, a few missions short of the end of the main storyline of the game) by playing with friends. And get back into the game I did. It’s been the first MMO I’ve been really hooked on (despite trying World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2). A few days ago I spent all day farming bounties and getting resources for upgrades and a sword. Most of my winter break from school was spent farming levels to get my first character somewhere reasonable for strikes and the first few raids.
So this friend asked me what I’d been playing and I had to say “I’ve been playing nothing but Destiny and Smite.” Smite is a 3rd person MOBA made by Hi-Rez Studios, and is the first MOBA I’ve ever been hooked on. Late last year I succumbed to peer pressure and tried to play a big friendy in-house of DoTA 2 and hated it. My conclusion was DoTA 2 is for smart people, and Smite is for us common folk. Before that encounter, I tried League of Legends a few times in years past and never got into it – going back to it for a few games with friends in my program it’s pace didn’t capture my interest like Smite did, I would assume because of the camera angle.
This is the first time in my life I’ve been stuck in a spiral of live, online games that don’t just end. This is also the first time in my life I’ve had friends I felt comfortable playing games online with. But even so, my all day farm session in Destiny recently was solo, intentionally, and I was so happy for it to be so. I do a lot of solo queueing in Smite because I don’t play a lot of their traditional 5 v 5 map (the rage from sub-par players toward all the rest of us sub-par players is too aggravating for what should just be a game). I finally did join a clan but the few times I’ve been online since joining, anyone that asks to queue together, I just ignore.
This also boils down to deeper considerations like, why do I feel guilty enjoying a game, even if I dump hundreds of hours into it? Why is that bad, when to some, it’s the most cost efficient game I’ve ever purchased? I’m sure part of it goes to being in a game design master’s program. Like all disciplines, you have to be well versed in it to have the most tools at your disposal to create new and/or interesting things within that discipline. I.e. read often and widely to write, watch often and widely to create films, and play often and widely to make games. But here I am, returning to the same killing fields over and over and over again every day.
So in the academic sense, is there a parallel to playing these games incessantly that’s akin to reading deeply? Analyzing texts requires becoming immersed in all the minutiae of the text. Can I claim analyzing the minutiae of the game, which requires playing nothing else? Maybe. If I were really doing that. Smite lends itself to that, as a competitive eSport. It demands to be analyzed to improve or be halfway decent at – if I didn’t learn something deeper about the game 90% of the time I played then I would be getting stomped every game. And I take pride in saying I only get stomped in 50% of the games I play. Ha HA!
Spiraling deeper into this rabbit hole of self-reflection, I also acknowledge that I don’t play games very deeply in general. My introspection is around the level of “why was this enjoyable? What did it do well? What could it improve on?” not “What was the intent behind these systems to inform my player experience?” Throughout my program, I’ve been adamant that I am not a game designer. Mostly because true game design positions are a lot of spreadsheets, testing variable changes in slight directions, and seeing how those effects propagate out through the game. I don’t have the patience for that. Give me a to-do list, and I will become possessed with the notion of getting list completed (again, part of my recent infatuation with Destiny) regardless of what the end product actually is, so long as it actually fits the quality benchmark set forth at the start of the project.
That infatuation also speaks to some my addictive tendencies. Why can’t I enjoy an hour a day of a game and move on to another game? For me, that will be a learned skill at some point. I feel the height of immersion at around the 4th hour. So jumping in for an hour and jumping out just doesn’t seem worth it to me. I definitely play video games for escapism; due to that, immersion is my preferred state of game playing. And that is a state easily achieved when I have an infinite number of checklists, ala Destiny.
In the end, what am I saying? Mostly nothing. Just rambling my thoughts because I realized recently I missed this site. Ultimately, I know I shouldn’t feel bad about playing whatever I want, even if it’s the same thing day in and day out. I should’t feel guilty about not getting through my Steam/console/mobile backlog, regardless of my student status. Having said that, it’s not a bad thing to consider taking a break from games that offer little novelty and diving into critically acclaimed alternatives, even if it requires forcing myself to do so. If for no other reason, it’ll give me more fodder to come back to this page with.
Do you guys struggle with this phenomenon? What do you attribute it to? I’m genuinely curious to hear your experiences and thoughts on this topic – it’s one I’ve wrestled with a lot the past few months.