Video games

Pinpointing the moment

Looking at my unfinished pile of games, there is one thing they all have in common; I can accurately pinpoint the moment where I lost interest.

It’s a genuine shame because for the most part I was really enjoying the experience. Starting a new adventure is not normally something I undertake lightly – my time is even more precious than it used to be.

So in most cases it’s not really a case of disliking the game that I am playing, more disliking what it’s trying to do at a particular moment.

An uncharacteristic spike in difficulty

I’ve talked about my sublime first experience with Super Metroid before. It is a game that I was unprepared to play in the past due to a historic bigotry on my part caused by being raised on the Sega side of the Sega vs. Nintendo war. I deeply enjoyed what I was able to play and was enamoured with the mood it had set (including the gameplay and music) until I hit my first wall, quite literally.

Wall jumping was the death of my positive experience, as I couldn’t do it and therefore couldn’t proceed. I return to Metroid ritually to keep trying so I can try reignite that passionate experience that I was enjoying. But I felt at the time that wall jumping was a bit beyond my ability, and the difficulty of the moment fractured the marvellous experience I was having up until that point.

Fast running in Super Metroid.Freezing a Super Metroid enemy so I can walk over them.

A difficult boss

I use the example of a boss here but it could be any gameplay device that actively prevents you from continuing. I would describe these as moments where its impossible to seek help in a normal way (such as asking someone or looking up what to do in a video or walkthrough) It’s the sort of fiddly moment you’d happily hand the controller over for someone else to do if such a thing were possible.

These moments frustrate and annoy and I think some bosses personify this marvellously. RPGs have an unfortunate habit of compounding this problem by placing bosses at a moment far from a save point, preluded by a long (often unskippable) series of cutscenes or dialogue. This makes repeating the boss even more of an effort to what would otherwise would be an annoying but tolerable situation.

These sort of moments (by method of annoying repetition) make you a master of the area leading up to the moment of difficulty as you begin to repeat an area or boss over and over again in a desperate attempt to win. In most cases however you never had any particular difficulty in doing the proceeding the bit to what you were stuck on anyway, and this only amplifies the frustration further.

The save room from Alundra.A very dull area right before a boss.

Bad or inconsistant pacing

I’m sad to say that I have lost many games this way. The game may intrigue or interest me enough for me to get so far into a game (often very far, over halfway or more). But then it will drop me in a dull dip of an area or plot point that I simply no longer have the desire or momentum to get out of. Most of the times when this happens I have felt this one or twice in a game already, and it is the third or forth dip that challenges my desire to keep playing.

If this happens I will try to take the shortest path to inspiring my interest (such as avoiding any extra side missions). I will do the anything that I can to get back into the momentum of the game quickly, so that I am actively enjoying the experience again. As a find myself with less and less time, it is the games that go out out their way to hamper my enjoyment that I move on from. I usually give these types of games my utmost, but it concludes with the game no longer giving me anything back to make continued play worthwhile.

I have used Final Fantasy 13 as a pictorial example here, but to its credit, it does also makes it very simple to return to the game should I want to (using its loading screen story overview). In this particular case though I won’t be returning. If I leave a game due to its bad pacing generally I am looking for an excuse to leave so I can play something that will reward me.

Vanille being Vanille.A cutscene from Final Fantasy 13.

Wasted time?

My experience with a spike in difficulty in Super Metroid is indicative of the general idea. This situation is so frustrating because I can easily glean from the content of the game so far that its a experience I will enjoy. Moreover I want to continue to enjoy it, but a combination of my own incompetence, impatience (and more often than not a pinch of bad design practice) means I often never back to playing the game I was enjoying so intently. So does this mean that the time I’ve invested to get this far in a game is now wasted?

Personally I continue to enjoy the experience of playing any game – despite any premature end. The enjoyment of experiencing what I was able to is often justification enough for picking it up. Although I must admit that most of my game purchases now are retro ones, any of these game-stopping scenarios must be far more frustrating for those who have just handed over full-price for a brand new game.

I would rarely describe playing (even an uncompleted) game as wasted time, I had fun and if it’s good enough I’ll get back to it eventually.

Or so I keep telling myself…

Video games

Minecraft as my metaphor

Not long after I started this website I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. It is nothing life threatening, but it’s something that would go on to irrevocably change me. My energy levels sank, and I continue to struggle with daily pain.

The consequences of my illness are now always with me, and the one aspect that’s taken me the longest to notice is its effect on my relationship with video games.

Playing through illness

Despite a very trying couple of years my enthusiasm for life hasn’t changed, but I find that video games are one of the few things I can actively partake in without too much difficulty. I am still very much a happy person, but continuing to play games has definitely helped console me when it became clear I could no longer be physically active. That’s a difficult prospect to cope with at 25 – the fact that you are ill and you always will be.

Weirdly it’s actually the small little details in life that I miss. Such as being able to run unabated, to be able to be spontaneous and energetic. The fact that I can still experience this in some small part in a game helps to take some of that fatigue and sorrow away. I think that’s why I now prefer walking the vast horizons of Minecraft rather than building anything, exploring each new world I create is a greater reward for me at the moment than making my mark with stone or brick.

The way I play Minecraft has changed and this is a pretty good metaphor for my illness. My time spent in video games has become less goal driven and far more about passive relief.

I’ve never really understood the concept of video game escapism. Video games have rarely about escapism for me in the past. They’ve always been a passion, something I’ve always enjoyed doing for as far back as I can remember. What they offer me now is a little bit extra, unbridled moments of peace; free from fatigue. A world full of excitement and risk, but with careful rules intact. You often have a set amount of health in a game, or an agreed amount of gravity or determined physics to name but two examples.

Illness has taken away the security out of life, my pain follows no pattern, there is no set time it will leave me. Oddly it is the boundaries and rules of a video game that I appreciate now as much as its freedoms.

Looking at a waterfall in third persion view with my wolf.An amazing natural waterfall of water and lava.

Minecraft and recovery

Playing games is thankfully the one area of life that I don’t have to scale back. I make no compromises in what is now my very important recuperation time. My emotional well-being is becoming as important my physical care and medical routine. As a result although my quality of life has suffered dearly in the time since starting this website, but the quality of my gaming experiences hasn’t. I find myself returning to Minecraft when I am tired, when I want to walk and climb. I roll into my virtual bed and awake for each new day completely refreshed. Sometimes I make the most beautiful world I can and just walk for hours.

It can sound trite, but playing games returns a small amount of freedom to my day. It is one one the few times where my mind can takes precedent over my rapidly tiring body, the tension and pain I experience daily is largely washed away in the moment of play. These moments of relaxation bring a slight feeling of shame and regret, as I never needed video games in such a way before.

A table mountain with waterfall.A desert biome with cacti in the foreground.

The future

Games have had to be purely restorative in recent weeks during a genuinely difficult time. My options for a cure have all but dried up now. As a result it is harder to analyse video games of late when my mind is mostly preoccupied with pain and fatigue.

I am not stopping my updates, but I felt the time had come to explain that I simply cannot carry on at the pace of other websites. It simply easier to explore and play during my bad weeks rather than to write, when I am at my worst even the most amazing new title cannot stir my creative mind, it is simply easier to embrace the experience.

But fear not, in the same way I will never tire of video games, the desire to build (or write) always comes around again.