You know me, or you don’t, either way as a typical human dwelling in Yorkshire, I love a deal. I love discounts, and even more than that, I love free things. Recently, I have noticed a slight trend in my life – I continue to drop significant amounts of money on games which I either don’t start, or more often, don’t finish. Why?
This isn’t uncommon within the hobby by any means, but I always thought of myself as being good with money. I’m someone who usually agonises over even minute, inconsequential purchases. Over the past year or so, I’ve played more games than usual, however, have also finished hardly any of them. As a self-assessment, I thought it might be interesting and a little therapeutic to dive into why I think this is, and what the heck is going on in my idiot brain.
Subscription service saturation
The first, and perhaps most common reason for this is the abundance of content which we now have access to. Be that a deep-sea trench’s worth of backlog, or the vast desert of new titles being dropped on your lap from various subscriptions, as gamers, we have never had so much choice.
This choice is obviously a great thing, it means we can be more flexible with what we play and lowers the barrier to entry to try new titles which we wouldn’t otherwise touch. For example, I have never been a massive fan or Arkane’s work, but with PS+, I was able to give them another shot and try the likes of Prey and Deathloop – I didn’t care much for either of them, but I’m glad I tried. This platter of content sitting at our fingertips also means that there is always something new to try, keeping play sessions varied allowing me to squeeze every drop of value out of my monthly subscription.
This is also great for many smaller developers too, with this lower barrier to entry comes a higher likelihood that your game will be discovered and loved by people all around the world. This is provided that the storefront allows for these worthy titles to actually have visibility in the sea of asset-flip trash which inundates many platforms (but that is the story for another day).
This Lower barrier to entry does make me fickler however, if a game isn’t instantly understood, no longer do I seem to have the patience for it. I started up Returnal the other week, I’d always been curious about it, but the vast glossary needed to understand what anything even does in that game quickly turned me away. I knew I’d never get to the end as a result of the unforgiving nature of the game, so I just didn’t even try. The minute-to-minute gameplay was fun, but I didn’t understand a lot of the jargon being thrown at me, nor did I care to learn it.
This might be an issue unique to me, something undiagnosed perhaps, or just me growing old, but it is a habit I have been developing. I would much rather return to my comfort food games like Slay the Spire or Akane. This is even happening with music, I already have Limp Bizkit, I don’t need any more music, I know what I like, and that’s what I’m going to put on. Why would I try any of these new bands? I’ve even started saying things like “they don’t make them like they used to”. Perhaps my lack of commitment to new games is the result of growing older then?
The slew of options given to your average player now grows ever more daunting, with such a wide range of stuff to play, how do I best spend my time? I often find myself struck with analysis paralysis when choosing what to boot up next. Each game I decide on now has a much larger opportunity cost associated with it, constantly begging the question “what if there is something else I can access that will give me more fun?”. I have been scared off plenty of games now due to lengthy runtimes or slow introductory tutorials and I can’t quite seem to shake it. Hence me starting and finishing Minit the other day (good game, I’d recommend playing it, it’s really short too, less than two hours).
All of this is not to say I want less “free” things. I just wish there was some way I could reprogram my brain to not worry about things which are so trivial. Ultimately, wider access to these titles is a good thing for most gamers and developers, but it doesn’t suit my current lifestyle it seems.
Time is such a valuable thing, watch it fly by as the pendulum swings
On the subject of lifestyle, contributing factor to this may be that my time is more important to me now. Working a full-time job, with hobbies, friends, family and a household to maintain all eat into my down-time. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change this, I’m in an incredibly fortunate position, that much isn’t lost on me. I don’t seem to have the time to learn new, obtuse games which once enticed me. If I hadn’t discovered From Software games at the time that I did, I probably never would have gotten into them, and certainly wouldn’t have been motivated enough to dive head-first into Elden Ring earlier this year.
More and more do I feel the need for more instant gratification – shorter, more digestible gameplay loops which can be repeatedly completed are becoming more appealing to me. I hate to bring it up again, but I think this is why Slay the Spire continues to have it’s hooks in me so. I’m struggling to get into Fire Emblem because the gratification is delayed too much for me to feel the constant pull to come back for more. Contrast this with something like Doom that has a ludicrously short introduction before you start blasting demons to bits. It is instant, it is electric, and it ensures that my time is consistently rewarded.
So, my lifestyle is different now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Previously I used games to procrastinate from other tasks which I should’ve been doing – university assignments, working out, calling my mum back (sorry mum). Simply put, procrastination isn’t an option anymore, putting off an assignment to play more of The Binding of Isaac was acceptable back then. Missing real work deadlines and putting off housework, not so much. Whilst games used to be escapism that I wanted to be enveloped in, now I solely want to occupy my fingers and brain with something inconsequential, the interactive equivalent of reality TV.
All of this is to say that I’m just in a weird point in my life, thanks for listening.
Maybe I’m just jaded, old, boring, and basically devoid of joy
As I become more invested in the hobby, gaining more of a critical eye and knowing more about the development of games, perhaps something has been taken. Although I gain more of an appreciation for the medium, the “magic” looks to have been ripped out of some titles. No longer do I get excited for games like I used to, nothing hits quite the same.
The gross practices that have been bubbling beneath the surface of the industry have exploded like a hot trash geyser, all over games which I used to love. From poor work environments for the artists, predatory monetisation for consumers, large investment from questionable sources, and even more laughable collaborations, it seems impossible to ethically consume this once innocent medium. I used to love Overwatch so much, and now it embodies everything I just mentioned, I feel kind of gross when I boot it up. An “epic McDonald’s skin” for poster girl Tracer is a step too far and misses the entire thesis behind Overwatch, if it was ever truly there. I’m not above some of these issues, I’m not so naïve that I think you can live a completely ethical life, but the world doesn’t make it easy, that’s for sure.
This high-investment in the industry does have a double-edge however. Although I am inundated with dour news about the industry, this can swing completely the other way. After all, lights shine the brightest when they are surrounded by darkness. For example, Toby Fox releasing Undertale and Deltarune, the latter completely for free was a triumph. A clear illustration that not everything in the industry is driven by greed. It also helps that these titles were absolutely fantastic, with heart that you can truly feel. When love and talent has been poured into a game, it shows, it cannot be quantified, but you can tell. When you pick up something like Spiritfarer, Stardew Valley, Inscryption or even the latest Hitman trilogy, there is so much love there. This cannot be said for some of the sludge which is churned out by larger publishers, looking at Fifa, Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed and even my beloved Overwatch.
Perhaps this lack of heart is part of why I continue to play and subsequently quit so many games recently.
From my ramblings here, I have concluded a few things. My attention span is getting shorter, I’m easily overwhelmed, I’m getting dumber, my value of time is shifting more towards DIY and it is impossible to escape corporate greed.
I think that about wraps up the titular question for this article. Did any of this sound familiar? Am I the one who is broken?
Oh man, I need help.