Idles of March
I am once again experiencing a long stretch of gaming ennui.
Guild Wars 2, which had hitherto commanded a solid portion of my daily gaming allotment, fell off a cliff in the weeks leading into the End of Dragons expansion. There were really three things in play. First, I was beginning to question “the point” of my toil – as good an indication of any that one has shifted from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. Second, I could not readily commit to which version of the expansion to purchase. This remains a barrier even now, because when I do log in I see items in the Gem Store that are enticing, which suggests I should buy the $80 version of the game (which comes with gems). Surely buying the standard $30 version and then buying gems separately is the worst of all worlds. So… I do nothing.
The third reason was actually recently addressed: I was not certain whether End of Dragons was to be the last GW2 expansion. Who wants to grind things in a “dead” MMO? Well, ArenaNet announced they are working on a fourth expansion. Whether it is coming in 2 years or 4 doesn’t matter so much as that it is coming at all.
Beyond all that, I am actually playing a lot of different games. Not the ones I committed to in December, of course. I completed Undertale, but then hit a wall with SOMA insofar as trying to decide whether I wanted to keep playing with monsters on or off. I (used to) own all of the Silent Hill games and enjoyed all of the Resident Evils through the years, but I’m not a particular fan of the helpless horror genre. Dead Space and Prey? Good. Amnesia and Alien: Isolation? No thanks. The anxiety and thrills feel cheaper than, say, from a roguelike or at the end of a long raid-dance sequence – I either one-shot the area or get killed enough times to abstract the encounter into a puzzle.
In any case, I do not particularly want every post between now and Summer to be an Impressions piece of whatever indie game I take for a spin. So, I have been writing next to nothing. Which is probably worse, on balance. Hmm. This is what I have been playing recently:
- Black Book
- FAR: Lone Sails
- My Friend Pedro
- We Happy Few
- Sunset Overdrive
That last game, Sheltered, is really a sort of Fallout: Shelter-esque time-waster that nevertheless sucked 6 hours out of me and reignited a burning need to collect random garbage in survival crafting fashion. Unfortunately, I have pretty much played everything in the genre already, and what’s left will remain unpurchased until Epic’s Summer Sale. A mere 50% off doesn’t do it for me anymore: I need 50% + $10 off.
So, that’s my life at the moment. How are you?
What Do I Really Want?
Specifically: what do I really want to buy with money?
Short answer: I dunno.
Long answer: buckle up.
The other night, I spent literally 40 minutes agonizing on whether I was going to buy 2000 discounted gems in Guild Wars 2. The agony was specifically derived from the fact that there was a 20% discount on Shared Inventory Slots, but only for one day. Discount of a discount is a great deal, yeah? The way the math worked, I could buy 3 Shared Inventory Slots for about 1500 gems, then combine the leftover gems with an upcoming 400 free gems I was earning for hitting 5000 in-game achievement points and then buy a 800 gem Character Slot. Best of all worlds!
Alternatively, I could not buy Shared Inventory Slots at all and just get three Character Slots with the same gems. Which got me thinking: “what’s the actual value to me of… any of these things?”
A Shared Inventory Slot is what it sounds like: a slot that is shared across all of your characters. I have two of them currently, as one comes with each expansion. Right now, the first slot is filled with a gem-store item that basically disenchants gear. That’s helpful when cleaning up all the random crap gear you get showered with in this game. The second slot used to have a portal scroll to the most effective farm area (Bitterfrost). I now have it filled with the Quartz resource, as I use my alts to farm 10 Quartz at a specific area, then log into my main and turn 25 of that Quartz into one Charged Quartz, which is a time-gated crafting material for goods down the road. All of which is convenient, but not particularly exciting.
So what would I even do with three more? Don’t get me wrong, those slots would get filled with something of marginal utility. There’s a neat “positional rewinder” item you can get to help with Jumping Puzzles, for example. But I’m not using my alts for Jumping Puzzles. In fact, right now, I’m not playing my alts at all, beyond the 30 seconds of farming Quartz. I’m really focused on the “Return To X” achievements, both for the rewards and the fact that I actually never played some of these Living World stories. So even in the case of Character Slots, it is not as though I would be utilizing them right away. So maybe I just don’t buy anything at all.
“Besides, there is so much more I could buy for $20-$40.”
That thought got me down another rabbit hole. Because… is there anything else I want to buy? Surely, yes? I have 44 items in my Steam Wishlist, for example. But even with deep, current discounts, I have had zero compunction to purchase any of them. About the closest ones are Wildermyth, Red Dead Redemption 2, Disco Elysium, Horizon Zero Dawn, and some random assorted Roguelikes and Early Access Survival (redundant, much?) games. But would I really stop my current routine to play them immediately? And if I didn’t, what are the odds they would end up on the Game Pass by the time I did?
Yes, folks, Game Pass really has broke me. Know what the final straw was? Dicey Dungeon.
I really had not played a single game on Steam throughout all of August and September and most of October. Then I bought Dicey Dungeons on October 24th for about $5. Played it about 3-4 hours. Guess what showed up on November 11th? Yep.
“It’s just $5, who cares?” It’s the principle. I already have hundreds of purchased games I’m not playing, on top of free* games I’m not, to be buying more. Although I guess in this case I actually did play it right away, so whatever. The principle!
This journey of self-flagellation did reveal something a bit deeper to me. Namely, that I can’t really answer the question in the title. I’m apparently actively avoiding spending money in Guild Wars 2, I don’t want to buy games on sale lest they become free on Game Pass, but I’m also not particularly saving towards anything either. I mean, I’m not a mindless consumer that feels as empty as my shopping cart. But is that also a proxy thought to not looking forward to anything? What am I excited about? It was going to be Battlefield 2042, honestly, but it plummeted to the the top 10 worst-reviewed games on Steam within two days of release.
So, yeah. I got nothing. Or maybe just gaming ennui.
It Also Gets Harder
You know, I used to look down on “mobile gamers.” Or rather, they just never figured into my headcanon for what a real gamer was. Your mom playing Candy Crush is not the same as you playing a MMO for a decade on a $1200 PC. Nevermind how both developers are technically under the same corporate umbrella these days.
This past week, I went three days in a row without playing games.
Some of that was due to literally not having the time. My window these days is precisely between 8:30pm and 10:30pm, which is after the baby goes to sleep the first time, and when he wakes up for another bottle right before I should be going to sleep. Two hours seems like a decent chunk of time, but that is also the time I have to burn to get chores done around the house. By the time my ass hits the computer chair, it’s 9:50pm and… what then? What am I meaningfully playing for 40 minutes?
Of course, I am not counting the time spent playing Clash Royale. Or sometimes Hearthstone (Adventures). Those ~12 minute increments add up throughout the day in ways they could not via any other games. But these are not real, substantial narrative experiences.
After a while though, I have to start asking myself if that is what I even want. Maybe not in 40-minute increments, but surely I could make time elsewhere, if it were that important to me? I certainly seem to default back to Reddit browsing and low-effort time-killing readily enough. Almost as though I’m enjoying myself.
Luckily enough, I got through the ennui by the end of that week. But it did get me to thinking about what kind of gaming experience I was looking for.
Waxing my Wane
I’m generally a pretty frugal guy. Parsimonious, even. And yet I just bought half a dozen games in as many days, after having avoided doing so for these specific titles for as many years. “They were on sale though.” They were on sale last year too. What changed?
Specifically, I finally exhausted my desire to play modded Starbound (Frackin’ Universe)… after 100 hours. One. Hundred. Hours. When you get up to triple digits like that, with any game, the entire experience becomes more than just “having fun” and instead morphs into a whole routine. I would play in the evenings, lie in bed planning my actions the next day, and browse wikis and such during the day. It all really hearkened back to my heydays of WoW. Minus a few thousand hours, of course.
Then, one day, it’s all just gone. Whether it’s the game ending or just getting tired of it, the experience is over.
I am not sure how other people handle post-game depression. My go-to move appears to be ennui of unknown duration. I know of games that could probably suck me right back into mainlining. But I don’t feel like it. In this lucid state, smaller experiences seem like the better course of action. If I don’t play them now, I definitely won’t be playing them later when absorbed in something else.
So out comes a little retail therapy.
We’ll see how it goes. Right now the routine is playing a few missions in Far Cry 5, followed by an area or two of Knife of Dunwall (Dishonored DLC). The segmentation is not on purpose – I can only seem to stand playing either one in short bursts. Not exactly a glowing review, but I blame the ennui more than the gameplay itself. After these two, hopefully the pallet will be cleansed, and I can get into the more cerebral titles like Hellblade, Prey, and/or Final Fantasy XV.
And then… we’ll see.
It is not very common for me to succumb to a desire to play a particular genre over everything else, but I got hit by a “crafting survival” bug pretty hard on Memorial Day. I’m deep in Mass Effect: Andromeda, I’ve got FFXIV on my plate, and yet I wanted to collect things by punching them repeatedly something fierce.
The somewhat surprising problem is that I’ve already played most of them.
My go-to game in the the Crafting-Survival genre is 7 Days to Die. I could – and did – play that game all damn day, and it’s hard to really indicate why. I have more or less mastered the flow of the game, so technically I should be “done” with it. The extra issue is that the Alpha 16 patch should be out (Blizzard) Soon™ and it contains some pretty big feature sets, including auto-turrets and electricity and more traps and such. I’m worried that spending more time playing in Alpha 15 will result in me getting bored with the base game and thus miss out on all the new stuff.
Once 7 Days is off the table, I’m back to a weird state. Minecraft? That’s the quintessential hook for the genre, but I’ve long been done with the game. Terraria has had some updates since I last played, but no thanks. Starbound is done. I’m passing on Ark until they actually spend time optimizing their goddamn code. The Forest might be satisfying, but I’m not sure I want Survival-Crafting-Horror at the moment.
What else? The Long Dark was intriguing, but a bit too much on the “never be safe” side of survival. I have high praise for Subnautica and will definitely play again… once it gets out of Early Access. The vast majority of these games languish in Early Access for their entire duration, actually, which is only usually a problem when you get hooked on them. Don’t Starve was a fantastic game that graduated Early Access and even has two expansions. That said, I have spent considerable time playing it already and don’t have much of a drive to go back.
Okay… what’s left? I have zero interest in PvP-centric survival, which crosses off a lot of the more famous examples, like Rust or H1Z1. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds actually popped up under “Crafting” for some reason, but no thank you. Craft the World? Played. Empyrion: Galactic Survival was actually on sale a while ago, but I’m not paying $20 for it now. Same with Rimworld.
What I ended up purchasing was Dig or Die, sadly at full price (8 whole dollars). It is still in Early Access (of course), but the description basically paints it more as a Tower Defense Terraria: build a base with turrets and defenses to survive the night. Except with more fluid physics, e.g. water and lava. We’ll see how it goes.
I was browsing my game library yesterday, desperately looking for something that could grab my interest, and it occurred to me just how much of it is filled with unfinished games. Not “unfinished” in the sense of my not completing them – there are plenty of those too – but rather them being literally unfinished by the developers:
- The Long Dark
- Dirty Bomb
- The Forest
Those are just the ones that came to mind. Some of those are in a more finished state than others, of course. What especially irks me about this scenario though is how badly I want to be playing most/all of these titles… but know I shouldn’t.
For example, I did break down the other day and start playing Starbound. I had an itch for collecting and counting proverbial beans, and it seemed especially suited to that task. The game even looks mostly finished. But it’s not. Or at least the game is paced bizarrely enough that I hope that it is unfinished, because I was about done in 20 hours whereas Terraria held my attention for 50. Even when I decided to settle in with the more freeform nesting gameplay, I realized that most of the blocks/tilesets I wanted to use were random drops rather than craftable items.
Is that intended? I don’t know. I don’t know if even the designers know.
And now, even if the devs end up finishing Starbound, I will have already consumed the lion’s share of the game’s novelty – that ever-finite motivational resource. No more character wipes? Then I’m already at endgame. Character wipes? I already know where to go, what to look for, how to overcome the obstacles, and basically speed my way through normal progression. Assuming I can be bothered to do so a second time.
“Play something else.” I tried, man, I tried. When you get the urge to play something in particular, trying to play anything else just feels worse. It’s like taking a big swig of what you thought was water, but it ended up being Sprite. They both might quench your thirst in the abstract, but in that particular moment you will be choking and sputtering.
Ever come back from an extended videogame break – be it vacation, work project, family thing, etc – and just have no interest in anything whatsoever? Or perhaps more paradoxically, have so many conflicting interests that you end up spending your entire free time with procrastinating activities? I have just blown a solid three hours that could have been more productively used progressing through any number of games. Instead, I’m talking to you guys and playing Dungeon Keeper. You know, that almost universally reviled app from the studio that no longer exists?
I’m actually kinda a big deal in that game. The highest ELO bracket is 3200 and I’m 3500+. I don’t actually know where that puts me rank-wise, especially because the designers were dumb and allowed people to farm rank at super-low levels for several months, but at least I’m legit.
In any case, this post was not an elaborate ploy to humble-brag about my Dungeon Keeper prowess. Rather, how do you guys bootstrap yourself out of a post-break gaming slump?
I logged into Planetside 2 for long enough to remember why I hate-love that game (fun gunplay followed by 10+ minutes of camping empty bases) and my Wildstar log-in didn’t last much longer because, hey, Medics still feel terrible. Do you pick a game at random and just plow forward? Do you have an old standby? Or do you just give in to the ennui and take a nap or whatever?
Out of this RimWorld
Posted by Azuriel
After hitting a lull in Final Fantasy 7 Remake motivation, I did the most logical thing possible with a $1800 prebuilt PC: reinstalled RimWorld. Admittedly, it had been a while.
While there has been two expansions released, the core experience has largely remained intact. I think the biggest thing that threw me for a loop was needing to build a wooden pen for animals. Previously, you could just “paint” an Allow zone for animals in an area, and herd them elsewhere by moving the zone. Probably a bit too abstract, sure, but it’s not as though the rest of the game is super intuitive.
The other aspect of the game that returned quickly was the demotivating sense of inevitability. And I don’t just mean those unfortunate events where the dice don’t land your way and your best sniper gets shot in the eye by a tribal with an arrow from 50m away. I mean when you hit Spacer tech and you’re starting down the charged barrel of endgame Civilization Conquest next-turning for the next dozen hours. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing certain about Randy RNG beyond your tears… but, also, kinda yeah there is. There is a point where all you’re doing is pulling the handle, and seeing if you’ve successfully installed a bionic spine into colonist #6, or if everyone gets muscle parasites an hour before a mechanoid cluster lands inside your base.
I’m currently on the fence regarding whether I believe the expansions would help. The prevailing wisdom is that the Royalty DLC adds a lot of new content, while Ideology adds more roleplay elements. Either or both could possibly help with that inevitable feeling. I certainly have no desire to caravan across the planet and/or DIY a spaceship – I did both years ago and that was enough.
But… we’ll see. It was a craving for a survival experience that led me to reinstalling in the first place, and RimWorld isn’t that. It’s adjacent, in a way. But once you’ve had your fill, that’s that.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: DLC, Ennui, Inevitable, Next Turn, RimWorld