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Time-Soaking

[Blaugust Day 26]

Weirdly enough, I find myself back to playing Battlefield 4.

It all started when I was reading the comment section on a random Kotaku page, and someone mentioned that BF4 still had 100,000 people playing, whereas Battlefield: Hardline (the more recent game) had 15,000.

After looking it up myself, the numbers are indeed around those ballparks, but it’s a bit misleading:

As DLC, Hardline ain't doing bad.

Taken 8/25/15 at 10:30pm EST.

As DLC, Hardline ain’t doing bad. Then again, it ain’t DLC.

In any case, I had an itching for some shooting, so I queued up the Origin download, then the BF4 download, then the China Rising DLC download, then got in 5 minutes of gameplay before bed. The next few days after that though, I’d say I was back to my old pattern of soaking up my free-time with games that ultimately don’t matter. And I don’t like it/can’t get enough of it.

I know I’ve talked about it before in this space, but I have a huge love-hate relationship with these sort of games. By “these games” I mean games that are more entertainment than experiences. When I finish playing Battlefield 4, I awaken as from a fugue state, disorientated… and empty. I had fun in the moment, and the moment passed. Which is great if I were simply interested in killing time between meaningful activities, but I’m not. This is my life I’m whiling away. Surely there are better games for it? Games that leave you with something.

Sometimes I just don’t know. Metal Gear Solid 5 comes out in less than a week; I have not even started playing Metal Gear Solid 4. Not that they’re chronologically connected in any way, but still. I could be playing that! I should. I should be plowing through Pillars of Eternity for that matter. I actually am making more progress through that game, methodically, but progress just the same.

What is it about these sort of games – BF4, Civilization, roguelikes, etc – that simultaneously seduces and sickens me? Is it because they are more fun than “traditional” games? Is it because they are more approachable time-commitment-wise? Do I just secretly delight in frivolity? Or perhaps the cognitive dissonance stems entirely from my misplaced sanctimony for “real” games that “matter?”

I wish I had an answer. Because then I could just type that, and be back shooting faces in BF4.

More Than Fun

Some people play videogames just to have fun. I am not one of them.

Have you ever listened to a mindless comedy sketch or watched a show like America’s Funniest Home Videos (or equivalent)? Or realized that you somehow sat through the national average of 5+ hours of television a day? I always feel empty inside afterwards – I had “fun” in the moment, but then the moment is over and the fun evaporates as if it never existed. Because arguably it never did.

To me, having fun isn’t enough. I am not in search for some meaningless amusement to while the time away until oblivion; if that is all you’re looking for, I might recommend heroin or masturbation. I am looking for fun + X, where X is something I am going to remember more than five seconds into the refractory period. It doesn’t always have to be a profound, life-changing epiphany. It just has to be something.

Some people just view videogames as entertainment. Games are certainly that. But they don’t have to be just that however, and I would say that they shouldn’t be just that. If something can be more, it should be more.

I want games that set fire to my imagination, that grip me emotionally, that change the way I look at the world, that make me want to be a better person. I will also settle for games that break new ground or do familiar things in clever ways. The world has plenty enough slot machines and similar wirehead simulators; we don’t need more Loot Caves, we need more Plato Caves.

Are there better avenues than videogames to sate these desires? Maybe. Books have been changing peoples’ lives for thousands of years, for sure. At the same time, I don’t see a particularly compelling argument that we need sequester life-affirming experiences to one particular medium or another. As we have seen, games can be accessible in ways that Tolkien (etc) may not be. A substitute, even a poor one, is often better than nothing.

If you say such games do not exist, I will disagree. I have played them. Chances are you have played them too. They will be the ones at the top of your “most favorite games” list. They will be the titles you still think about and talk about decades after you stopped playing them.

There is a time and a place for the Flappy Birds and Candy Crush Saga games of the world, don’t get me wrong. But just like this compilation video of guys getting hit in the balls, you’re going to turn it off and feel nothing. Except, perhaps, remorse.