This week’s question is an old Gameological favorite: What is your New Year’s gaming resolution?
I’m calling it now: 2016 is the year that I reject, deny, and abjure the urge to get “100 percent” completion in games. It’s a compulsive, ugly impulse that’s kept me playing games well past the point where I was still having fun, and it’s got to stop before I drive myself completely insane. The worst part is, the people making these games clearly know what an irresistible hook “doing it all” can be for people like me; not just those whose games actively comment on the need, like Undertale’s Toby Fox, but the designers who fill their creations with maps full of icons, each pointing to a quick, pre-packaged dopamine rush of training wheels-burdened exploration. (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed and Batman.) But no more: This is the year I cut the ties, slip the addiction, free myself from the need to see it all. And if I can’t quite manage it, well, that’s what checking this stuff out on YouTube is for.
This is the year I commit to regular multiplayer online gaming. For me, playing games was always a solitary pursuit. It was a way to spend some quality alone time solving puzzles, fighting bad guys, and most importantly, getting away from the world and everyone in it. I have strenuously avoided multiplayer for that very reason: I assumed it would force me to interact with others during an activity that had brought me joy specifically because it involved no one but myself. But then, earlier this year, I went on a mission to improve my first-person shooter skills—which, no surprise, required lots of hours of online gaming with others—and I made a discovery that, in retrospect, is rather embarrassing in its obviousness. It turns out, not only does multiplayer not hamper the enjoyment of playing games, but it’s exactly as social as you choose to make it. You can play endless team matches and never even feel like you’ve interacted with another person, or you can strap on that headset and spend all night talking to others. It hasn’t been a downer at all, and the brief surge of elation from being victorious is actually sweeter for knowing that it involved others. It’s still hard for me to find the time to dedicate more than an hour or so per session to this pursuit, but given the rewards it has conferred, I’m going to go out of my way to continue.
It’s been a strange year for me and my relationship with moving pixels. Before March, I’d spent much of the last half decade as a full-time games journalist and was basically required to be a gaming omnivore. But then I got hired at an alt-weekly in Chicago and my newspaper column that required me to review three games a week got canned—leading to an unplanned gaming sabbatical. Since then, I’ve only played about an hour of games a month (admittedly, not counting puzzle games on my phone) and really only engorged myself again with Shooter Tutor and my review of Black Ops III. The truth is I’ve felt disenchanted with gaming and this thing we call nerd culture recently and desperately needed the detox from my Xbox. I want to come back to games in 2016, but in a way that acknowledges that they’re not as central to my life and identity. That means staying away from the 10 billion open-world games out there and sticking to simple and social games like Rock Band 4 or the basic but brilliant Elbow Room. But maybe I’ll get a Pip-Boy just in case.
In 2016, I want to give Japanese RPGs a chance again. Like a lot of people who grew up with consoles, some of my most formative gaming experiences came from the subgenre. (In particular, I was a real fiend for Final Fantasy X.) Since getting older, however, I’ve mostly shunned it. I tend to write off any big, overwrought Japanese role-playing game as, well, just that: big, overwrought, slow, and ridiculous. I decide they’re not worth my time and go play something violent and stupid. No more! This year, I want to reconnect with my younger, anime-loving self and see what all of the fuss was about. It’ll take more patience than I usually give my leisure time, but I’m starting to feel guilty for writing off a whole genre so thoroughly. I’m starting a little early with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, a game that some of my fellow Gameologicos are pretty passionate about. It’s like a mixture between Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy X-2, and the Gospel Of John. So far so good.
In 2016, I want to play The Witcher 3. That’s it. I don’t necessarily want to beat it or put in a ton of hours, I just want to play it. See, I bought an Xbox One over the summer when Microsoft had a deal where you could get any game with it for free. I chose Witcher 3, but I also bought Batman: Arkham Knight and figured I’d play that first. By the time I finished Batman, though, Metal Gear Solid V had come out and I wanted to play that. Then Assassin’s Creed came out. Then Call Of Duty. Then Star Wars Battlefront. Now Witcher 3 is just gathering dust next to my Xbox. I’m sure “buy fewer games” would be a fine resolution, but that’s no fun. I’d rather keep buying new games and just get to Witcher 3 after I play Fallout 4 and the new Tomb Raider… and maybe some more of Rock Band 4.
At my highest moments of delusion and pretension, I sometimes consider myself an artist. For me, the easiest way to process something that I’ve enjoyed is to use my love for it to create more stuff—illustrations, comics, creative writing, criticism, whatever feels like the best way to express my appreciation. The more I love something, the more I feel compelled to produce in tribute to it. It is, in theory, a neat feedback loop, a virtuous cycle in which art inspires the creation of even more art. 2015 was, if you ask me, truly bursting with rich, inspiring games—a real 1997-calibre high point—and it’s left me with a whole lot of positive vibes. In order to process those good vibrations, I’d like to make a game myself in 2016. I’ve tried walking down this road a few times already (even once in collaboration with some fellow Gameological commenters. Anyone here remember our aborted attempt to create a game about a domovoi?) but after glutting myself on 12 months’ worth of incredible art, I think this might be the year I finally break through the wall and do it. It’d be the ultimate satisfaction for me to see a game of my own go on to inspire people the way other games have inspired me.
I will play Persona 5 and Final Fantasy XV in 2016 and I will finish them. That may not sound like the loftiest goal for someone whose job involves playing and writing about video games, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to actually fit in mammoth games. 2015 was full of games that required a daunting investment of time to see to their finish and while I loved Metal Gear Solid V and The Witcher 3, I also recognize that the attention I gave those games will be difficult to replicate after I have my first child. The most dangerous thing about life changes, though, is to think about your expectations in absolute terms. My brain immediately says, “Well, I’m not going to have time for RPGs anymore!” Thinking like that will lead me to sampling games and mindlessly rewatching all seven seasons of 30 Rock again when I do find a free moment to unwind. Instead, I’m going to readjust my expectations of what it’s like to play and finish game, to change the way I play to a slower, more methodical pace over a longer period of time. I’ll play these games that excite me and it will be different. That’s the plan.
I firmly believe that there’s nothing wrong with not being interested in a certain gaming genres. Exceptions of quality aside, I rarely seek out romance movies or period dramas, or read novels about New Yorkers struggling to find themselves while having lots of sex; why shouldn’t the same be true of video games? But that said, I still think I should be willing to stretch my horizons, because if I don’t, how will I know what I’m missing? To that end, I want to play more stealth games. It’s a genre I’ve struggled with for years now—just the idea of wandering away from enemies without dealing with them definitively makes me uncomfortable, and I can never shake the feeling that I’m doing something wrong, even when I manage to make progress. Stealth games are puzzle games, and puzzle games drive me to find clean solutions. Setting off an alarm and then hiding for 10 minutes behind a box never feels clean. But I loved the hell out of The Last Of Us, which managed to make stealth’s occasional messiness into a virtue, and the two hours I’ve played of Alien: Isolation really stuck with me. I’d also like to go through the Metal Gear series, although it may take some doing finding the right consoles. Basically, I’m not sure where I’m going to end up with gaming in 2016, so I’m keeping my expectations simple: I want to spend more time with a genre that simultaneously repels and intrigues me.
When I was a kid, I used to play this Atari game (the name escapes me) where you were in the cockpit of a spacecraft and had to shoot at objects as they came into your field of vision. It was simple, but more often than not, I wouldn’t even play. I would construct my own vessel in the living room out of pillows and chairs and flashlights and just leave that game on and pretend that was the helm of my ship as I traveled through space. That experience will finally come full circle, I think, this year with No Man’s Sky, the long-awaited game of galactic exploration. I think the idea is that you travel around space and an algorithm just generates random planets and strange flora and fauna and whatnot. While the open-endedness of that mission scares me a little, I truly think it will be a game-changing—er—game. So I guess, to turn this into a proper resolution, mine is to fulfill the 30-year space mission I started back in the mid-’80s and explore strange new worlds, new civilizations, and boldly go where no man in my apartment has ever gone before.
As I watched each company’s annual pre-convention dog-and-pony show during E3 2014, a dread built up inside me. It seemed like every game that got announced or demonstrated was some gargantuan open-world adventure, each sure to sponge up dozens of hours of my time. In 2015, that fear came to pass, and it really put a damper on what was an all-time great year for games. I put 30 hours into Metal Gear Solid V and got nowhere. The Witcher 3 gobbled up another 25, and I barely scratched its surface. I bounced from time-suck to time-suck, offering up what little spare time I had to these hungry beasts, and what was I left with? A bunch of half-finished games that I only enjoyed a fraction of my time inside. The real heartbreaker, though, is that devoting so much time to these meant there were far too many games—shorter, less glamorous games—I never got around to playing. It’s uncharacteristic of me and something I really regret, so in 2016, I vow to stop wasting my time wading through big games so that I can play more of the exciting morsels living in their shadows.