The Great Video Game Debate Rages On

The Great Video Game Debate Rages On

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This seems to apply to every aspect of our lives. Back in 2016 I wrote about what I most want to get out of video game experiences.

At the time, I was struggling with my relationship with Guild Wars 2, an MMORPG. It originally advertised itself as a low-grind experience that my husband and I fell in love with. I liked the idea that I could login for a few hours each night, accomplish something, and log back out. But as the game’s development continued, it quickly moved away from its original charter, forcing players into more repetitive grind fests if they wanted to keep up with the game’s new content.

As I wrote those words, I asked myself if it was really worth the time and energy I spent repeating the same events over and over for the slim hope I’d one day be able to afford the armor and weapons I wanted. Or if having top level gear would even help me get through the top level game content – which often required ridiculously long sessions to complete.

I Grew Up Gaming

I’ve played video games for as long as I can remember. My original babysitter, way back in grade school, had a Nintendo that the kids were allowed to use so long as we shared. One of her nephews had a Super Nintendo, and he sometimes let us play Super Mario 3. But I suppose I didn’t become a proper gamer until middle school, when our parents bought me and my brothers our first home console (also a Super Nintendo).

We used to spend hours trying to get past the levels in the few games we had. I still remember our sense of joy when we finally got past the first level of The Empire Strikes back. Only to die miserably three inches into the new level’s first screen. Or the time I spent two hours trying to get past one particularly tricky portion of The Lion King (the part with the logs tumbling over a waterfall that you had to jump up).

In high school, I purchased my first Playstation from a friend when he moved on to the PS2. But I spent countless sleepovers in front of a friends’ Sega Genesis, playing the games we didn’t have at home. Eventually, when I moved out, I moved on to PC games, which became a way to spend quality time with my husband. Back then, we didn’t bat an eye at sinking 100 hours or more into a single RPG. I used to sit on the couch working on novel notes, watching while my husband worked his way through the Metal Gear Solid games.

I Just Don’t Have the Same Kind of Time Anymore

But as we’ve grown older, our relationship with video games has changed. Both of us, and many of our friends, agree that we just don’t have time to spend 100 hours waiting for a game to feel fulfilling. Now that we have full-time jobs and a mortgage to pay, we want our gaming experiences to provide more immediate gratification. Sometimes I want to be able to spend half an hour poking around and feel like I accomplished something before I move on to the next task life demands I fulfill.

I recently noticed that I just don’t have the patience for puzzle games anymore. Don’t get me wrong; I love puzzle games. I love the challenge of trying to figure out the right combination of moves to get me from A to B. Finding out of the box solutions is fun too – that’s what I loved so much about the Portal games. But puzzle games tend to ratchet quickly upward in difficulty. Which means that sometimes you have to spend an hour figuring out the fine details in order to progress. And given all the other factors in my life, I have to be in a certain kind of mood to focus that intensely for that long.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about why I play games. About the fact that video games form a string of memorable moments I like to reminisce about. About the fact that they don’t always need to have spectacular graphics. Even my thoughts about branching narratives.

But the sad reality is that I can’t play games the way I used to. Time constraints and outside stressors have forced my relationship with my hobbies to morph. I’ve had to trade repetition and grind for convenience.

At Some Point, Having a Mortgage Made Me a ‘Filthy Casual’

My debate over how to handle Guild Wars 2 ended up with walking away. I just didn’t have the kind of time I needed to devote to the game, and didn’t want to pour tons of money into it either. Especially when I discovered I no longer enjoyed the time I did spend playing it.

There was a debate at the time over whether or not the game should be universally challenging, or whether people should be able to choose the level of challenge they wanted to tackle. Ultimately, the game designers chose the former solution. Which is fine; it just meant the game no longer fulfilled my desires.

There seems to be an endless debate among gamers about challenge and fulfillment. Some people seem to think that a game can’t be remotely fulfilling if it doesn’t push the player to the absolute limit of their ability. Some people like that kind of challenge, and there are lots of games out there that cater to their desire to ‘get gud.’ But many of the people who like those challenges also seem intent on forcing them down the throats of those of us that don’t have the time – or the patience – for that kind of experience.

Most of the time, I no longer play games to be challenged. I’ll always love puzzle games, so I’ll never completely fall out of love with the idea of challenge. But most of the time I want something else. I want a few quick hours of fun with friends. Or to experience a story. I want something I can chat about in the coming week when life’s burdens start to feel heavy.

This Debate Shouldn’t Even Exist

Logically, it makes most sense that we should allow people to choose the kinds of gaming experiences they want. Sometimes that means putting options into the game that allow the player to customize it according to their needs and desires. Sometimes that means players better choosing games that suit their desires and ignoring those that don’t – one of the things that makes reviews and first impressions so useful.

But gamers don’t ever seem to follow logic. So we’ve spent years fighting over whether or not games should meet certain standards. Whether or not easy modes should exist. Whether or not certain experiences should be limited to those with skill in order to make certain video games feel elite – or something.

Personally, I can’t help feeling this is one of the reasons why the video game industry seems to be struggling. No one can determine whether video games should be focus-grouped to within an inch of their lives or allowed to serve niche audiences. I appreciate when game developers include a story mode that allows me to experience their creation without tearing my hair out. But when they don’t, I’m perfectly content to watch someone else play without pitching a fit.

What I’d love most of all is for the gaming community to stop drawing lines in the sand. To remember that we all came together in the first place because of our love for games. And that what one player does to enjoy their video game experience doesn’t really affect the experience of another when we’re talking about single-player games. Most of us aren’t children anymore. So maybe it’s time we stopped acting like them.

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