Remind me, why am I playing this again?
Recently, I've been clearing out my backlog and playing some games that have been aging on my shelf. Upon playing these games, I’ve come to question my reasoning for wanting to actually play these games, or rather, finish them. Some games don’t immediately grab me and require more play time before I actually understand their systems and potential allure. Other games have flat stories or frustrating gameplay mechanics that tarnish the game’s experience. Yet, other games that are perfectly fine, I’ll take a break from and sometimes never return to them. It makes me wonder, when do I stop playing a game and why do I feel compelled to play it even if I’m not fully enjoying it?
Strong storylines are not what I expect and are not a necessary requirement in order to enjoy a game, but recently, I was captivated by Metal Gear Solid 4: Sons of the Patriots. The story line, production value, music, and characters are all top notch. I was hooked from beginning to end trying to follow the game’s convoluted modern military tale. The problem is that these commendable qualities are only revealed in exposition during the game’s lengthy cutscenes. When it came to actually interacting with the game, I didn’t have much fun. The stealth mechanics were not communicated clearly and I often ended up just blasting through the content with my M4-Carbine. It was often difficult to find out where to head to next in certain sequences and some of the boss fights, specifically the Mantis fight, were just very confusing. Without getting hints online, I probably would have thrown my controller at the floor and stopped playing. Yet, I kept on playing the game just to unlock the next cutscene. It felt more like a movie, with brief bits of taxing gameplay in between. I never felt like I was getting better or making any sort of progress. I know this is basically the formula for a Metal Gear game but this time around, I just got kind of tired of the gameplay. I felt like I’d have rather just sat back and watched eight hours of cutscenes. In this case, the story was so strong that I was able to ignore the mechanics I didn’t like, to finish the game.
Some games I play never really strike a chord with me. They’re not poorly made or fundamentally broken in any way; I’m just not that enthralled by them. Yet, I play them… to completion most of the time. Why this is, I don’t know. I’m not sure if it’s a general curiosity about the medium or some weird sense of completion I’m seeking. Sometimes I just feel a calling to keep playing even though I’m not having the best time. Maybe it’s the hope that something will change for the better – something might click? I don’t know. A couple of recent examples of this are Infamous and Dead Island.
Infamous is a fine game, I just never really got into it. The storyline didn’t interest me and I felt like I was doing a lot of running from point to point which was time consuming and rather monotonous. The combat was always fun but that’s about it. Oh, grinding on the cables and rail lines was pretty fun too. I just felt like the game was inhibiting me from fully enjoying myself. The thing that frustrated me the most was the game’s lengthy health regeneration process. I feel like this completely hamstrung the game. I always wanted to tout the games awesome powers and rain down havoc on large groups of enemies but never really got a chance to do it (until a fleeting few moments at the end that is). I was always cowering behind cover trying to regenerate health. Yet, I played through it... It’s a fine game, just not my cup of tea I guess. Perhaps it’s games like Saints Row the 3rd that do such a marvelous job empowering the player that it ruins games like this for me.
Dead Island is a strange game. The graphics are weird, the combat gets repetitive, and the storyline is lackluster. However, I enjoyed the game for some inexplicable reason and played it to completion in about a week. I was on some weird conquest to blast through it. The combat was really enjoyable at first, but after about the 1000th zombie killed, it grew tiresome. The story didn’t give me a reason to finish the game but I kept pressing on to complete it. I had some odd completist desire barking in the back of my brain telling me, “just to get to the end.” It’s like if I put it back on the shelf, I would almost feel guilty starting another game; like I owe it to the game to finish it or something. It perches in the back of mind on some watchtower making sure I don’t let any new games in.
As if my own mind isn’t sending enough conflicting information to me, I also have my friends’! No one can get me to do things I don’t want to do more than a group of my asshole, peer-pressuring, amiably nagging friends. Playing games with friends is one of the most enjoyable things about gaming for me. The shared experience, social interaction, and endless badgering are what keep me coming back for more. At some point though, the fun starts to trickle off for me. Usually the game gets old and loses its luster or I’m getting my ass kicked in competitive mupltiplayer and I’m ready to stop. The thing that keeps me hanging around however is my friends. I like to talk with them and I’ll put up with a game I don’t really want to play at the time just to socialize and have a good laugh. I get roped into playing just because I like the company of friends essentially. This is a case where I thoroughly enjoy the game I’m playing, I just might not be in the mood to play it at a given time, but I do anyway. This is different from the odd completist problem, but similar in the way that I play when I might not be enjoying the gameplay.
So I’ll ask again, why am I playing this? I don’t think I have a singular answer. It all seems to stem from a general curiosity I have about the medium mixed with some odd complex I have about completing things that I’ve started. I think there’s a bit of “maybe this’ll get better” in there too. It might also have to do with the fact that I paid money for the game and I want to make sure I get the value out of it. Even if the game is something I don’t fully enjoy, I seem to play it anyway. With less playing time, and more fairly priced, quality original games being released on Steam, I plan on exploring gaming endeavors truly worthy of my time. I think at times, the answer to “when should I stop playing this game?” is by simply not starting it. Although, that sounds like a poor alternative and a way to miss out on a lot of potentially interesting content. Maybe I can just shake this weird compulsion I have and actually just let things rest.
Anyone share this sentiment?