this is not my beautiful automobile

Are games fun?

Summer is just beginning and I, as a normally frantically busy college student, am faced with the “challenge” (if I can even call it that) of having more free time than I know what to do with. In the struggle to find a productive and/or creative outlet with which to use my time wisely, I often find myself spending some of that time in my sort of default position: playing games.

I’ve noticed since finishing school for the year and actually having the time to play games, that the way I play games has changed drastically. No longer are the days of exploring every last corner of the world of Xenoblade Chronicles, or trying to find every collectible in Donkey Kong 64. I had close to no time to play games during the school year, and when I did, I had to get strategic about it. I became obsessively aware of how valuable my time was and how I was spending it.

There are a few trends in my play style that developed during this time. Some were already slightly apparent, but they for the most part came to be as a result of my busy schedule. For example, one overarching theme is that I tend to spend more time thinking about games and researching them than I do actually playing them. This sounds odd, but I believe it may actually be more typical than people think. I mean what kind of person would write about games anyway? I’ve always been more interested in the history, development, and critique/analysis of games than I am with playing them. This is an attitude that I think is more commonplace among other mediums such as film. For me it became even more dominant when I found myself with less time to actually sit down and play through something.

Anyway, my actual play style these days consists of things like choosing the easiest difficulty level, and never 100% completing a game, in the rare cases that I complete a game at all. All of these things add up to an attempt to get the overall experience of a game as efficiently as possible, so that I can experience as many different games as possible, despite my limited time frame. This doesn’t mean rushing through a game necessarily, it just means that I have become increasingly selective in how exactly I spend my time in a game, and how I choose what games to play, and even more so what games to finish. I have become more in tune with what kinds of games I know I will get something out of, and what kinds of games, though I know are worth something, may just not be for me.

A great example of a game that was perfect for me is FEZ, which I just finished a couple days ago. FEZ is a game that’s not very long, but that contains a large amount of secrets. It took me about four hours to get to the end, but it would’ve taken much longer to find everything the game has to offer. This is perfect for me because FEZ was very much a game where I believed that the feel and experience of the game was what was most important. I feel like I got a lot out of playing it without having to spend hours finding all the collectibles, and secrets, not that I wouldn’t like to. I also loved FEZ because it was open-world, and had a wonderful sense of exploration. This is contrary to many other open-world games I’ve played in the past, and have mostly stopped playing. Many of these games have such an overwhelming amount of side quests and things to do that I don’t know how to handle it and it ends up more stressful for me than enjoyable. In games like this it has always felt to me more like I’m working than playing a game. I can see how a person could get addicted to that kind of work, but for the most part those kinds of games aren’t really my thing any more. There are exceptions, but this leads me to the real point I’m getting at, which is why people play games at all.

I would guess that someone who doesn’t play games would say that the reason people play them is to have fun, but I think anyone who’s played games a long time would say that this isn’t the whole truth. Many days I ask myself while playing a game if I’m having fun and the answer is often no; often I am struggling with frustration more than I am having a good time. I think the truth is that it’s just like movies or books or anything else in that it depends on what a person wants to get out of it, and that it might actually say more about the player than it says about the game. I know people who are very competitive and only play games to assert their dominance as a superior player, and then I also know people who only play games to try to relax and have fun, or even just to distract themselves. These days, I find myself more often trying to find and play games to have a good time than I do trying to be competitive, not that I don’t surprise myself from time to time. For the most part though, I think I’m gonna be an easy mode guy for good.

I’d love to hear what anyone else has to say on this topic. Thanks for reading.


The Modern RPG Done Right : Fire Emblem Awakening

I’ve been playing video games as long as I can remember. As a youngster, I was always looking forward to a brighter future, when I could be a cool guy that had enough money to buy any game he wanted and everything would finally be good in life. But above all else I hoped, that one day I too could be good at video games. I not only hoped, but thought for sure that naturally, it would just happen.

Well, here I am. Seventeen years old and I still suck at video games. I’ve decided it’s because I tend to play games for the experience and not the challenge, and as such normally play on the easiest difficulty, so I can just get through the game and enjoy it, but that’s a topic I could and intend to write an entire article about. So we’ll leave that for later.

So anyway, back on topic. I’ve always been bad at video games for whatever reason, and certainly not due to lack of practice. Probably just a general deficiency in reflexes (same reason I’m not a team sports person).
This is why I’ve always found solace in the role-playing game genre. When I was younger and first discovered RPGs, I thought I had it all figured out. Finally a genre I could flourish in. I could take as much time as I wanted to, and in fact, taking a lot of time was encouraged. I had all the time in the world to grind back then, and honestly didn’t mind it all that much.

Nowadays things are a little different.

It’s no surprise that I have far less free time than I once did for gaming, and as a result of that I have to prioritize what I play a little more carefully. If a game isn’t worth the grinding, it isn’t worth playing. In other words, if a game requires much of any grinding at all, it isn’t worth it. In the last few years I’ve gotten pretty fed up with RPG mechanics, justified or not. Grinding, when done badly, is an outdated method of falsely lengthening a game that simply wastes the players time. RPGs also tend to have a massive time commitment as well as a significant learning curve, especially if you’re returning to a game after not playing it even for a short while. With many RPGs, I feel like I’m simply wasting my time for large portions of the games.

My purpose with this post is to commend a recent game that has done everything right.

Fire Emblem Awakening is a great example of successful game design in a modern RPG.

In Awakening, I never feel like I’m wasting my time.

Everything I do feels like it’s worth doing. I consistently feel like I’m accomplishing something. This game actually gets grinding right. To my understanding, the purpose of grinding should be to give the player the option to spend whatever amount of time they wish to make the game just a little easier for them if they are having a hard time so that they don’t get stuck indefinitely.

Everything in this game is just plain convenient, even down to aspects as simple as the speed at which you can navigate the interface. I love the menus in this game. Everything works the way it should, and nothing is a burden to the player, which can be an issue in many RPGs making them less enjoyable, especially for the typical length of an RPG.

Awakening is still challenging, but in a satisfying way. It can be frustrating for some less experienced players such as myself, but never to a suffocating extent because you always have the option to train [on normal difficulty].

The training in this game is actually rather rewarding. The combat is always unique, and at least so far, doesn’t get stale, so it doesn’t feel like a chore. It is steadily rewarding and not slow and numbing to the point that the player loses sight of progress.

I love how, with characters, I’m given just enough freedom to do things the way I want to but not so much that I get stressed out or lose a sense of progression.

If I wanted to go looking for flaws, I could, but I don’t want to just yet. I’m enjoying this game in a more pure way than I have with any game in a good while. For me, there’s nothing glaringly wrong with this game, or even anything that really detracts from the experience. I can’t yet judge the plot, however, because I’m nowhere near the end of it. Thus far it isn’t anything impressive, though not bad at all in my opinion.

The pacing in this game is brilliant so far. I plan on writing a full in-depth review when I complete it, which unfortunately could be quite a while.

As far as future posts are concerned, I plan on writing reviews of some of my favorite games and about what they did for the industry. Also expect some general gaming commentaries such as this post. I may just post some more casual thoughts on what I’m currently playing as well.

Lastly, as a general note, I’m open for discussion about anything from the games I write about to criticism of my writing. I would actually really appreciate some constructive criticism.