I know a lot of people who have gaming-related New Year’s resolutions, and usually that means they want to beat a certain number of games in a year, or they want to reach certain milestones in specific ones. But in the final weeks of 2019, I’ve realized I want to do something on the opposite end of the spectrum next year:
I want to be okay with finishing fewer games in 2020.
Working in the industry means there’s a lot of pressure to play as many games as possible. You’re made to think you’ve got to be up to date and informed on everything that comes out, especially when it comes to be Game of the Year award season, when everyone wants to dish out their thoughts on what were the defining games of the year. There’s an expectation that if someone has an opinion on something, you should be ready and able to deliver a counter argument or a supporting one at a moment’s notice.
I’m kind of tired of letting that expectation dictate the way I spend my free time.
There were three major games in 2019 that were the hotness that I let myself just…put down. They were Outer Wilds, Death Stranding, and Control just last week. I’m not here to write about these games as if they’re devoid of value and that by trying them I wasted time and money. In fact, I believe quite the opposite. They’re each standout games for a reason, and I came away with a great deal of respect for each of them, even as I was eager to stop playing them by the end.
Outer Wilds was first, and it actually kind of broke my heart to close it out, because I’d heard nothing but glowing things about it leading up to it coming to PlayStation 4 where I could play it. All I knew about it was that it was about exploration and that there was a time loop involved, and that was more than enough to get me interested. But when I booted it up and realized that large swaths of my time with the game would be spent wandering with no direction, trying to pilot a disagreeable spacecraft, or literally floating through space waiting for my oxygen to run out so I could get back on solid ground (or just falling into a sun and dying that way), I realized getting to what made this game so memorable to other people meant several hours of being kind of miserable.
People I spoke to about Outer Wilds swore up and down the pay off was worth it, and that the aimlessness of it all was part of the experience. I said I would go back to it at some point after I let my initial frustration dissipate. But I never did and I never felt the pull of its time looping galaxy again.
Death Stranding was less of a gradual realization and more of an immediate reaction to the game really showing me what it was all about.
I got maybe two hours into Death Stranding, suffered through all the heavy-handed visual metaphors Kojima Productions brain dumped into a PlayStation 4 dev kit (like carrying my character’s mother’s dead corpse on my back after she just preached to me about how there was still hope for America and that she wanted him to continue his legacy), and even dropped my controller upon hearing the bridge baby speak through the built-in speaker. But none of that was what finally made me put it down. It was when I was making one of the earliest deliveries, slowly walking across the terrain as the camera panned out to show me the vast world I would have to cross to reach my destination. A song from the soundtrack started playing, as if to signal to me that I would be walking for a very long time. Then it finally hit me that this was what the game was going to be. I was less off-put by weird throat baby shenanigans than I was the idea of having to spend hours upon hours walking through a massive open world. Some might call it meditative and calming but like, I can capture that same feeling with something that doesn’t feel like it’s actively wasting my time. I returned the game to Redbox the next day.
Then finally, there was Control. I don’t feel like there was a singular moment with Remedy’s shooter/exploration game that it hit me that I was done, more just like a series of moments where I realized I just wasn’t feeling it. Part of me felt guilty for not having a hot take to go along with why I didn’t want to continue, but it was also refreshing in its own way. I think Control plays well, it’s got interesting loops that make it feel like more than a run-of-the-mill third-person shooter, and it oozes atmosphere and interesting world building. But I just wasn’t sucked into it enough to keep going. I’ve still got it sitting on my shelf waiting for me to pick it back up, so clearly I still have some work to do on being okay with not finishing things. But unlearning bad habits you’ve been conditioned to believe are intrinsic to a culture is not something you master over the course of a couple weeks.
There are dozens of reasons why I might feel guilty for not finishing these games, whether it’s because I paid money for them or because people have told me that seeing it through to the end is worth it, but I’m just tired of playing through games that do anything other than intrigue me on their own merits, not on some peer pressure-driven level that tells me I “have” to finish them. Despite everything this industry tells us, whether it’s from a professional standpoint, hobbyist perspective, or just the business model of a lot of these games, time spent with something doesn’t equal time well spent. And it’s a goal of mine to be completely comfortable with that idea by the end of 2020.