The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
Some games, you beat, you enjoy the ending credits, you marvel at the finely crafted story and the events surrounding the gameplay, moving from point A to point B. Exquisitely crafted masterpieces like Arkham City, Uncharted 2, or Halo 3. Games that tug at emotional strings, as you live in a completely unique experience rivaling some of the best stories ever to come out of an entertainment medium. You're moved, you're hungry to find out what's next, you might even shed a solitary manly tear (or womanly!) as the final words of a favorite character are spoken on screen, creating a profound effect as it cuts to credits.
This blog is about these games in no way, shape or form.
There are those other games. The ones with no story whatsoever, not even the merest slapped on cliche pulled out of every cookie cutter dime store novel in existence. Games that can be picked up and set down without any loss of impact for weeks, months, or even years. I'm talking about the kinds of software such as strategy (Civilization especially), in which you pick up a round whenever you're in a time-killing mood. Games like Minecraft where you create your own objectives and master them, while experimenting to see how far you can take your imagination. And games like Sims, where, although you CAN work to a specific game objective, also have an almost monolithic ability to provide you room to just live inside a virtual world without the threat of planetary destruction hanging over your head. Basically, time sink games, games where you play for the sake of playing, not heading towards there being an eventual end to the action.
I'm torn between glowing admiration and clear outrage at these games. I have a ton of fun while playing them, but after a "short time" playing a round of Civ V, I look over at the clock and have noticed four or five hours have passed. Now, here's something to know about me. I simply can not focus on a game for long most of the time. My spurts of regular story-based games last a couple hours at a time at most before I go back to browsing GIO or Cracked, and yet I can sit there utterly absorbed on my new piston system I'm working on in Minecraft, trying to get it juuuust right. And even back in the days of me messing with Sims I would look up at the clock and notice I'd spent the last several hours making my avatar cook pancakes so he doesn't burn everything to a crisp. A time sink if you will, where the results are far less pronounced than on a story based game. And that's where the enigma comes in for me. I think to myself "Why have I been doing this instead of making progress in Kingdom Hearts or Castlevania?" To answer this, we must look at what makes these games so appealing.
Thinking...thinking....thinking...Wait, I've got it! No wait, that's not it. Hrmm. As the preceding line tells you, it's not exactly the easiest thing to nail down. Is it just, as the very nature of the games indicate, a time killer? Is it maybe the fact that these are all games that make you think and plan out what to do next? Maybe something so simple as the fact that setting your own objectives feels empowering to the player. My vote would go for all three. When you're in the games, you don't feel constrained by any sort of linearity even slightly encroaching on story-based games. It's all about you, the player, and your mind, going onward and forward in your quest to take down France, or build a giant stone p*nis, or make your Sims set themselves on fire (you sick, sick person). So it's giving you something to do that goes far beyond the classic "end" provided by your average game. As a great example, let's take a look at my experience with Civ prior to this blog.
After having it gifted to me a few months ago during a sale, I booted it up with no idea what to expect from it. What I got was gameplay mired in tactics, where you simply start a round with settings to your liking, and then balance about a million small nuances to end up the global superpower you need to be to win that round. It's a bit like a board game if you were willing to go super in-depth with it in a way that isn't possible in a physical tabletop game. Here's the clincher though, after enjoying this game for a week or so, I looked at the time I spent in it. Fifty hours. Yes, I was amazed at how long I could sit there enjoying this, and at the same time I was mortified that I had invested so much time in a gaming experience that doesn't leave a memorable story that embeds itself in your psyche for years to come. And that's at the heart of these time sink games, the ability to lose yourself in the experience without anticipating what curveballs a writer is going to throw at you.
I guess, going back to the very basic core of why we play games, is for pure undistilled fun. Whether it was diluted under an arbitrary competitive score system, a quality writing team, or innovation being pushed to the cutting edges of the minds imagination, gaming has always been about just that, fun. Gameplay. And in these games like I've been describing, it's just that, gameplay leading into direct fun. Be it a time sink or not, you're still exploring the underrepresented depths of gaming's underworks, going back to the old adage of pressing controls to get the light on the screen to do what you want it to, and feeling a sense of power as you bend it to your whim be it controlling a virtual avatar that runs at your beck and call, entire civilizations being malleable to your will, or even the earth itself shaping and falling to your hand. So through this enjoyment, through all the "wasted" hours you spend on your mountaintop fortress, remember one thing, one thing above all.
Sometimes in gaming, the simplest, most primitive delights are the ones most effective.