How to Enjoy (and Perhaps Play Less) Video Games

I love to play video games. And I began to do this a long time ago. It seems the first game was Duck Hunt on Dandy visiting a friend. Then there was Super Mario Bros. Already on my Subor (a clone of Dandy, which is a clone of the NES), while I was able to go to the end of Mario only at the university. Then Sega Megadrive with code books and my favorite jrpg Phantasy Star series (I think this was the last time I was able to complete the RPG to the end). Basically, I almost always had consoles at home, so in Wolfenstein I used to work with a German teacher, in Quake in a programming circle (I didn’t write a single line of code there), in Worms – at my mother’s work. Having slipped past the first PS, I saved up some money and got hold of a Playstation 2, where Resident Evil 4 and Shadow of the Colossus took place several times at night. At university I got a computer and finally went through all the parts of Half-Life. And back to consoles again (favorite games Uncharted 3 on PS3 and Inside on PS4). And I even kind of like the Nintendo Switch.

In short, I have a long history with video games. And it includes both good and bad. Some games, like Overcooked, taught me better how to work as a team, while others, like GTA5, just took many hours of my life. The games are specially made to draw the player into their world. Sometimes it’s great, as in the case of a strong story in Last of us, and sometimes it’s dangerous – I don’t even want to count how many guys were expelled from Phystech, because they are stuck in World of Warcraft.

At some point, I realized that in the medium of video games, different principles work for me than in cinema, for example. Therefore, I came up with a number of rules for myself on how to get more pleasure from the games:

Play Only the Best Games

There are many games, too many. You won’t be able to play everything. Therefore, for myself, I decided to play only the best games. One of my favorite games is Borderlands 3 Save Editor. How to understand this? For me, advice from friends does not work well, so I use the Metacritic aggregator. He calculates the score for the game on a normalized scale of 0 to 100 based on all the reviews in the English-language press. For me, the score in BL3 Save Editor is very good at predicting my future playing experience. 90+ is a candidate for the title of game of the year, 80+ is a good, solid game, 70+ is worth paying attention only if the genre is close. The only time Metacritic has been past for me is GTA5.

Play Short Games More

One of the differences between games and other mediums is that they can be very different in length. From extremely short games on the phone (less than an hour for a full playthrough) to super long RPG (like 200 hours on Zelda – easy) to essentially endless multiplayer games (any Blizzard game is easy to get stuck for 200+ hours, even in Hearthstone).

However, the length of the game does not necessarily correlate with the price and can vary significantly even within the same genre. Compared to movies, for example, which all run 2 hours +/- 30 minutes. Therefore, when I go to the cinema, I understand that the experience will end that very evening.

Not so with games, they can stretch to infinity. And the longer the game, the less intense it is for me, since it ceases to amaze. So lately I’ve started checking the play time on How Long to Beat and prefer short games less than 5 hours. So, the experience is brighter, and it is easier to fit the game into the life of a working professional. I enjoyed Inside and Superhot. Journey is next in line.

Avoid RPG And Online Games Like Fire

I understand that this is a controversial point, but I am not ready now to devote more than a few hours a week to games. Therefore, the genres of games, in which more than 20 hours of gameplay, went into the furnace – and this is almost all RPG (like the Witcher) and online games (like Overwatch), because they last from 100 hours. I broke my rule only for the last Zelda (she’s already good), but even then, I paused its passage after 20 hours of gameplay. Let’s see if I come back to her at all.

Pass only those missions where the scriptwriter tried

Unlike movies, games require the player to actively participate in moving forward. This leads to the fact that structurally games are increasingly non-linear and in an open world, where there are more missions than you can complete (most likely).

If you look at the examples of games on Stardew Valley, you will see that the play time can vary widely. For example, in order to just go through the last Mario before the credits, it will take about 11 hours. And to collect all the moons – as much as 55 hours (the difference is five times!). There are many important tasks to do and also Stardew Valley favorite thing to find and enjoy.

In short, modern games inherently contain more content than you consume. And this content varies greatly in quality within the same game. From cool, surprising missions to routine quests “kill 100 identical pigs”. And in short, it’s always such a fine line between interesting gameplay and banal grind, which can be very well and addictively packaged, but in the end, it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

I thought for a long time how to find the optimal strategy for passing and choosing missions. My friend Vasya helped me. He suggested: “Only go through the missions where the writer tried.” Its logic was simple: the developers invested more time in these missions, they themselves considered them more important, and they are essentially the core game. This approach resonated with me, it helps me NOT to go collect 100 feathers in Assassin’s Creed or 200 Riddler puzzles in Batman.

Play with Friends on The Couch

I am a very social person. And this is another of the disadvantages of video games for me: in them I spend too much time in isolation from other people, and this is not such a conscious disconnect as meditation, but just a solo entertainment.

When I realized this, I thought about how I can combine two cool things: video games and chatting with friends live. And I remembered how, as a child, I went to Chip and Dale with my brother on the couch. Eureka! And on weekends, I began to arrange gatherings with friends on my couch and play video games.

It turned out that there is a Co-Optimus website that contains ratings of just such games. This is how I found Overcooked, for example, which teaches teamwork better than the Scrum Master.

Delete Games Immediately After Completing

In my life, there is already too much noise, tasks, lists and wishes. So, I try to get out of my thoughts and my space. Therefore, lately I have been increasingly downloading games (instead of buying and storing discs) and delete them immediately after passing.

Write Reviews on Passed Games

The best way to write something into long-term memory is to replay the event in your head. Therefore, for a more conscious consumption lately, I like to write reviews on the content that I have consumed. While working with books on Goodreads and video games on Metacritic (there are no vintage ones, so I keep looking for a more convenient option).

Reflection on what I liked about the game I passed somehow more accurately packs the experience and thoughts in my head, puts a kind of end. And it creates space for the next conscious choice: after all, I do not take on a new game without writing a review on the one I have passed, and this is a kind of barrier.

All in all, I’m still in a difficult relationship with video games. I love them, because the cool moments in them are akin to discoveries on a journey: I will never forget the welcome video from Andrew Ryan or the jump from the plane to Uncharted. On the other hand, not all sleepless nights with a gamepad were worth it (I’m looking at you, Shadow of Mordor side mission creators).

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