How Economics Ruined My Gaming Joie De Médiocre

A few weeks ago, I had an odd conversation with one of the guys from my gaming group. We were discussing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and he was talking about how much he loved it, and I was discussing how much I didn’t. At one point, he pauses for a moment, and asks something to the effect of “Matt, what’s the last game you actually really liked?”

I had to think about it a minute. Which was bad, because it sort of proved his point.

This took me aback. Not like, kind of aback where you can right yourself and you’re OK again. Like “I’m looking up at the sky and someone has tied me to a pickup truck and is dragging me away” aback. What the hell? I’m not the Angry Videogame Nerd. I’m not Yahtzee. I love games. Games make me happy, not angry.

Right?

The game that first popped to mind that I really liked and had played semi-recently? Dragon Age II. No shocker there. I’m a story junkie, and BioWare does that well. Portal, Bastion, and Batman: Arkham City also made the list

That’s why I was extremely surprised that I didn’t care for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Time Is Money, Friend

After some thought, I had my answer: I get really mad when I feel like a game is wasting my time.

I didn’t used to be like this. I used to happily blow 60-70 hours on a mediocre RPG. I used to obsessively collect every item from games. I used to speedrun through Super Mario 2 and Kid Icarus and try to beat my own times. I spent an entire year trying to play every single game in a MAME distribution. There are some very good things in a pile of 17,000 arcade games, but the mediocre and bad ones outnumber them a hundredfold.

Through all this I was satisfied. Then I had a kid.

It’s amazing what an infant can do to one’s free time, especially for those first few months. I found myself unable to do most things I did before. I simply didn’t have the time. If I did, I usually didn’t have the energy. I found myself playing a lot of quick casual games. They were better than nothing, and everything was too much of a blur for me to care.

How I let myself get talked into playing WoW around this time, I will never ever understand. My D&D group had broken up, a large portion of it moving out of state, and we started playing that as sort of a D&D substitute. It was my first MMO, and I found myself playing at every available opportunity. I was spending a significant portion of time playing WoW I should’ve spent sleeping.

I think this is when it started.

For those of you unacquainted to MMO’s, most of them have a level cap. That means you can’t just keep levelling up indefinitely. At this point, you can usually access all the areas the game has to offer, but you still have to keep questing and killing things to get more gold for better gear. In WoW, there are quests you can complete once per day, and high level players treat them like doing the dishes or taking out the trash.

I’m not sure what about this was different to me than questing every day to gain XP and level up my character, but this absolutely infuriated me. So much, in fact, that I quit playing. WoW managed to get its hooks into me once more about a year later, until I tried leveling up my Leatherworking skill and found myself farming for eels four nights in a row. I was in my hotel room at DDXP and logged in to WoW to relieve two or three hundred eels of their epidermises when I suddenly realized that I would rather jump into a wood chipper than skin one more emmer effin’ eel. I have not played the game since, and I have zero regrets. Zero.

I knew going into SW:TOR that this was going to be a factor. There was a reason I wasn’t playing WoW anymore. Eels. However, I thought maybe BioWare’s particular talent for storytelling would make everything palatable. For awhile, it did, but it wasn’t too long before I found myself begrudgingly slogging through my fourth 3 mile course filled with random science-fiction themed gang members on Coruscant. Here I am, a one-Jedi population control solution, making every street smell like the barbecued flesh of every sentient race in the galaxy, and for what?

Little 15 second nuggets of story. And those nuggets tasted so damned good. But in the end, I stopped playing SW:TOR for the same reason I try to avoid going to Taco Bell. I’m older now, and I don’t have the tolerance for that kind of thing anymore. It’s just not worth it.

My Whole Grain Hourglass

It kinda sucks knowing what you want, except when it doesn’t.

On one hand, I’m glad that I’m more choosy these days about my entertainment experiences. It makes me do my research more, and on the whole I am much more satisfied with the games I do invest my time in. Now that my son is a little older and has a regular bedtime and doesn’t wake up every couple hours, I frequently find myself with several contiguous hours in which I can unwind and play whatever I want. I still treat these hours as a Ferengi might bars of gold-pressed Latinum.

The downside is that I find myself easily frustrated and impatient when faced with a gaming experience I’m not enjoying. I’m sure my gaming group has seen this, and it’s why my friend thinks I hate everything. I can usually tell within the first few minutes if I’m going to like a boardgame, and I hope every time I start a new one that I feel engaged. If I don’t, it’s like I can feel the life draining out of me, and we all know how it is playing with somebody who’s just waiting for the game to be over. It sucks for everybody at the table. I don’t wanna be that guy. However, I believe I am on record as saying I would rather die than play Power Grid ever again.

One odd thing I’ve found that irritates me to death is when a boardgame requires a lot of math or other complex interactions that make the game go slow. My immediate reaction is to wish it was a computer game instead, so I could play it without it wasting my time. And once I feel like it’s wasting my time, it’s hard to come back.

I strongly believe this is one of the reasons I don’t like D&D 4e very much. I like snappier combat. The longer it takes, the harder it is for me to stay engaged.

Impatient! The Musical

To be perfectly honest, reading this over again makes me wonder if I am any fun to play games with. I hope I am not whiny.

Sure, there’s a lot of games I do like playing (Lords of Waterdeep, anyone?), but I want to be the kind of person who has an open mind and gives everybody in the group a chance to play their favorite game/genre o’ games.

Blogging can be a double edged sword sometimes. I tend to write things either from my heart (or the depths of my butt). Both can produce scary things.

Though I feel like kind of a jerk now, I am glad I have a better understanding of what I like. Maybe this will help me look for bits of it in things I don’t like, and to suck it up a little in the name of good fun with my friends.

As long as it’s not Power Grid.

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Comments

  1. Don’t feel like a jerk. As a husband and father of a small child, time is at a premium. I want the time I fill with games to feel enjoyable.

  2. Hey, Matt, what are the three things you hate most about Power Grid?

  3. Amazing… I quit both WoW and SWtOR for the EXACT same reasons (minus the kid). EVE Online will suck my time like no tomorrow. LOVE that game, but then I have no other life. It’s my crack. I must stay away.

    I find myself bouncing around between games, looking for that balance of good story, good gameplay, and without requiring 4-8 hour stints. I have an hour here, an hour there. I love RPGs, but I don’t have time to finish an 80+ hour story.

    Currently enjoying Orcs Must Die, as I can do a level here and there. Replaying Mass Effect 2 for the second time, though I will probably never play it again after this and I am planning on skipping ME3.

    Loved Dark Souls and Demon Souls, but they take too long.

    I keep trying to get into the Witcher (first one), but for some reason it hasn’t hooked me yet.

    Skyrim’s length scares me. Amalure’s MMORPG style quests make me think I will be board.

    What’s a gamer on a time budget to do?

  4. I so feel this too. I feel like a tool when I am a player in a RPG. I don’t want to be bothered with games that suck anymore. I want to spend the limited gaming time that I have with games that don’t suck the life out of me. There have been times when as a player I have been quite active suggesting rules patches and/or story suggestions because I’m thinking “Ugh…I don’t want to spend my 3-4 hour gaming session playing THIS”. I worry about offending the GM.

  5. You said it, my perpetually-gaming-wise friend.

    I do not even have a retort; the closest thing I have to disagreeing is that my reasons for coming to the same conclusions were different. As you may recall, I was infamous for playing Ultima Online at the expense of basically everything else non-essential in my life, at least for about the first year it was out; I slept ~4 hours a night, did homework while logged in and crafting or mining or logging, only reluctantly went out with my friends, and even played while other people were in my basement trying to play Champions or D&D (“no, I can hear you from over here; my character attacks, or whatever.”

    EverQuest seemed to be about the same at first, but then I noticed how much longer it took me to level once I hit about ~20, and by level 24 I had lost interest in the game. I started over with a few more characters, but while my other friends were merrily joining guilds and hitting the level cap and marching around meaninglessly, I had quit playing because I already felt like progression was much less interesting (and rapid) than in UO.

    Every MMORPG that has come out since then, like clockwork, I have gotten really into and then given up at some mid-range level. And once I began my graduate studies and actually had relevant deadlines and big projects and the like, it occurred to me that I was never going to be one of those people who could spend his life skinning eels. Just as well, as this will well-prepare me for if I end up having a child someday and do not have time for it anyway!

  6. I’ve actually drifted out of WoW (and failed to get into SW:TOR) out of boredom, not monotony. After sitting out of nearly all of Northrend, I came back to find WoW much streamlined, with repetitive grind present but optional. Modern WoW plays fine as a casual player (gather, don’t craft. PvP and PUG gets you surprisingly decent group play without scheduling guild play), but if you’re not interested in repetitious play, then be sure to subscribe monthly, and only dip your toes in when there’s new content. With the recent mini-patches and the upcoming Mists of Kung-Fu Pandaria, Blizzard has declared themselves perfectly happy to take your money every two or three months, not just all or nothing.

  7. Skyrim is NOT a time suck, unless you want it to be. I was literally addicted to WoW for over a year. When I played, I could go for hours without even noticing it, and when I wasn’t playing, I WANTED to be playing. With Skyrim, I can easily play for hours, or not. It’s a beautiful game. I’ve been playing on and off since I got it in January and I’m over 240 hours in. Just now is the wonder starting to wear off. I’ll finish a few more of the bigger quests and then it will be time for KoA, which I’ve play a few hours of already.

    SWTOR interests me, but not sure I really want to get sucked in to an MMO again.

  8. This is easily the best column you’ve ever written. I am now up to TWO small children, and my tolerance for “entertainment” activities that are boring is close to zero. My time is precious to me, and game makers who don’t get that, won’t get my money either.

    (That said, I am loving Kingdoms of Amalur, possibly because I just skip doing anything that looks boring, like crafting or “kill X” quests.)

  9. I have a very busy group of players who are involved in a lot of activities, so if the game lags, people start getting bored/frustrated. Efficient play is a must for us.

    I find, in particular, that running Lair Assault I am a very impatient DM. Players can strategize on their own time. I’m there to murder them as efficiently as possible.

    I used to play the MMO Final Fantasy 11, and I find myself missing it at times, not so much because of the story or game mechanics, but because of the international community and auto-translate feature. It was an awesome experience to play with people from around the world, and communicate effectively even if no one spoke the same language.

  10. Here, here, brother. I never sank hundreds of hours into MMORPGs, but I do love me some Final Fantasy and Dragon Age. Now that I have a small child, I have no idea how I will ever have time to play games again…

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