I find it really hard to start new games. It’s currently Friday afternoon, Chives is asleep on the sofa, and I’ve been sitting staring at my computer monitors for a couple of hours. The whole time I’ve been absent mindedly watching Youtube videos on various topics all the while Griftlands sits in my Steam library ready to be played, but I just can’t bring myself to hit the play button. Why?
My continued mental block to starting new games is extremely frustrating as I don’t have unlimited free time and would rather spend it doing something meaningful. Instead, I’m sat here staring off into into space with a glassy-eyed expression. So why is it that I still can’t bring myself to start it? This is something I’ve experienced numerous times over the past several years and it only seems to get worse with time.
While struggling with this over the past few weeks I had two different things happen that may have helped me identify what my major malfunction is when it comes to starting games.
Firstly, I was sat in one of Ian’s (Adventure Rules) streams and I asked if anyone else had trouble starting games. The folks chatting with me indicated they did, but one comment in particular stood out to me. Meghan (MeghanPlaysGames) noted that starting a new game feels like a commitment and that struck a chord with me. While I enjoy gaming as a hobby, obviously, starting each game with the intention of completing it does shift the way that I view the games I’m playing. Instead of playing for fun, I’m playing for completion and that adds a lot of undue pressure that lowers the enjoyment I can experience.
Back in 2014 I learned about how few people actually finish games and thought of that as a huge waste of money. As such, I would beat the games I played to their fullest to maximize as much value as I could out of them. This even extended to games I wasn’t having fun playing, which inevitably led to me being miserable for the duration that I was playing them. If you’ve ever wondered why I have such a hate boner for open-world or role-playing games this is why. Both of those genres are overrun with games where players must devote several weeks of their free time to finish them making them extremely unenjoyable to complete once they lose their luster.
While I’ve tried to cut back on this anal retentive attitude toward completion, I don’t know that I’ve done a good enough job. Over the past few years I went from finishing everything to identifying when I really don’t enjoy a game so I can put it aside and pretend it doesn’t exist. I’ve only managed to do this for a handful of titles though. It’s been an honest attempt at a first step, but hasn’t helped to dramatically shift the way I think about playing games.
Furthermore, in a discord server I run with a with a few friends we keep a tally of the games we finish every year. Despite the lack of any kind of implied competition, I still try to finish at the top of the board every year. I don’t even feel anything when I get there, but I do stop feeling a nagging need to win so I guess it’s more about making the bad feelings go away then making the good ones start. While tracking what I’ve played does provide me with a handy reference for end of year posts (top 10 lists anyone?) perhaps participating is unhealthy for my smooth monkey brain.
The other thing that got me thinking more about my mental block was a video put out by Adam Millard. The video is specifically focused on Before Your Eyes, a unique indie game controlled exclusively with your eyes. The very nature of the game’s control scheme means that players will inevitably miss out on huge chunks of the story when their bodies force them to blink, which pushes several story scenes forward. While this may seem frustrating, Adam argues that the game is better for it and that, in general, we should focus less on completion and more on enjoyment while playing games.
Similar to Meghan’s comment, this really struck a chord with me. When I view games as something to be completed, they’re no longer something fun to engage with in my leisure time, but rather an item on a list to be crossed off upon completion. When you only think about games as something to complete you begin thinking about them in terms of how many hours they’ll take to finish. Instead of simply enjoying the game in the moment, you’ve turned it into a chore that you need to allot time toward. This is made even worse for multiplayer games or roguelikes, both genres I tend to enjoy, because neither have defined endpoints so they go from looking like fun experiences to hundred hour long commitments.
All said, I believe I need to work harder to change my mindset when it comes to games. I don’t need to play every fighting game or roguelike to the point where I eat, breath, and live them. Instead of playing through all of the optional content in open-world and role-playing games, perhaps it would suit me better to play through the core content and put the game aside once I stop having fun. Through adopting a different mindset and making a commitment to change my behavior perhaps I can once again find the fun in what I play and not be programmed into fearing the start of each new experience out there.