Things I Don’t Get About Gaming: Respect for One’s Time

So here’s something I’m becoming more and more perplexed by as time goes on – gaming’s relationship with time. More specifically, the relationship between time and enjoyment.

I’ve talked before about how I find it strange that “short” is so often used as a criticism of games, or something included in the negative column of a review. I’ve actually made a whole video about it. I love short games. They don’t overstay their welcome, you have less of a chance to get bored. There’s less “busy work” like fetch quests or loot grinding. If it’s a story-focused game, the narrative is usually tighter. That’s not to say I don’t like long games too – I love a lot of those but honestly I probably would have enjoyed Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition more if I spent 50 hours with them (which is still a very long time) rather than 100+. Did looking for weapon and armor patterns or shards add anything to the game but extra playtime? Not really.

Destiny loot grind

Today there was an opinion piece about Destiny over on Polygon. My history with Destiny is quite short. I picked it up not long after release and gave it a fair shake. It looked nice – not exactly glowing praise. Are there really any current gen AAA games you can’t say that about? The shooting mechanics were solid. The story was almost non-existent, and what little there was was wedged into a phone app rather than in the game. The gameplay got repetitive and boring real quick. Playing alone was dull. Playing with a friend (who outleveled me) was dull (and full of death). Loot grinds are dull. Plus, the number one strike against games for me right now – it doesn’t end. So I quit. This was not the game for me.

Anyway, one quote from this article made me kind of sad.

I’m like many of you in that I only have an hour, maybe two, of non-working game time every night. So I tend to play games that allow me to make some forward progress in that time. Diablo 3 was a perfect game for that rhythm, as you could play a little here and there and always gain a bit of level or some loot.

Destiny actively pushed players like me away with its endgame leveling scheme, which depended on an arcane “Light” system. You were completely reliant on random item drops to level up and, while there were certain things you could do to maximize your time, if you didn’t pull any good items in your evening of playing, you were sunk. The time was all but meaningless.

It felt like a grind that ended with a slot machine that would determine whether or not you wasted your time. It sucked, and it sucked hard.

I understand that things like gears and levels serve as both goals and rewards in games. However, shouldn’t the simple act of playing the game be something worth your time? Shouldn’t playing be fun? Fun might be a bit reductive – but it should be engaging, or entertaining, or thought-provoking, or interesting. If the time you spend with a game is only worthwhile if X happens (you get a piece of gear, you gain a level, you get an achievement, you win) but is considered a waste of time otherwise, is that a good game? Does it deserve your time?

Say you play for an hour. At the 58 minute mark you get a piece of gear. Whether it’s useful or not will certainly impact your enjoyment and mood for those last 2 minutes of the game. But what about the first 57 minutes, before the loot dropped. Were you enjoying yourself? If not, why are you playing?

My thoughts on this have evolved over the years. I can think of many, many times in World of Warcraft where I spent hours in a raid and was just miserable the whole time (heroic Garrosh springs to mind). These times weren’t contained to a certain tier or xpac, there were lots times I spent in WoW that were unequivocally NOT FUN. But I did them for some larger goal – an achievement, a boss kill, a better arena ranking.

Now I’ve come to a point where if I were to play a game for 2 hours and consider my time wasted I don’t think I’d be going back to that game. Life’s short. There are a lot of games to play.

What do you think? Is it worth it to power through uninteresting gameplay, to do things you consider a waste of time, in search of some bigger in-game goal? The more work you put in, the better the “win” will feel? Or do you think games should always be fun (or at least interesting) to you in some way?

7 responses to “Things I Don’t Get About Gaming: Respect for One’s Time

  1. I was talking to my SO last night about our patience with Diablo as compared to other games, especially Warcraft. He pointed out that, for some strange reason, when something that should have always been in D3 gets added, we usually don’t roll our eyes and yell about how it should have been in from the very beginning. We usually just gush about how great and smart a change it was.

    I suggested that the reason we tend to judge D3 less harshly – even when it makes the same kinds of mistakes that Warcraft does – is because we spend less time with it. We pick up D3 at the start of a season, play for a month or so, and then largely let it drop until the next season. So when changes are implemented that improve the game, our only thought is “Oh, that’ll be more fun/convenient the next time we play!” With Warcraft, there was SO much time devoted to it that every major change (that should have been implemented long ago) felt like this grave insult to all the time we had wasted doing things the inconvenient way.

    I agree with you that a game without an end is a concept that’s starting to lose its appeal for me. I think we’ve talked before about how “linear” is this supposed condemnation of a game’s narrative now, and how frustrating that is. I like having games that, if they don’t have a concrete end, at least are something I can easily pick up and put down. It’s not so much the grind but the feeling that I’m being left in the dust that will turn me off – though, admittedly, often times those two things go hand in hand.

    Great post!

    • That makes sense. I think something that ties into the lesser time requirement in Diablo is that there’s also not as much of a social commitment. Though it can be played with others, it’s played with a smaller group and not on so much of a schedule (I’m assuming) as something like raiding or organized PVP in WoW. So you can just put it down and not play for a month if you don’t want to and not feel like you’re letting people down. For WoW players, especially raiders, a lot of time is spent doing things that for “the team” rather than for your own enjoyment. Doing things an inconvenient way is judged more harshly because you weren’t even necessarily doing those things for yourself.

  2. This is very timely for me, having just finished Borderlands. I was struggling with the RPG elements in my FPS…it mostly seemed to simply add grind. And it did not feel like a good use of time.

    So many games do this, and I suspect that the bigger the title, the more likely it is to have these elements. In MMOs, I am finding myself playing for the story, and only the story. Treating it as a finishable game, with expansions/content updates as sequels that continue the story. At least until I can lose myself in something like Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous, or No Man’s Sky.
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    • I played a few hours of the first Borderlands, while I liked most of the game, I found the loot was the biggest time sink (a feeling I also have about Diablo). Every enemy is like a pinata, spewing a dozen pieces of loot. Most of it’s junk but I still feel the need to check everything to see if there’s an upgrade. I felt like I was spending half my time looking at loot or using the gun vending machines.

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  4. Hello. Good post. The idea that people start playing games *before* deciding if the game is worth their time – rather than incidentally hoping to find ‘meaningful time’ *while* playing – is fascinating. What kind of odd, modern psychology are we operating under? “Playing a video game” never seems a simple act, but rather a strange Cultural game in itself.

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