The year is 20XX. You are a grown-ass adult who has always enjoyed video games.
But just recently you’ve caught yourself being a little dissatisfied with your experiences engaging with your favourite hobby. You can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it is, but you frequently find yourself getting irritable and restless, often coupled with an irrational desire to hurl abuse at random strangers online.
To the rescue, here I am, with a 10-step plan to enjoy video games more as a 21st century grown-ass adult. Results not guaranteed. Your mileage may vary. Subject to status. Some chafing may occur.
Put the phone down
Seriously, put your fucking phone down. I know load times can be annoying and sometimes dialogue sequences or cutscenes can feel like they’re dragging on a bit, but a sure-fire way to completely lose your focus — and by extension, your appreciation of what you’re playing — while you’re trying to concentrate is to pick up your phone and check Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Discord every few minutes just in case something of Earth-shattering importance has happened since you last looked.
Spoiler: it hasn’t. And even if it has, you probably can’t do anything about it right now. You are, after all, in your pants.
Fiddling with our phones is a nervous habit that most of us have picked up to one degree or another over the course of the last 20 years or so, and it’s become particularly apparent since smartphones became a thing. Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone, think about exactly what you’re doing with it; chances are, you’re just looking for something to do with your hands and you’re not actually all that interested in seeing what updates have happened online.
Good app developers know this, too; they deliberately give apps a pleasingly “tactile” feel to them that is inherently satisfying to engage with. That’s why most modern phone operating systems and apps do that pleasing “twang” thing when you reach the top or bottom of a scrolling page, and why most social media apps have “pull to refresh” functionality with enjoyable audio-visual feedback of some description. (Shwwww… POP!) They’re preying on our innate need to seek out and repeatedly engage with mindless habits — and in the case of many apps, they’re doing this to make you look at more ads.
Put your phone down, at the very least just out of reach — far enough away that you have to make a specific effort to pick it up — and concentrate on the thing you’ve sat down to do: play video games. If you’re feeling particularly prone to phone-fiddling, put it in another room entirely, preferably on silent. Doing this also has the added bonus effect of making you less likely to check walkthroughs or YouTube videos rather than working things out for yourself!
Be selective about what you share
One of my pet annoyances about modern social media is when people feel the need to post (usually commentary-free, context-free) screenshots of every other line of a visual novel they’re reading, or every three seconds of an anime, or every time they get a new piece of equipment in an RPG, or whatever.
Personally speaking, oversharing tends to make me switch off from paying attention to that person — I’ll even go so far as to mute them completely in some cases — in an attempt to 1) avoid spoilers (particularly in the case of visual novels and anime) and 2) simply reduce the amount of “noise” in my timeline.
And I avoid being the one doing the oversharing because, like checking your phone every few seconds, I find it extremely distracting and flow-breaking to be popping out of a game every few minutes to share a screenshot or video clip. I prefer devoting my attention to one thing at a time.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t make use of the modern consoles’ Share functionality at all, mind. If something particularly interesting, impressive or amusing comes up, it’s worth sharing, as it might get your friends and family interested in what you’re playing, giving you more people to talk about what you love with. Winner!
As a happy medium, consider taking all the screenshots and videos you want while you’re playing, but don’t share them immediately. When you’ve finished playing, pick one or two that you think are particularly cool/impressive/funny/whatever and share those — preferably with a comment explaining what they are — then keep the rest for your own enjoyment or reference. If you absolutely must share large amounts of screenshots, consider using a hashtag unique to yourself (I would use something like #PetePlays or #MoeGamerPlays, for example) so that people who want to avoid spoilers and/or noise can mute that hashtag without muting you entirely. Or perhaps take the approach some bloggers do, and collect all your screenshots and clips together into a gallery post on your own website, then just link to the gallery so people can browse at their leisure.
I take hundreds of screenshots while I’m playing games, but this is primarily for my own benefit: I like being able to refer back to story sequences in particular so that I can analyse them in detail (including direct quotes where appropriate) when I’m writing an article. I’m much more selective about what I post on social media because I know if I post too much, people are going to ignore it. Because that’s exactly what I do!
As a former professional of the games press, I’ll let you into a little secret: those numbers that some people ascribe such importance to are completely plucked out of reviewers’ arses based on no criteria whatsoever besides gut instinct.
Seriously. They’re meaningless. This is why I don’t use review scores here on MoeGamer — well, that and I don’t really do traditional “reviews”, anyway. They’re nothing more than a made-up number that roughly approximates how much an individual person liked something, with no commonly agreed criteria, scale or means of measuring. There is, after all, no means of measuring how “good” something is — or indeed how much someone likes something.
Not only that, popular opinion changes over time. Look at Nier. Rated in the 60s on its original release, now regarded as a modern classic. But because of the way Metacritic works, it’s forever burdened with that “mediocre” score.
With this in mind, you absolutely should not let Metascores inform your purchasing decisions. If something looks like it might appeal to you, by all means read what other people said about it and talk to others who have played it, but ignore the big number. It means nothing. If you like the look of it, just go for it.
Judge games based on their obvious intentions rather than what you want them to be
We talk about this quite a lot on The MoeGamer Podcast. It’s not unreasonable to go into a new game with certain expectations as to what you’ll get from the experience — but if those expectations aren’t met, it doesn’t immediately mean that the game is “bad”.
Instead, take a moment to contemplate how the game — not the marketing, nor the coverage by the press — sets itself up. Imagine you hadn’t read anything about the game and you’d just sat down in front of it for the first time. What is the overall design and structure telling you about the experience? What are the mechanics telling you? How is the story presented? Do these initial impressions get subverted by things that are revealed later — either in mechanical or narrative terms?
Some of the most interesting games out there might be positioned as one thing, but are actually something completely different; Shade’s Gun Gun Pixies is a great example of this, as are many early “adventure game-style” visual novels such as Nocturnal Illusion. While one can point the finger at marketers for being misleading at times like this, it’s always worth contemplating the experience purely on its own terms rather than in comparison to anything else.
Play what you want, not what you think you “should”
So, you noticed everyone and their dog playing the latest, greatest triple-A game (and oversharing their experiences on social media), but you think it looks like yet another brown open-world Western game with uncanny valley NPCs and an endless checklist of quests that don’t feel like they have any meaning? Firstly, welcome to my world, and secondly — great! Don’t play it. But also don’t bitch at people who are enjoying it.
(This goes the other way, too; chances are most people reading this won’t fall into this category, but on the offchance you dislike colourful games featuring pretty girls shouting things in Japanese, you can always just not play those, too. And, equally, not bitch at people who do like them.)
You have no obligation to play something just because everyone is talking about it, or even because everyone has been saying how amazing it supposedly is for years. If something doesn’t appeal, it doesn’t appeal — and if you try and force yourself through something you know you’re probably going to dislike, you’ll almost certainly end up resenting the experience.
It’s great to take yourself out of your comfort zone now and again, of course, and it helps you develop a much broader literacy of how different developers do things. But you should always do this on your own terms, when you feel like having a bit of a change, rather than because you feel like you “should” — or because someone says that you “should”. Entertainment is for enjoyment. There is no “should”.
Everyone’s tastes are different. Respect other people’s tastes, but respect your own, too. You know what you like better than anyone else.
Remember you don’t have to be “current”
Related: a game doesn’t stop being good or worth playing just because it didn’t come out in the last week. In fact, in most cases outside of multiplayer-centric titles (where it’s usually best to jump online when the community is at its most active) it pays to give a game a month or two (or more!) for the hype to die down, as this will allow you to come to the experience free of unreasonable expectations and judge it purely on its own merits, as we talked about above.
A good game is timeless. That’s why so many games from prior console generations continue to be held up as both all-time classics and “hidden gems”. If there’s a game that you want to play, but for one reason or another you’re not able to right now, don’t feel bad. In most cases, that game will still be there waiting for you when you’re good and ready — even generations later in some cases. Though if you are concerned about missing out, which can sometimes be the case with games that are likely to have a limited print run, you can always buy the game now and play it later. Just be careful not to do this too much; having too much of a backlog can be demotivating for many people!
Don’t rely on excuses
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve talked to someone and they’ve said something along the lines of “I really want to play game name, but I’m much too busy with my job/life/kids/everything else that has been released!”
If you’ve ever caught yourself saying this, contemplate a few things. How many hours have you spent watching online videos or live TV that you weren’t really interested in this week? How long have you spent idly browsing social media wishing you were doing something, anything else? How many work socials did you show up to only to get bored after ten minutes, but still felt obliged to stand around watching everyone else get drunk and annoying? How many games are you juggling right now without getting anywhere in any of them?
It’s easy to make excuses, particularly when it comes to things that are likely to take a lot of time. And it doesn’t have to be annoying adulty obligations that you’re trying to avoid, either; some people almost seem to take pride in “never having had the time” to play something that they supposedly really want to play.
If you want to do something, you can find a way to make it happen, even if it’s a 100+ hour RPG. Bear in mind the things we’ve already said, particularly the fact that you don’t need to be current; while we can sometimes feel pressured to rush through things just to avoid spoilers, ultimately you are the only one saying that you must get through any piece of media in a set amount of time. It took me over a year to play through Persona 5, and I don’t feel bad about that. I have a job, an occasional social life and a website and YouTube channel to run. If someone as disorganised as me can juggle all these things, I have faith you can too!
Focus and take the time to finish things
The first video game I ever beat was Super Mario World on the Super NES, and it gave me a massive sense of achievement. Ditto for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Prior to that, I’d always felt daunted by the prospect of completing games — at least in part because games I’d played prior to that either couldn’t be beaten by virtue of being endless arcade-style affairs, or were extremely difficult to beat due to the skill requirements.
From the PlayStation 1 era onwards, though, I started making a specific effort to finish what I started, because that had became more practical as many games became more narrative-focused. Developers and writers wanted you to see how the story ended, so while they still put roadblocks in your way to test your skills, they tended to be somewhat more surmountable.
If I began a game, I generally liked to try and see it through to the end before starting something else rather than flitting around from one thing to another, never really settling on anything and never really getting to know anything beyond initial impressions. I feel like I had a much more enriching experience as a result — and, by extension, I have many fond memories of a wide variety of games.
I’ve stuck to this approach over the years — probably even more so now that MoeGamer is such an important part of my life; I don’t like writing about things I haven’t finished.
I love seeing narrative games through to their conclusion, and I’m particularly fascinated by the different ways that developers and writers approach the concept of “the finale”. Final Fantasy VII also taught me that it is not uncommon for the most impressive, memorable piece of music in the whole game to be reserved for the final boss, so I always look forward to final encounters in RPGs.
This ties in with several of the other suggestions above. Focusing on a single game allows you to have a rewarding, complete-feeling experience, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to rush through or beat something as soon as possible after launch. At the same time, if you’re not enjoying something, you shouldn’t feel obliged to beat it — but if you are enjoying it, I can strongly recommend taking the time to see it through from start to finish. Your memories of the game will be that much fonder for having seen the whole story, and you’ll be able to talk about what that game did with much more knowledge, confidence and authority.
Consider if trophies/achievements are adding to your experience
When trying to “beat” a game, consider carefully if the trophy/achievement lists are adding to your experience at all.
Sometimes they can be useful — in the case of games with multiple endings, for example, they can give you clues as to what you might need to do in order to see the various conclusions.
Sometimes they can be fun — in mechanics-centric games, achievements and trophies can highlight fun and interesting ways to play that might be a bit different from the “norm”. The gold standard for this will always be the original Crackdown for me.
And sometimes they can be dumb and pointless. Using a specific skill 200 times (I’m looking at you, Tales of Xillia) isn’t proving anything other than your own stubbornness and/or boredom threshold. Consider whether or not performing some sort of repetitive task like this is actually helping you to enjoy the game, or if you just feel obliged to do it. If the latter, sod it. A Platinum trophy isn’t worth souring your experience with a game by doing something that you wouldn’t do if the trophy wasn’t there.
If you have somewhat involuntary, compulsive tendencies in this regard and find yourself pursuing boring trophies just because they’re there… consider playing on Switch where the option exists. No trophies to worry about there! Just enjoy the game as you see fit.
Ditch the disclaimers and take pride in what you enjoy
You know what you like, so don’t be afraid to talk about it and share it with everyone — and, crucially, don’t be afraid to do so without adding disclaimers and caveats. Take pride in what you enjoy and don’t feel shame or embarrassment over it.
I’m always much more interested to hear from someone who has genuine, unconditional passion and enthusiasm for something rather than someone who rattles off a list of common “flaws” that clearly don’t matter to them, but which they feel obliged to mention because everyone else does.
If something really does affect your enjoyment, by all means mention it. But you’re under no obligation to simply cite popular criticisms you don’t necessarily agree with just because they’re popular. If you don’t give a shit about Senran Kagura’s bouncing boobies — or perhaps you even like them — you don’t need to “acknowledge how problematic the game is” before praising it. If you enjoy a game that runs below 30fps and found that the frame rate did not affect your enjoyment of the game one way or the other, you don’t need to talk about it.
It’s okay to just like — even love — things. It can be fun and interesting to analyse and criticise things in detail — but more often than not, it’s absolutely fine to just say “I like this” and leave it at that… or indeed, to focus on those specific things that you like about it.
The world is filled with enough negativity and cynicism these days. Switch off once in a while and just enjoy something, for yourself and no-one else, unconditionally. You’ll be surprised how happy it makes you.
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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