Monday, September 14, 2009

Supplemental Gaming

If you take a quick glance to the right of this page, you will notice the list of games Scott and I are each playing currently. These are usually accurate, with changes arriving when we move on from or finish a game. If you pay attention to this space, you will also realize we are never playing just one game. For myself, three is the average. I just cannot pay attention to one thing at a time. I'm only comfortable when juggling multiple games. Which is exactly as it should be. Even the serious title is best played in tandem with other disparate games.

Yet I always feel a tinge of guilt when deciding which game to play. There is a conflict of interest when playing multiple games at once, particularly when a time consuming power-house of a game is on the table. Each block of time spent with one game limits the block of time you can spend on another. This is a weighty pressure for anyone, especially when free-time and money is limited. Deciding what to play can become a form of cost-benefit analysis.

If it takes forty hours to complete Fallout 3, but I only play two hours a day, each decision to play another game is serious business. What if I forget important story elements? What if I forget what to do or where to go? What if I never finish the game and waste my money? What if the entire experience is watered down because of my diverted attention? And if so, if I end up hating Fallout 3, is it my fault for not taking it more seriously? The amount of potential guilt is tremendous. However, this guilt is outweighed by the benefits of game multitasking.

Playing different games at once can repel gaming fatigue and temper some of the above concerns. Other games can scratch a previously ignored gameplay itch, relax nerves during gaming frustrations, and generally make the player more amiable to the blunders and inconsistencies every game suffers. A certain amount of distance between play sessions, and gaming experiences, can freshen the player's approach to a game. It is easier to find the good in a game, or at least the interesting, when constant interaction does not fuel hostility or numbs the mind.
My current play through of Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood may be an illuminating example. The game is not very engaging and the mechanics are not fun. Controls are cumbersome, the voice acting is horrendous, even the user interface is annoying. Despite my frequent vocalized complaints, I am committed to finishing Call of Juarez. The story doesn't seize me, but the ideas and approaches to the story do interest the part of me fascinated by Western mythology. In this extreme case, I'm pursuing my interest in one particular aspect of the game and supplementing my gaming experience with other titles.

The game I've put most into while playing CoJ is Twisted Pixel's Splosion Man, a cute and humorous puzzle-platformer available on Xbox Live Arcade. The game is simple, immediately engaging, colorful, and mentally challenging, all things Call of Juarez is not. It also provides the exhilarating multiplayer experience Call of Juarez seems to demand. I have neither the patience nor the stamina to play even the most thrilling Western game to completion without adding supplements to my gaming diet.
There are some games that I do not list to the right, but are still in my gaming rotation. I still regularly play Left 4 Dead for its zombies, Battlefield 1943 for its competitive and chaotic environment, and Flight Control for random challenges. In fact, if I were to include the board games, role-playing games, and card games that frequent my gaming repertoire, I don't even begin to "mostly" play any single game.

This is all as it should be. Like most gamers, my tastes are many and my play styles vary on whim. Though some games sweep me away like nothing else, it is impossible for any one creation to satisfy all my desires. Some design choices I admire are, in fact, incompatible with each other. So I consume diversity, I thrive on it, and each game is better because of what it is not. I seek out my interests in the medium, and it is oh so rewarding.


  1. I can completely relate to this post. I get bored with the long games because I spread them too thin. I play a few hours here and there, but then I've forgotten what was going on and I just feel like I'm not experiencing it properly because I can't put in big 6-8 hour play sessions.

    I've also been buying games like mad as businesses are selling off their PS2 & Gamecube inventories to make space for next gen games and digital distribution is making deals left and right to compete with the brick and mortar retailers (and one another). I only pay about $5-$10 on average for a game these days. I can't pass them as fast as I buy them, so the backlog grows and grows. As far as problems go though, having too many videogames to play is one problem I don't really mind having. :)

    You can see what my collection of unbeaten games looks like here:

  2. I never thought about playing multiple games at a time, for some reason, just like reading, I can't pay atention to anything else that isin't what I started. But recently I got my hands on Doom and the Penumbra series, which seem quite opposite in their ways of scaring the player, so besides not being able to sleep well, the scare tactics in each game are much more clear, so I get what you mean.

    Seems like you got lots of games to play (lucky you!), but are there any games that you're looking forward to?

  3. @ JT

    Star Ocean? Xenosaga? Indigo Prophecy? Shadow of the Collosus!? What are you doing sir? Get busy! Supplemental gaming is the only way you'll get anything done.

    @ RASS

    I'm really surprised. I generally expect everyone to play multiple games at once. You should try it, it's great.

    I'm definitely looking forward to games. I'm actually looking forward to ODST, Modern Warfare 2, and Assassins Creed 2 are three just for this year.

  4. Oh man, that website that JT linked to is crazy. I don't know if I love or if I am terrified of it.

    I usually only read one book at a time, so it is weird that I keep a few games in active rotation. Even so, like RASS, I tend to favor one game with a disproportionate amount of playtime.

    As for games I'm looking forward to: I've been waiting for God of War 3 since I finished God of War 2. New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2 are both on my list as well. Finally, I'm hoping Santa will leave The Beatles: Rock Band under the tree this year...