The Month, The Year in Review

I have been trying to write this post for a month now. I think this is draft 4, or 5… I’ve lost count.

I’ve been searching for a way to write a post that doesn’t sound negative, or depressed, or tired, or recount a billion unimportant incidents in roundabout fashion. (That is, “unimportant” to me, specifically.)

Suffice to say that a couple of things have happened in the intervening month that have helped to reshuffle priorities that were already mid-change process. Thankfully, none of them were serious, drastic or tragic things, but meaningful enough incidents that shook loose some established habits.

For example, GW2 raid-wise, after 2-3 weeks of in-retrospect overblown anxiety and frustration at not being able to kill the Vale Guardian due to the vagaries of my guild groups, I decided to take matters into my own hands and resolved to devote the next week to all-out 100% game time spent mercenary-ing until I encountered enough raid groups to luck into one that -could- kill VG.

That first Monday night, on the very first PUG group, we killed the Vale Guardian. Just like that.

(Albeit with the potion of elemental slaying still in effect, and a raid leader that cherry-picked OP classes, but still, VG dead, using cc strat, no other shenanigans besides the potion.)

Doing that suddenly cured me of the desire to race any further ahead. It was possible, yes, but I’d have to over-devote my time to a very specific aspect of the game, go hunting for a likeminded guild in my timezone, and then spend way too many hours practising and specialising in that one thing with a limited group of people.

I realized that I had the most fun in TTS training raids, where there’s a pool of 20-30 odd interested individuals – small enough to get familiar with names and large enough for some people to not be able to attend on certain days while the group still continues on and improves their general ability. (There have been the odd success as the weeks past; I was in on one of those, so twice VG down now – alas, in the same week as the PUG, so I only got a shabby exotic once.)

Another guild that I joined to try out their raid plans has pretty much demonstrated much of the issues and drama of a casual raid (from plenty of no-shows to people who show up frighteningly unprepared, thus virtually guaranteeing failure,) to which I can only look on with some distant hilarity. (Better to laugh than get angry and upset, right?)

We’ll see, I plan on giving everything another month or two to settle down, since the Christmas period is kinda hellish on everybody’s schedules, but to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll be one of the devoted any longer at that point and may back out gracefully after some time.

You see, some of those things that have happened in December has also helped me reassess what GW2 has become for me.

It’s become a game, like any other.

Not a world. Not somewhere immersive to play out my characters’ stories or discover new things. Not a lifestyle or social club / network where I must needs make a name for myself or build a reputation in order to succeed at future goals.

Hell, it’s become a place where I can’t even fool myself with the comforting escapist illusion that I can win all the things or achieve all the goals (or most of them) or collect all the minis or what-have-you.

These days, you have to choose. If you spend 3 hours every day playing PvP matches to rise in divisions for one shiny, you don’t have the hours to chase another shiny such as the fractals backpack, or a new legendary, or an old one, or raid shinies, or festival shinies, or well, whatever.

Having to choose makes the artificiality of ALL the choices more evident to me. I become more aware that whatever goal I pick is an arbitrarily chosen one that I decided to value at this point in time, for fun, for entertainment purposes (since it would be quite sorry to believe any different and over-invest too much value or meaning into a certain goal.)

It is like the mobile games I have taken to playing (another one of those December things):

I suddenly had the urge to revisit my Dragonvale park this month. So I did. I clicked all the things, collected the gold and food that had been stored up to the max limit for eons, and then checked the little goals notebook for something to do. There seemed to be a hundred new goals and new dragon eggs to be bred and hatched, so I picked one at random, googled for a little helper guide to suggest the best dragons to put together to produce what I wanted, then clicked some more. After 1-3 days of what is essentially a random dice roll on a table, I felt cheered up to see the egg I had set my sights on turn up.

Amazingly, I felt more cheerful and happy at this than doing anything in GW2, including winning a Vale Guardian fight (which was mostly a neutral relief.)

I don’t think the level of challenge was a factor for me, I suspect it was more the shorter term time between setting out on a goal and receiving a reward, and the novelty factor of me imbuing more meaning and value into something new and unique and pretty, as opposed to “more tokens, another orange, meh, ok.”

That’s not to say that the latter is wrong, or that GW2 should take a 180 degree U-turn and award a unique and pretty skin for each raid boss killed (I might -really- freak then), but I suddenly recognized that I was over-investing way too much time and over-valuing one particular game when other games might give me whatever buzz or emotion I’m looking for in a faster, easier, less stressful, less time-consuming manner.

That’s not to say that I immediately ragequit or dropped GW2 like a hot potato either, I’m still playing it, pretty contently. Nibbling away at dailies, being an opportunist and jumping into group content as and when free time and mood coincide. But I hope, a little less one-sided or obsessively.

I also downloaded Freeblade onto my iPad, which is a pretty fun Warhammer 40k game where you pilot a sort-of mini-Titan, an Imperial Knight (not a true Titan, according to the fluff I haven’t had time to read) a one-man combat walker death machine (call it a mech or by any other name, it all sounds good to me.)

The aesthetics and graphic quality is pretty true to the franchise and good for an app game. Gameplay involves aiming a reticle with your finger for a light weapon burst, two finger targeting for a heavy weapons shot, and double-tapping for a little extra boost from a secondary back-mounted weapon, while the titan (ok, knight) marches on automatically following a preset path.

It rather reminds me of some of those old arcade shooting games that work in similar fashion, where you’re just concerned with manipulating a gun and shooting and aiming while the computer does all the behind-the-scenes work of moving and offering you plenty of targets to shoot at. I found it pretty fun.

There’s the usual gear level sort of design where you find that you end up needing higher and higher stats and crave shiny purple and orange stuff to more easily get through higher level missions. In usual microtransaction fashion, you can do it for free, super slowly, in time-limited fashion and reliant on RNG and patience, or you can put money down and be decked out like a god and skip all gameplay (*ahem* speed to more advanced areas without wasting any time and presumably complete the game or reach endgame faster)…

Some people loathe the monetization of the app, which pretty much pulls out all the stops and does it all, but I’m quite immune to this sort of thing and have cheerfully ignored stuff like Dungeon Boss’ attempts at eyebrow-raising money grabs that ask for minimum sums of $20 and go all the way up to $160+. (Obviously, they’re catering for whales far richer than I.)

I found Freeblade’s monetization to be priced more reasonably in general, with lower ranges of $3-$10+ and ramping up from there to catch the big whales.

I was mildly amused and even entertained by the stuff given as a freebie, in exchange for watching ads. Not any random annoying ad, mind you, these were very well targeted – iPad game apps that I found myself quite enjoying (at least, until you see Star Wars; Galaxy of Heroes for the 40th time, no thank you, I really detest the Star Wars franchise, I’m a heretic, I know.)

I even learned that the company that made Dragonvale, Backflip Studios, was pushing out a new Dragonvale game called Dragonvale World. That was ad success right there, because I rather cheerfully and agreeably downloaded that. (In a stunning reversal, Dragonvale World has apparently launched onto the Philippines and Singapore stores first, before places like North America. It seems to be a variant of Dragonvale with 3D dragons and a little bit more MMO-like in terms of cycling daily quests and longer time to level up dragons and being able to send them out gathering stuff for you – possibly like garrison followers, though I don’t play WoW, so that may be a very off-the-mark guess.)

I played Freeblade for free up to chapter 5, though I had to wait a couple days for patrol missions to reset so I could earn the necessary unlocks to get to the next chapter. Around that time, during an expected plot twist which changes the enemy type you’re fighting, a bundle offer popped up for three nice purple weapons and some miscellaneous goodies for 50% off, $10 dropping to $5.

That was the microtransaction that got me. It wasn’t necessary, per se. It was just pitched so reasonably that I felt it was time to pay for the app that I’d been enjoying for free, and that the gameplay offered was worth 5 bucks to me, and well, if you want to give me some extras in return, it’s mutual win-win.

Beyond playing app games in casual fun-seeking fashion, yet another December thing that happened was a sort of half-assed search for meaning.

Mostly the daily grind and GW2 routine had gotten to me, and some random Googling and e-library searches led me to a guy called Eric Maisel. He’s a bit New Age Psychology (“natural psychology” is part of his special terminology) and has written a frightening amount of self-help books targeted at the creative, depressed, anxious, self-defined intelligentsia. Much of the content of his books is fairly repetitive, and I can only recommend them if you a) don’t mind new-agey, self-help pep talk, b) get them for free, aka temporary loan from a library and c) skim-read.

In between the padded wordage, I found some insightful nuggets that helped my current thinking quite a bit. In essence, he suggests that “meaning” is a very subjective experience, that different people can imbue the same situation as being with or without meaning, depending on their perspective and where they’re coming from.

He also suggests that the best way to find meaning is to “make” it, to knowingly choose opportunities that may give rise to an experience that feels meaningful to you, rather than wandering around in a hopeless search for meaning or waiting for it to stumble into your lap.

(I’d personally disagree with him about the search for meaning being meaningless or valueless, but certainly, the concept of choosing to purposefully ascribe meaning to particular moments/opportunities in life is something I hadn’t actively considered or been working at, having been operating on autopilot for a good many months, maybe years.)

Another concept I found fairly valuable was that it’s perfectly acceptable to operate on “meaning-neutral” mode for parts of your day. Not every last waking hour -has- to feel meaningful, or else… Life just doesn’t work that way and it’s ok.

The basic idea is to just balance those parts with intentionally chosen activities/states of being where one -hopes- that meaning will arise once given the chance, but doesn’t feel put upon if meaning doesn’t arise, at least one tried to make opportunities for it.

So yeah, from now and into next year, expect me to be re-balancing stuff in my life that has gotten somewhat out of whack.

I forsee that much of the time to do this is going to come from the one over-prioritized thing, which is mostly GW2 time. The good news is that some of that re-balance may be a re-dedication to blog posting, which is, after all, a creative outlet where one can make and derive meaning.

Top 23b

This, by the way, is my lazy person’s shortcut to summarizing my major games played in the year 2015. (Checked are those to be displayed on the graph below.)

Or rather Mar-Dec 2015, since that was when I had the urge to set up ManicTime, a time-tracker software Endgame Viable was using, and never got around to uninstalling it.

ManicTimeStatistics_2015-12-24

And the graph by weeks.

I actually “played” a bunch of random Steam games for less than an hour or so, but I thought the graph was getting a little too messy.

GW2 was naturally the biggest time-suck, especially when the expansion came around.

Objectively, I have been spending more logged-in hours post-expansion than pre-expansion. (Considering most of this year was mainly waiting for the expansion and doing dailies and lacking motivation for anything else, that’s not exactly hard…)

Subjectively, however, I am not sure those hours were terribly enjoyable, which does suggest a pressing need to re-balance priorities and time.

Path of Exile and Trove were the two backup secondary games, at different times of the year, with Minecraft a very close third.

One might observe that I keep trying to fill the gaps with singleplayer narrative or story-heavy games, usually of an adventure game-ish bent, with branching story choices, which is the one thing that my main games haven’t been doing very well, since they are mostly multiplayer and action RPGish or MMOish.

All in all, it’s been a very purposeful game-playing year – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend anything on the above list, besides Pixel Piracy and Savage Lands as the major exceptions, and X:Rebirth as the minor one.

Not that they were bad, I spent a decent amount of time playing them and having fun, it’s just that Pixel Piracy is quite basic and doesn’t feel entirely finished (even though it is a finished game) and Savage Lands is still an early access work-in-progress sandbox. X:Rebirth, meanwhile, is of the singleplayer spaceship trader genre, which I suspect only appeals to a limited subset of people.

Everything else is definitely worth a play. You still may or may not like them, but they either do things differently enough to be worth experiencing once, and/or they do what they do very well.

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5 thoughts on “The Month, The Year in Review

  1. bhagpuss says:

    Personally I have no interest, or even belief, in “meaning”. We are born, we live, we die. Any meaning that happens along the way is meaning we have invented for ourselves. Feeling what you are doing is “meaningful” can be comforting, though, so we like to do it.

    I worked out that “the best way to find meaning is to “make” it” when I was at University. It seemed self-evident from the environment I was immersed in. It became apparent that the study of English Literature, like any liberal arts degree, consisted largely of picking a topic and analyzing it according to a set of rules. What the topic was or what the rules were seemed arbitrary and changeable and the end result had no meaning, value or function outside of the act of doing and having done it, so why not just pick stuff that you found pleasing or amusing and analyze that in a way the felt enjoyable?

    That model can be expanded to apply to everything you will ever do voluntarily (applying it to imposed or non-volitional situations is possible but harder to achieve). The self-help version is a bit of a pudding of positive existentialism, cultural relativism and plenty of your granny’s old looking on the bright side. The short and dirty version is simple:

    1. Only do things you enjoy doing.
    2. Avoid doing things you don’t enjoy doing.
    3. Learn the difference between them.

    Three’s the hard one…

    • Bah humbug. You’re no fun.

      Let me contribute my own philosophical witticisms:
      Meaning is an accident. Doing things you like makes you accident prone.

      Well, really, meaning is a game we play in which we pretend things are meaningful.

      Perhaps as we age that “ON” switch that drives us to accomplish things causes us to overheat and burn out if left in the HIGH position for too long. Time to switch to MEDIUM or perhaps LOW.

      I hope you have many accidents in 2016, Jeromai. I mean that in the nicest way possible. 🙂

  2. Coppertopper says:

    I am actually enjoying savage lands. Only played a few hrs but its a nice mix of survival sandbox in a woodsy lakeside setting, with fantasy mobs to kill or avoid by building a shelter (a la Minecraft). Getting an EQ1 vibe actually. Makes me realize survival needs are maybe one of the missing elements of modern mmos. Great list of played games though. GW2 just keeps adding layers and layers of grind – such a disappointment.

  3. […] functioning has not matured. Well, you have to remember that this is me we’re talking about. Jeromai’s personal realizations with regard to the role of Guild Wars 2 in their gaming library struck a chord with me, as did […]

  4. fireflyry says:

    I tend to find the Xmas and New Year period refreshing all be it a reminder that at times my priorities when it comes to gaming vs real life can be slightly askew, more so with GW2.

    Catching up with friends and family reminds me there is more to life than farming mats and world completion.

    Having not logged in for over a month I really feel no dersire or need too which is a refreshing change from the self-imposed pressure to “stay relevant” I had post HoT release. I guess one of the major percs with this franchise is the non-subscription model that allows me the luxury of ignoring GW2’s existence for months before approaching it at a later date re-motivated and refreshed.

    To be honest I have so many other games to play (Total Biscuts Arbitrary Awards always leaves me with a long list of games to delve into) and I really have no motivation to visit Tyria at the moment as the repetition and grind have been replaced with other vastly superior enjoyments.

    Guess I’ll check back in a few months.

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