Some Games Are Not For Playing / The Long Dark Winter of Gaming

One of the things I’ve decided is up my alley is that I tend to play games of accumulation. Collection is a motivation.

It is why I gravitate to games like GW2 that let me accumulate and -keep- accumulating until the clutter gets overwhelming; games like Warframe with no functional inventory limit and all the collection possibility in the world; games like Path of Exile where I stuff things into 40 stash tabs and call it a day; games like Terraria and Minecraft and Don’t Starve where I can build a base and fill every last square inch with chests.

Even in A Tale in the Desert, when I’d finally ended up distracted from the game and left my house behind (in the two or three Tales I semi-played), it was bound to contain a ton of stuff stashed away for future player scavengers to celebrate their haul.

It is probably why I tried The Long Dark recently and felt uncomfortable with its core gameplay. It is a survival scavenging game of forever and harshly dwindling meters.


By design, it seems built for players of a more nomadic scavenger bent who are happy to raid an area until it lacks any usable supplies and then move on to the next locale.

Conversely, what I really want to do is collect all the wood into a gigantic pile and set up a warm and cozy base camp in a cave or a building from which to venture out and roam and collect resources to deposit back at ‘home.’


This seems to be a type of gameplay unrewarded and made near impossible by Long Dark – your fires get blown out by wind, you can’t build fires indoors, you will likely run out of matches to light fires eventually, your fires devour fuel and there is never enough wood, and the further you venture away the more likely you are to freeze to death before you can find/produce/get back to a source of warmth.


The game subtly presents my subconscious escapism with one of its utter nightmares: “You can never collect enough stuff. It will run out. You will lose it all.”

I gamely tried it for 5 hours.

The story mode seemed like a fairly straightforward tutorial, but I took a break when faced with a tedious fetch quest and googled to find out that the rest of the episodes are not yet in place, diminishing my will to play it until it’s all complete.

The survival mode, well, was not for me.


First, I randomized my start location for the hell of it and picked the normal Voyager difficulty mode – whereupon my fortune deposited me in Forlorn Muskeg, one of the harder maps apparently. I lasted under a day, having accidentally fallen into a lake through thin ice and hastening my demise, which was already looming via starvation.

Having determined that this average difficulty level was too hard for my liking, I decided to give myself the best shot and picked the beginning options – easiest Pilgrim difficulty and Mystery Lake, a map intended for new players.

I lasted under two days, having spawned in some wintry forest or another, finding a wind-exposed wooden lookout shelter with not much resources, and later making the ill-judged mistake of going to sleep in a bedroll without a fire (I couldn’t find enough wood to make one that would last long enough for sleeping) and promptly never waking up again, having opted to snugly freeze to death by clicking yes to a couple of buttons.


I tried it again, spawning in a different location that led me to a logging camp with a stove in an open exposed building and around four enclosed buildings that had beds but did not allow for fires within.

After soundly boggling at the logic of being unable to sleep in the beds – for fear of freezing to death – nor being able to drag the bed mattress out to the skeleton of the building with the stove that supported a fire, I spent a night huddled by the stove reading and snoozing in the bedroll.

I calculated that there was probably enough wood in the vicinity to last one or two more nights, if I wanted to scavenge every last chair and branch to fuel the fire before the place would run out.

Since this prospect felt tedious in the extreme, I decided to hasten the “moving on” portion and continued roaming.

I stumbled across a bridge, some cars, something that looked like a guard shelter and a dam in the background. Huddling under the bridge protected from wind chill and seemed like a potential spot for a fire.

I calculated that scavenging around in the cars and shelter /might/ produce enough resources to last one night under the bridge, if I was very lucky, and/or proceeding to the dam to scavenge for more resources to rapaciously consume might occupy another day.

But the thought of rapacious consumption was so depressing it destroyed my will to continue and I quit out under the bridge instead.


Nope, Long Dark appears not to be for me.

A little skimming of various forums suggested that the ‘game’ part of Long Dark constituted of getting very familiar with the maps and potential resource placements and efficient routing from point A to point B.

This is ridiculously metagame-y for a game ostensibly about surviving in the Canadian wilderness and valuing a harsh simulation experience where gathering wood and fire construction and warmth maintenance takes up the greater part of the day.

Certain design choices seem in contrast with each other. Fire building as a simulation is “realistic” but I cannot even drag a branch with me into more sheltered conditions before I work on it to break it into pieces?

Certain design choices just don’t gel with my playstyle. I guess I’m more of a turtler than a rusher. Roaming and consuming is not really my thing, I build and farm and make little sustainable loops till infinite resources (or system lag). [Yes, Factorio is still on the wishlist. I know. #patientgamer]

No harm done. I’d found Long Dark in my massive Steam games collection (others call it a backlog, I call it a museum of idle choice), having presumably accumulated it in one Humble Bundle or another that was bought for other games. Tried it. Put it down. Till next time or never. As my mood takes me.

The experience does, however, crystallize the realization of why I always ask myself this criteria before I consider buying or seriously long term playing a game (as opposed to testing out for free in the short term):

Can I lose progress?

That is, can other players impact my progress negatively? Is the game designed so that I will lose stuff? (where stuff usually equates to progress in some fashion) Will I ever experience a period of backward progress where I will have wasted my time and have to do it all over again?

Others are fine with this. It is exciting, apparently. High risk, high reward. The tension is gratifying, rather than stressful and upsetting, or they -need- low lows in order to experience sufficient highs in a sort of yin and yang seesaw. Stuff is a temporary means to an end, or just a way of keeping score as it trades hands. They have ample time for do-overs. Or they’ll put up with it because they want to have the chance to inflict it on others.

(The only permadeath games that I’m fine with are in the roguelike genre. The keys to how I can make an exception seem to be because the account and my learning always experiences positive progression and any backward progress is solely due to my own actions, which retains the autonomy I seem to crave.)

Being acted on by others is the exact opposite of autonomy – a loss of control to rub salt into the already smarting wound of “stuff” loss to a collector.

So I’ve voluntarily taken myself out of the player audience for any games who choose to allow for this in their design. I know losing things won’t make an accumulator happy. Hoarders gotta hoard.

In so doing, I’ve also realized that the current crop of multiplayer MMO-likes coming down the line are probably not for me, gameplay-wise.

They’re not for playing anymore.

But they just might be for watching.

Take the currently contentious Fallout 76.

At this point, the controversy surrounding Fallout 76 is more entertaining than the game itself.

I’ve been catching the early hours of Cohhcarnage’s stream since those are usually the same times I play. I have my accumulatory game going in the primary monitor and keep Cohh’s stream up on the secondary monitor.

I miss half of the stuff going on, but since those are usually instances of scrolling messily through console UI scavenging and crafting items or wandering through the wilderness shooting some variant of a mutant zombie with guns in identical fashion, it seems like no big loss.

Instead, I watch the bits of content that interest me. The occasionally lovely wilderness landscapes as opposed to the ruined junkyard scenes, and the environmental storytelling that Cohh will call attention to when he stumbles across it.

Watching yet another streamer patiently solo a super mutant base or a wendigo cave lets me appreciate the strategic gameplay aspect (such that it is – ie. Scouting with binoculars or a sniper rifle zoom and picking off enemies, circle strafing with shotguns, beating the face in on some other mobs with a super sledge to save ammo – basic, but at least it’s there) secondhand, without actually have to do the combat myself at its slow and stately pace.

It’s outsourced gameplay!

Which makes a tremendous amount of sense the first time one of these streamers run into a game-breaking bug or otherwise unwelcome experience and you watch them bite their lip and either control themselves with herculean effort or go off into a frustrated rant (or both.)

Well, at least they’re getting paid to entertain. Twitch audiences thrive on schadenfreude. Which presumably makes the $60 game additionally feel like an investment in content for their stream and community and makes it much easier to rationalize the purchase, over someone who was hoping to get their pay-off solely from the game itself.

It sometimes makes me wonder if this isn’t the new model that some companies are deciding to experiment with, post-microtransactions era.

Selling individual copies of the game itself is so passé. I mean, you’d have to extend your reach to a really broad audience if you want to make sufficient money off box sales alone – which may greatly limit the type of game one has to make and design, trying to be all things to all people.

Ditto subscriptions, you’re still limited to the one customer one payment model, albeit monthly.

Except in both the above cases, your customers suffer attrition real fast, from boredom and distraction and the passage of time and you keep having to create new content at possibly unsustainable rates to slow this attrition down.

So enter microtransactions and lockboxes and content DLC. Now your one customer has the potential of making -multiple- payments, of possibly very high value, with more freedom of payment from the tyranny of a calendar month. The trick is to frame your model so that the bulk of your customers accept it or even welcome it, as opposed to reacting like a vampire presented with some garlic or a cross.

And as they played around with variations on this, they realized that there were ‘whales’ who would pay the bulk of the cash, amidst a sea of tiny minnows paying small or nil amounts… and games started shifting their design around to cater to the happiness of said whales.

But how else can you earn money for your company? Where is the big moolah?

eSports is one, of course. If you can turn your game into a sports franchise, complete with celebrities and competitions, wow, will that money will flow in.

And then there’s this strange phenomenon that is attracting eyes… game spectating on Twitch. People are paying money to watch other people play games, or rather, supporting as patrons the lifestyles of live entertainers who make game playing a watchable entertaining experience.

Hrm… What if we design games that are meant for Twitch?

  • They’d have to be games that a large number of people would rather watch someone else play.

(That is, it might require a lot of skill or learning or time to progress so that most people can only aspire to such heights, or challenge a player with risky endeavors and potential loss and setbacks that many loss-adverse people are unwilling to experience firsthand.)

  • They’d have to provide a wealth of interesting, unpredictable, emotional experiences to provoke streamer reaction.
  • It’ll have to look attractive enough to watch, be clear and simple enough to visually parse and understand (ie. not GW2).
  • It could have high priced microtransactions.

(Streamers -are- whales, after all, or have a high likelihood of becoming one. They’re receiving monetary donations from a collective of viewers and thus probably more willing to invest some of it back into a game that is enabling them to profit from it.

The presence of viewers creates social peer pressure to spend – who wants to be seen as a skinflint? Especially when 8000 eyes are on you? No, you want to provoke awe and admiration and even a little jealousy. Pop goes that credit card.)

  • Possibly even disposable after some time, because popular interest will move on to the next new thing, so why step into the trap of trying to keep an MMO alive forever?

New World is another interesting case.

I have not bothered signing up for the alpha. Or beta. Or whatever stage it is in now.

As much as I am attracted by the prospect of a massive world and the freedom to explore and do whatever you want to do, I am equally turned off by the current website statements that the world is dangerous and you’ll need to socialize and the whole obsession around PvP and territorial control.

At the moment, my craving for autonomy wins out and ranks far higher in priority than the prospect of having to adjust my gameplay with and around other people. I’m content to explore an infinite modded Minecraft world for a similar more peaceful experience.

Oh yes, and there’s that whole thing about item loss. When someone kills you, you drop your gear and they can loot you.

Sure, it’s presumably disposable gear, if the game is designed properly. Don’t wear what you can’t lose. The gear is a tool to engender the experiences one desires.

I understood this from a theoretical basis a long time ago, when conversing with MUD players who flagged themselves “PK” (Player Killers) and evolved their whole unique culture of chasing each other around the MUD striving for a victory. A successful kill where the person put up a sporting fight meant they’d count coup off the person and just take one item; cowards and braggarts and people they disliked that didn’t fit into their little clique they would loot blind.

(As I found no joy in the actual fight or chase itself, and would probably flee like a pansy at the slightest provocation, you may rest assured I never flagged myself PK to risk complete item loss.)

Eve Online seems to have similar principles around the ships that a player flies. I get this. It’s a disposable asset that allows players who love the fray to get in there and mix it up with the right tools.

The brain understands and the heart of a hoarder screams NOOOOO… It is MINE. I WANTS IT. *GOLLUM*

Yeah. Item loss games. Not for me. See above criteria about losing progress.

For accumulators, every last speck of completely excessive bloodstone dust, dragonite ore, or empyreal dust is progress.

As for the dip in the graph, I did a bit of tidying after the legendary got built. Don’t worry, the dragonite ore is still there. Just in brick form, as a compressed dragonite ingot.

I can’t even throw useless stuff away on my own. Why would I opt to play a game that lets others take stuff from me?

As for Crucible, well: “Crucible is a third-person, last one standing game of trust and betrayal. Each match pits human and alien competitors with unique weapons and abilities against one another on a lush, alien world. Players make and break alliances on the fly. In Crucible it takes a mix of combat skill, strategic planning, and social finesse to survive.”

Alliance making. Trust and betrayal. Sounds like a Werewolf or Town of Salem game. Or Survivor or Hunger Games. “Social finesse” – Ha! I have none!

And I probably already have misanthropic trust issues without needing a game designed for backstabbing to rub it in that hell is other people. Nope, definitely not for me to be playing one of those either.

I also can’t shake the feeling that Amazon is developing games designed for and around Twitch. I mean, they own it, after all.

Games that are going to be far more interesting to spectate than play.

I’d cheerily -watch- both New World and Crucible.

I could flip channels and experience a dozen different New World lives in the time it would take to play one and either build the social connections necessary for progress – in the unlikely event that all timezones meshed – or live like a lone wandering hermit running away from “murderous player bandits” until one gets eaten by a bear.

I could watch -other- people undergo match after match of schmoozing and begging and screaming and wheeling and dealing in Crucible, shrieking “No, him, not me!”

Secondhand, it sounds distant enough to be highly amusing. Firsthand and up close, much less so.

War, war never changes.

But games, maybe they do.

3 thoughts on “Some Games Are Not For Playing / The Long Dark Winter of Gaming

  1. I was curious a lot about the long dark until I heard it was set maps. If you know exactly what is where, then you play to that. So it’s like being lost in your own neighbourhood, with a map and google to help you. People will min-max it.

    I would love for a PVE survival sim game that went on indefinitely. That would be fun for me. I know that’s Minecraft-ish but that’s find, if it’s better and more realistic graphics. I like harvesting and building and being a hermit. In my old dorm Warcraft games I was always the guy hoarding and building up these giant defences and armies.

    PVP games are ruined by other people. There, I said it.


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