“Ongoing Games” and the Shifting Zeitgeist

Way back when in 2013, when I first started this blog, I thought I was being very clever in naming it “Why I Game.”

Surely, said I, my interests would change as the years passed, but I would never tire of “games.” I didn’t even narrow it down to video games, giving me broad enough scope to branch to tabletop RPGs, board games, card games and what have you.

On one hand, I was right enough, in that I’m still thinking about, reading about and otherwise involved enough in tangential game communities to qualify as still interested, if not obsessed.

On the other, I’ve been feeling a kind of change on the winds, a shifting Zeitgeist where -watching others play-, a spectator sport, has become more popular than “actually playing vidya games.”

On the reading list is “Watch Me Play – Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming” (a creative commons PDF is available here) by T. L Taylor.

I have not been immune to the phenomenon. Lately, a weekly ritual has developed where I -must- sit down every weekend and enjoy an episode of Critical Role’s second campaign with the Mighty Nein.

In one of the Talks Machina discussing a live show of theirs in a theatre (or a tangential article or discussion around that – I cannot remember and the levels of meta discussion escape me), someone mentioned the term “stadium gaming” in reference to how D&D has had a resurgence of popularity, thanks to Twitch / Youtube and the many many players who choose to stream or otherwise publish their gameplay for others to spectate.

I’ve found that it’s oftentimes faster, cheaper, easier to watch someone play through an entire computer game. I don’t have to do any of the dying and repetition, my wallet breathes a sigh of relief, I get to see the streamer’s reactions and read comments from the peanut gallery that is the Twitch audience as an added layer of meta-discussion.

(Granted, I’m usually involved in some other kind of grindy gameplay activity in a computer game while doing so – some mindless farming, something on repeat to have a chance at a lootbox opening, something accumulative…)

Recently though, the fact that I’m doing so is making itself more obvious to me. Yes, it is a choice to do so. Yes, I am choosing to do it because I want some kind of shiny at the end. Yes, I know it is kind of a shallow goal. Yes, I am choosing this shallow goal for now, over other things I could be doing.

I acknowledge what I am doing – sometimes I go through it to get to the other side, sometimes I decide it’s not worth it for now, but I’m increasingly aware that I’m choosing to engage in a “meaningless” activity that only has the meaning I choose to imbue it with. (Which could be said of practically everything in life. Not judging in any way. Just commenting that I’ve been increasingly more ‘meta’ aware on a grand scale. Of.. everything.)

That level of awareness has been bringing a kind of.. equivalency to all my gaming.

Last month, I was heavily into the Blight League in Path of Exile and went all the way to lvl 94. (95 just escaped me, I kept dying.) I killed Shaper and high tier Elder for the first time. My summoner build deleted Atziri multiple times, but I couldn’t quite grind enough of her in SSF to collect enough Mortal fragments for an Uber Atziri go. Uber Elder also escaped me due to difficulty collecting enough T16 maps in the time I had left. I passed up practically all of Warframe to do so, and mostly treaded water in GW2.

On the tail end of that, I got a little bit antsy and branched out into assorted bits of games – a little Firewatch (still not quite getting into it), some Choice of Games interactive fiction, taste tested some “to try playing eventually” games in my Steam Library like Mutant Year Zero and Smoke and Sacrifice, dabbled with Breath of the Wild on the Switch and realizing I’ve forgotten everything and decided to restart completely – not quite finishing or even beginning anything.

Just recently, I’ve done a u-turn into Warframe, deciding to crack open some relics I’d accumulated chasing older Prime warframes to complete the other still available Primes that I didn’t have yet, eg. Atlas Prime, Mesa Prime, Zephyr Prime, Limbo P, Equinox P, et. al. I have not yet made my Railjack. Apparently I have exceptional timing because the Empyrean update just hit – not that I’ll be getting that much out of it until more support for Solo playstyles comes along in 2020. So I’m working on my relics first.

I’ve been eyeing the new Metamorph league in Path of Exile, half tempted, and half askance. Repeating what I just did in Blight seems a bit too much like more of the same. On the other hand, I have been wanting to try a poison build, and if I blend it with bows, it might feel different enough? We’ll see.

Ultimately, all the gaming above feels… equivalent. Not quite “the same,” but more along the lines of “we are choosing to color within these lines for now, and we might do something else later.” We are choosing to do X, we are temporarily suspending disbelief and agreeing with the goal of getting to Y level or obtaining Z reward, we are repeating ABC motions to do so. It is neither good nor bad. It’s not exactly tedious; it’s not exactly fun. It is how it is.

It’s not addiction. If I wanted to, I would stop and do something else. Which I did, for a time, reading some digital comics, magazines and library books, sculpting and painting up a mask for a costume party, killing time on Reddit and watching a lot of Youtube/Twitch videos. It’s just… something to do. I guess. It all feels… equivalent.

I happened to be available the day of The Game Awards to catch it live(streamed.)

Two things struck me after watching it.

One, the term “ongoing games.” Unlike Endgame Viable, I didn’t think “ah, so that’s what we’re calling MMOs now.” I thought, “oh, so that’s how broad we’re going now, games as a service, where a Call of Duty multiplayer, Dota Underlords and an MMO can all be lumped into the same categorical boat, because the defining characteristic is that the game keeps on going and doesn’t stop.

Then I started to wonder about my relationship towards said “ongoing games.” Individual games themselves might continue a lot longer than my engagement with them. This is fine for drop-in, drop-out playstyles and games that support that. I could be pretty happy for the next ten years playing a couple matches against AI per month for Underlords in supremely casual fashion. I seem to have negotiated my seasonal relationship with Path of Exile and Warframe fairly well.

GW2 as usual is in a fog of perpetual confusion – the last survivor of a hardcore persistent world playstyle that I no longer intend to renew with other games, but still clinging on because of social ties and a “why not, while it lasts” mindset.

Which brings me to the second revelation the Game Awards provided. I’m having a lot more fun watching the game trailers than anticipating playing the games themselves.

Amazon’s New World trailer looks exciting and cool. (No Anet marketing problems there.) The music is nifty enough that I go looking for the source.

I sneak a peek at old alpha New World gameplay online and my excitement starts to chill out just a little. Mind you, it’s not horrible and the UI looks pretty damn polished for an alpha. I understand immediately what I’m looking at – a kind of survival crafting sandbox.

I think there will be a fair enough subset of players – often male, often livestreaming on Twitch, often with enough time to build and form large networked communities – who will get pretty good gameplay out of the game. Similar to all the other games out there from Black Desert, ARK, Conan Exiles, Sea of Thieves, Fallout 76, Citadel Forged with Fire, whatever.

I predict I’ll get the most kick out of the game by jumping between streams and watching for brief intervals different players living their different lives. Certainly, I myself have neither the time or inclination to invest in either commitment to a en masse guild or play a scrappy lone wanderer evading all forms of potential hostility. All power to those who do.

Then there was Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. Holy, that was a good trailer. Got the emotional blood roiling.

Me, I’m still working on Hellblade 1. I got up to the first scripted fight, and decided I wasn’t quite in the emotional frame of mind to offer up sufficient suspension of disbelief and willing immersion into the character. Kept it for another time. Not sure when that time will come. We’ll see.

The Wolf Among Us 2 was optimistically promising. Loved the first game. Will the second live up to it? Only time will tell. Not getting riled up about it yet.

Final Fantasy 7 remake looked good. Definitely getting some of that action when it finally arrives. Possibly NOT at day 1 launch full price being that I’m a cheapskate. But eventually.

The Godfall trailer was… intriguing. I almost thought Hellblade London on seeing the armored knights. Presumably no one wants any of that tarnished reputation near a new game, but it’ll be cool to have some of that thematic flavor as inspiration (and feel free to drop -everything else-.) Nothing else more concrete was shown, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see on this one.

Weird West was mildly interesting. I almost thought it was the Deadlands computer game – which I thought was in development, but my Google fu reveals nothing, so I may have dreamed this up somewhere, possibly confusing one Critical Role announcement with another. Maybe it will be Deadlands in all but name and licensing. Who knows.

Magic Arena had one announcement or another. Chalk up one more game I maybe should try to play but probably don’t have time. Magic Legends is some kind of new MMO based in an M:tG world. I think MMO and I just feel like groaning, so I guess we’ll wait and see if there is any innovation on that front based on their colors of magic, or if it’s just going to be more holy trinity, more raids and more levels.

So it goes.

If I don’t like one game, I’ll just play another. There are -so many- these days anyway.

I have been collecting free games from the Epic Store like candy. (The Wolf Among Us is currently available and if anyone hasn’t played that, it’s literally a steal.)

I’m still mildly grumpy that I missed the week for The Messenger, the one game I didn’t own in a sea of games I already have elsewhere, but eh, if it doesn’t come out in a Humble Bundle/Choice/What-Have-You next year, I will be exceedingly surprised. There’ll be another chance for it. In the meantime, I have a million and one other platformers that I’ve never gotten around to either.

It’s all…equivalent, in the end.

I don’t like that social game, but maybe you do. It’s cool, I’ll watch you stream and play it. For a while.

You don’t like that solo game, but maybe I do. It’s cool, I’ll play it myself. For a while.

“Ongoing games…” Hmphh.

The games might still go on, but these days, I’m not sure I’m interested enough to be there every step of the way.