“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.

Path of Exile: Milestone Achieved, Many More to Go *Twitch* (Pun intended)

Much of the Easter weekend was spent furthering my noob adventures in Path of Exile.

In the span of time a pro PoE player probably takes to get to level 80 (likely in hardcore to boot), I have been slow crawling my way in softcore past my prior lifetime peak of level 66 and moving officially into mapping (and farming, and getting semi-bored out of my mind, and farming some more.)

I’d been entertaining the vaguely optimistic thought that I might go from 62 to 70 on Friday, 70 to 75 on Saturday and maaaaybe 76 to 80 on Sunday.

Of course, I very well knew that a) Path of Exile’s level curve is decidedly exponential – no linear GW2 easy mode here, and b) there was the possible danger of running out of maps for one’s optimal level range, so I expected to not quite make it and possibly need to go another week to finally hit the magic 80.

I end Sunday at level 77, so… not too shabby, considering I’ve never done this before.


Fearing that I’d run out of maps too quickly, I spent a while farming in the level 67 Library zone in Act 3 merciless while I was still in the range for it. (+- 7 levels, apparently, so I could theoretically hit 74 before I started getting an xp penalty.)

I also learned that I don’t quite have the mentality for repeatedly farming the same damn map over and over again, because it started getting awfully boring.

If I hadn’t set myself the goal to reach as many of the 1 month challenges as I could, I would definitely have stopped and went to play another game by now.

However, necessity is the mother of all invention. I discovered that I -could- farm quite well if it wasn’t the only thing I was focusing on (perhaps my safe flame totem build was also a bit boring to play, but hey, let’s not knock what was actually working to level me up.)

It ended up being a great opportunity to catch up on all the Swan Song and Mirrorshades roleplays in the other screen, led into being tempted to subscribe for ad-free video-on-demand on itmejp’s Twitch.tv channel, which then meant I needed to -make- a Twitch account and on the side, begin investigating this strange phenomenon of ‘Why would someone watch someone else play games when they could play ’em themselves?’

I’m still working on figuring that one out.

Sure, it’s kinda fun to flip through games on Twitch like flipping TV channels, marveling at how many people are just sitting around broadcasting themselves playing games, but really, I can only last for 15 seconds at best on most streams before I end up boggling at how this disgustingly low resolution stream has several thousands of viewers, or how that streamer’s voice grates on my spine, or how amateur the production values are on that stream, or hey, absolutely nothing is happening on this stream because it’s one of those PvP sandbox games where the idea of someone else playing the game for me -does- appeal… except that it appears to consist of a whole bunch of standing around waiting for something to happen and my attention span only lasts so long.

Well, maybe I should choose games closer to my heart, where I can actually understand the UI and the jargon and where I don’t have to fear spoiling myself.

So I try to watch a few GW2 PvP streams, which aren’t too shabby, except that GW2 is so active combat that my eyes have to stay glued to the other monitor to keep up, and that doesn’t work when I just want something to vaguely glance at while -actually- playing Path of Exile in the main monitor.

Oh hey, maybe I should watch a Path of Exile streamer being all pro in one screen while I noob it up in the other screen, that sounds all meta and stuff… Except that I realize it becomes -doubly boring- to see two little figures endlessly farm loot and xp, and it’s also depressing to see how the ‘pros’ do it – apparently they party up and trade a lot, both things that I don’t wanna do, thanks, and am ok with being slower as a result.

So I’m not exactly learning anything by watching how three people co-op and kill things much faster than my lonesome (I would rather watch them when they are solo racing to learn that particular fast playstyle) which makes this channel worthless too. Bah. *flip*

I end up going for the one type of Twitch content that -does- make sense to me, competitive matches with a commentator, because watching eSports is way cheaper than paying for a cable TV sports channel over here.

It so happened that an ESL Evolve tournament was going on, which was nifty. Here was a game that I know how to play, know how the game is supposed to be played, don’t have the time to play it and certainly not at a competitive level. I still ended up bouncing channels because one of the commentators in one stream sounded like they knew absolutely nothing about the game, which got on my nerves, but it was a great Path of Exile farming accompaniment for a while.

Until the third time I died by accident just standing around and letting a wandering mob beat on me because my attention was riveted on an exciting monster vs hunter play in the other screen.


I’d have more use for Twitch if I was still playing A Tale in the Desert, that’s for sure. Now there was a game with hefty amounts of downtime.

I ended up following Youtube links for audio music instead, but that’s another story.


Somewhen during the weekend of endless farming, I finally caught up with the one last Tormented ghost I needed and completed the first of four challenges. Hurrah!

On Sunday, I got around to setting up a hideout and getting some Forsaken Masters established in my abode for the daily missions, so as to increase my chances at filling in some of the missions needed for another challenge.

I also finally managed to get a first sighting of Zana, the mapping Master, in a level 70 map and quickly ran her mission and got her set up in the hideout.


Her daily mission was delicious in terms of maps produced. (Beginner’s luck, maybe, but there was a cartographer’s strongbox in the mission and it popped a ton of -admittedly low level- maps.)

A week or two more of this and I suspect I should be able to get at least three of four challenges done.

As for the last, I have no clue if I’ll ever get to high enough a map level to meet one of the unique bosses I’m supposed to kill, or whether I’ll get brave enough and venture in to Atziri – I have one complete map of the four vaal fragments sitting in my stash, but I’m thinking I’d rather hit level 80 first.

I -think- the non-uber version is only level 70, but y’know, it’s a fight I’ve never done and I don’t know how many deaths and re-entries I’ll get (usually 6 if it follows the other maps).

I peeked at a video and it -almost- looked doable, except that I worry that I a) don’t have enough dps, and b) don’t have a good solution to running out of flameblast aoe yet. That video someone was using lightning warp to zap out of there, but it’s definitely a reduced duration lighting warp and I don’t have that gem yet (sad face.)

I’m kinda vaguely entertaining the hope that it’ll drop during my farming and get me set up that way… or I could bite the bullet and send someone a whisper (the horror) or, and this just occurred to me while writing this, I could go check out the possibility of another travel movement gem instead of slavishly following the forum build (leap slam or flicker strike comes casually to mind.)

We’ll see.

Honestly, I’m getting very antsy and kinda want to start another alt (or two or three). I’ve dropped a stash tab full of uniques that look great for leveling, a whole bunch of skill gems that make me want to make a bow character, a lightning tendrils or arc character, but but *twitch* I just need to stay the course a little while more until I hit level 80.

The focus I’ve been devoting to Path of Exile also reminds me that I could be doing the same thing in Guild Wars 2 and leveling and playing all the lowbie classes I’ve been ignoring for a long time. Which I kinda want to do once my PoE stint is done.

Certainly there’s no shortage of things I could be doing until Act 4 in PoE arrives (and Heart of Thorns in GW2 too.)

In other news, they say that Path of Exile is going to get a customizable item filter soon, allowing one to hide junk and highlight desired items in different colors and borders.


Yep, can’t wait for that functionality.