It's a great time to be a gamer. We're in the middle of a video game deluge the likes of which I can't remember. I've got games to play for pleasure, games to play for class, games to play for review, and games to play for vintage appreciation.
I'm fortunate indeed to be in this position, especially when I stop to consider the economic hardships many people are facing these days. Simply owning all the next-gen consoles is a big deal to most folks I know. Nearly all my local friends choose one system and stick with it, buying games for special occasions like birthdays and holidays. I'm a lucky guy, and I need to remind myself of that more often.
So if I'm such a lucky fellow, why am I not having more fun? Instead of delirious joy about all these terrific games, I'm mostly feeling pressure to keep moving, play quickly, keep pace with the cognoscenti crowd, be part of the conversation, stay relevant. The Far Cry 2 discussion is happening now; Clint Hocking is jumping on boards and responding to critics; you don't want to miss this, do you?! But I haven't even started Far Cry 2 yet! I'm only a few hours into Fable 2, still haven't finished the magnificent World of Goo, Fallout 3 arrives tomorrow...and Little Big Planet beckons me like a beautiful woman on the other side of an impassable canyon.
I know exactly what's happening here. I've boarded the Game Review Express, and this ride is giving me a bad case of kinetosis. The engineer of this fast-moving train is a games media with a woefully short attention span and no time to stop and gaze at the scenery. Its itinerary is an ever-expanding list of station stops, and its passengers do not tolerate delays. The Game Review Express is barreling down the tracks as fast as it can go because it only knows one speed.
I need to get off this train now. It doesn't suit me. I'm a very slow gamer. I want to explore every nook and cranny of Albion. I want to look over my shoulder when I leave Bowerstone and study the hazy outline of the city in the distance. I want to jump off cliffs and dive into water simply because I can. I want to talk to the people and explore every inch of every town. If the designers built it, I want to see it. I realize not every gamer feels this sort of imperative; but I do, and the Game Review Express forces me to barrel right past most of these things in order to fulfill the railroad's prime directive: marathon play sessions, finish game, compose review, move on to next game.
I want to believe this approach to playing games makes sense if you're a professional reviewer facing an onslaught of games, but I don't really believe that. On a practical level it's certainly understandable, but I nevertheless wish reviewers could truly take their time - especially for games like the ones appearing now - to luxuriate in a game world and reflect on their experiences in ways less driven by a deadline and more responsive to the shifting nuances and provocations posed by each individual game. Unrealistic? Sure. But a thing to be wished for nonetheless. Business is business, and I get that.
However, I'm surprised by the degree to which many of us (myself included) jump on the Game Review Express of our own volition, even when we're not charged with producing reviews. We behave as if we're all joined in a lockstep march, and pity the poor soul who can't keep up.
Social networking tools like Twitter exacerbate the situation. The amount of sturm/drang/envy produced among gamers following other gamers who already have their hands on just-released titles can be extraordinary. Reading Twitter friend X extolling the virtues of Fallout 3, having just completed Far Cry 2, after recently posting a Fable 2 review produces a small avalanche of desperate cries among the late-comers. The serious gamers are moving ahead, taunting us with their knowledge and teasing us with tidbits of info. "I won't spoil it for you, but wait until you meet Character X or see Location Z." It's all good fun, of course, and nobody forces us to take any of this seriously, but it's very easy to get caught up in the frenzy and feel a very real sense of pressure to pick up the pace and play these games NOW.
I don't mean to prescribe an "approved" way of playing games. If you enjoying plowing through a game quickly and moving onto the next one, I say go for it and have fun. The game industry loves you. But for those of us who enjoy contemplative play - and if you haven't tried it, I heartily recommend it - I suggest we slow down and chew our food. Resist the urge to finish a game simply to stay with the pack. Leave open the possibility of writing about and discussing games weeks or months after they're released. Enjoy the scenery. Jump off the train. I suspect it's headed nowhere anyway.
Image courtesy of fumblesteed at DeviatArt