Playing PC Games

Today I thought, why not let the first blog post of 2021 be sort of a rambling post. Some personal opinions, things going on in my life – you know, the purpose blogs actually served in the first place. In fact, I’ve been thinking about letting it become a regular series to take over the diminishing posts about PC games.

And then, what better place to start than with that – PC games.

Oh no, you might be thinking. This is going to be one of those blog posts where he denounces playing video games ever again. Well, not quite. Maybe. Sort of. It’s complicated.

The thing is, the past few couple of years it’s actually been a struggle for me to write these blog posts about PC games. Having to take abundant notes while playing, lots of screenshots, writing the blog post, inserting the right images. It’s not just playing a game as relaxation like watching a movie for me. I need to have this on the side to make PC games mean something special to me.

Recently, I’ve been asking myself a question. Have you actually enjoyed playing the latest five or ten games you played? I thought about that for a few days. At first I took a look at the blog posts I wrote about those games and admitted to myself that, why yes, I did get at least a little bit of joy out of playing these games. So, maybe it is still worth doing? Well, the problem is exactly the amount of work I just described in the previous paragraph. So what I needed to do was to ask myself the right question:

Does the joy I get out of a PC game match the work I have to prepare for its blog post?

To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure – but it does look a whole lot more like, not really. The thing with these blog posts is, there are nobody reading them. Apart from a small period of time back in 2011 where I started writing about MMORPG, I’ve always felt like standing alone on a remote island, shouting opinions into a megaphone for only the indifferent seagulls to enjoy.

When you visit a new blog just to check it out, do you read the amateur reviews there? Especially for games you’ve not played? I must confess that I pretty much never do. If I don’t know you, why would I care about you pointing at cool stuff in those games? It’s understandable that random visitors don’t do that.

About 15-20 years ago, I was completely into playing PC games. No, scratch that. I was completely obsessed. I completed long PC games one after another, back to back, writing enormous essays in both my notebook and in my diary. I was driven, and when I’m driven, I’m having a lot of fun! It never felt like work. I wrote in my diary in the mornings and often came late to work because of it.

But it didn’t just go on at full steam for many years in the same lane. I made sure to change lanes along the way. After a year or two, I started playing a lot of CRPG – a genre I had never touched before.

Of all CRPG, I let Dungeon Siege be my introduction to this genre.

And then in 2005, I once again changed lanes and jumped onto the MMORPG wagon, right when World of Warcraft was introduced to us Europeans. It was a wonderful time, and I also managed to have a lot of fun out of EverQuest II and Lord of the Rings in the following years. I even raided in most of them.

Then it started going downhills. At first I burned out, declaring the hobby to be absolutely over in my diary. Know the feeling of not tasting a specific kind of candy or cake for years and then tasting it again? Playing games was a little like that, but not quite. I tried again a few years later and found a little bit of fun again, but things were never going to be the same again.

I had completed more than 500 games. The novelty had worn off a long time ago. Every time I played a new game, it was a mix of “been there, done that” and seeing all the smoke and mirrors. It’s difficult to let myself be engulfed by a game world anymore. I think about the tricks used, the boundaries, the limitations. Those 15-20 years ago I could get immersed like there was no tomorrow on a small CRT monitor. Now I have a ginormous 32″ widescreen monitor and yet it doesn’t make any difference.

All those fancy new graphics and amazing 3D models.

There’s something to be said for the limited 3D graphics and pixelated 2D graphics of yesteryear. Back then we had to use our own imagination to fill in the gaps ourselves. I’m sure it sometimes bent a game into having an awesome atmosphere it wouldn’t have had if it sported the graphics we have today.

To make matters even worse, the AAA games of today are really lacking. It feels as if they’re locked into a hackneyed routine where it’s way too expensive to take any chances. Got to run this by the book or we’ll have investors dropping Molotov cocktails on us.

The only place I’ve been able to find some novelty has been among indie games on Steam.

I also like that many of these are short. Because that has also become a thing for me now. I have a hard time embarking on a game that claims to last more then ten hours. In fact, less than five hours is a plus in my book. Oh, 2-3 hours? Even better! And this is coming from a nerd that doesn’t have wife and kids. So I actually have the time if I wanted to. But I just don’t want them to be that long anymore.

One thing I’ve always felt I had an oblique approach to was difficulty in games. Even back when I was obsessed 10-15 years ago, I was constantly annoyed by needlessly tough games. Sometimes a game could be reasonable for a while, then it switched to a boss or a new level with the difficulty level being kicked upwards like in a strenuous football match. It didn’t help that I was also a bit of a sore loser.

I have lost count a long time ago of the times I’ve been shaking my head at the supposedly easiest difficulty setting in game. I my opinion, the easiest difficulty should be gentle enough for my grandmother to have a chance of completing it. Apart from one or two exceptions, this has almost never been the case.

I think Unreal II was one of those that got it right.

But I know that I’ve also been a bit of a sissy regarding that. I was never really in this for the challenge. It was adventure first. Wanting to experience the games like a book or a movie, getting all the way to the end credits. Many games were not designed like that. However, I actually feel this has improved in the recent years. Games have indeed become a little easier, and some even have a story mode now.

And then there are the walking simulators – but those probably deserve a blog post of their own.

I don’t know. I’m constantly toying with the idea of leaving my thankfully small backlog in Steam behind and admit that I’ve had my fun with video games for a lifetime. At other times I yearn for the feeling they used to give me. The adventure, the puzzles, the atmosphere. The way I used to be immersed.

Maybe I’m standing in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror, then suddenly remembering the good times I had exploring Kalimdor in World of Warcraft. Maybe I should check out the next expansion?

It has been many years ago since I felt like that. Starting a conjuror in EverQuest II in 2008 was one of those times. I got lucky with good guilds and it helped get me going too. I played all the way to the last expansion pack at that time. I tried loading it again a few years ago. I was instantly appalled at the disappointing graphics. Was it really that bad? And it was pretty hard too – certainly no walk in the park.

That’s another fun sensation – the way games of the past “transforms” in memory. It’s those rose-tinted glasses for sure. Big and lavish glasses, like young Elton John would have loved them for a show. Every time I see an article about how someone has improved the graphics considerably for an old game by porting it to a new and better 3D engine, I always ask myself – didn’t it always look like that?

So, am I going to continue playing PC games?

I’m still not sure. Probably. The idea of closing my backlog never lasts for long. The very next day, I’m back at taking a look at it. Sometimes I even manage to install a game and watch the title screen.

If only there was a way to reduce all the stuff I need to do for a blog post about it.

2 comments on “Playing PC Games

  1. Excellent post that sums it up of what it is to be getting older, dear Jens.
    I do read from time to time your blog post, but never had the chance to post a comment. Not sure nobody reads, but quite sure most of readers are just browsing, not intending to participate. Times like this in the old days of Internet are gone, if not people have moved to other places, places I don’t visit.
    I can see myself in the problems about playing while thinking of a website you want to feed: it does take away lots of fun, if not all, from the time you play. At least, I do feel like that. And it often restrains me from launching any game because I have to understand the mechanic of the game, test it, to incrementally save my progress. Gameplay is done in little bits and not really enjoyable. Even if like you, but for other reasons being having a wife and kids, long games are a thing of the past.
    I never played this little past year: only completed 3 games. One is HL2 Lost Coast, by all means not really a game ;-). I do cherish that one day I’ll have enough time to play my 600+ physical games…but who can reasonably believe it… and what would I gain from it in the end.. Fun, exploration and adventure I hope.
    If I had to choose the best game I played between the 67 I finished the past five years, it would be Obduction for the mind, and RiME for the heart. Games can still moved me and make me feel good, which is quite reassuring. But this happens on rare occasions, truth to be told.
    I was a man of movies for the past twenty years, knowing it all, following the news, going to the theater, etc. This has almost completely dried. 2 hours seems to me too long for a movie now. I see myself wasting my time, which is quite horrifying because what do I do instead ? Not much in fact. I think I reached a plateau in my relationship with those kind of leisures: I also think it’s just commonplace at the turn of mid-life.
    The world is a big place with unnumerous things to do, subjects to explore. If PC games is almost dead for you, maybe you can explore other places. And maybe the flame for PC gaming will burn again in the future, if you stay away from it enough time. You have to regain a new look on PC gaming.

  2. Thanks for reading my blog post. 🙂

    I’ve thought about cutting down on the notes and the text to write for the games I play, but it’s difficult to be that disciplined when I remember the fun I once used to have doing exactly that. If I play a game trying to push away the notebook, it doesn’t take long before I find something weird and then I just have to take a note of it.

    I guess you have sort of the same problem?

    It’s not an uncommon one. I’ve read Reddit threads about other jaded gamers not finding the joy anymore. Maybe it’s another one of those inevitable things coming for us as we get older?

    Obduction was awesome, I really enjoyed that one. RiME I have yet to play, but one of my friends showed me a bit of it on Steam and it looked like it was just my kind of game too.

    I also have the same problem with movies and streamed shows today. Rare are the times where I watch a movie in one sitting. I’ve established a nasty habit of watching 10-15 minutes and then parking it, searching for something else to watch like a kid with ADHD. Then later I might return and watch some more, unless I judge that the movie is just too boring. An even worse habit I’ve developed is always reaching for my iPad to find the movie on IMDb and make sure it has received a high user rating before even giving it a chance.

    Luckily I do have other things to pursue that are still great, especially managing my web sites, assisting in developing SID Factory II (which is a new cross-platform music editor that can make music for the Commodore 64) and blog writing is still fun even though my audience is tiny. But you know how it is – even with that I sometimes yearn for something else, and then it would have been damn nice if games could still fill that void.

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