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May 26, 2008Glenn Turner

It's been five months and 26 days since I haven't played a game. I blame my New Year's Resolutions. Prior to January 1st, I was a lot more lax about my daily gaming habits. Now that I'm logging each game I play, and how long I play it, I feel pressure, pressure to commit my thumbs to the d-pad, to boot up a browser-based game or, at least, get in on some play, regardless of whether I want to or not.

I must confess, I'm a bit nervous to see just how much time I'm spending on games. So let's not delay the inevitable!

Total play time: 11d 14h 15m
Day/play percentage: 13%

(The full breakdown, by game and date, is available here.)

Holy hell, over eleven straight days, that's over 275 hours! And Rock Band, by far, has sucked up the most time – over a third as much as the runner-up. While the total play time is a bit daunting, what surprises me the most is that over 60% of my time was spent with just seven games. Either it's been a pretty lackluster year so far, or I'm simply incapable of following most games to their end.

Although, looking at the stats, that's not quite true. I've completed roughly a quarter of the games I've started which, considering I'm logging every game I even dabble with, isn't too shabby. Notably, the top three games are still unfinished. Rock Band will almost certainly require another 20 hours before I finish off both drums and guitar, Picross DS probably another 10, and GTA4, well, apart from Vice City, I've never finished a GTA game before (and I've played all of them).

But let's talk about the top two. Rock Band: Hell, I hardly even consider playing it as 'gaming' any more. It's the equivalent of practice now; I play the drum tracks like I would back when I had cello lessons. 45 minutes a day, play a few warm-ups, give my problem tracks a go, try to isolate what gives me trouble, play a few tracks for the sheer joy of it, then pack up my equipment and call it a day.

The second game, Picross, might make you do a double-take. It's a DS picture logic/puzzle game, part of the Touch! Generations series. And while the 35+ hours spent on it this year may sound like a lot, bear in mind I've been playing it since Summer 2007. I just picked it up again after Professor Layton left a puzzle-shaped hole in heart upon completion. I have no idea how much time I spent with it last year, but I reckon it was at least 30 hours. Right now it's serving nicely as my 'sleepytime' game, the game I play while spooling off the less-demanding TV shows on my DVR before heading off to slumberland.

Both of these games are played less as traditional video games and more like exercises, which makes me a bit sad. They're great, fantastic games that have probably affected me more than anything else this year, but they aren't the 'show me a new world' experiences I long for with electronic interactive entertainment. While there are some brilliant games in my gamelog, nothing has made my jaw drop in a revelatory sense, as most of the games being refinements on an established formula, or a flawed execution on a worn premise.

Compounding matters is the fact that, for whatever reason, come May I start feeling enormously restless. The prior two years, whenever May has rolled around, I start distancing myself from games, from writing about games, from playing them, all in favor of running back into the warm embrace of other media. Last year all it took was a trip to Chicago's 'Artropolis' for me to spiral away from games for a good month! Sometimes the base level of lesser mainstream games leave me wanting to flee the entire medium, running towards more visibly substantial realms. And this year, while I have the growling fire of my daily gameslog grounding me, I can't say that this May has left me unscathed.

In some sense, Rock Band and Picross have acted as a game-based anchor, tethering me to gaming during this trying month, reminding me of the fun that interactivity can accomplish as my tolerance for mediocrity diminishes. While my interest may wane while suffering through disappointments like Mercury Meltdown Revolution and Lost: Via Domus, at least I have two fall-back games reminding me that I don't have to settle for frivolous interactive experiences.

The days where I'd fritter away a weekend on substance-less, but mildly fulfilling, shooting endeavors are gone. While that means less game-based wastes of time, it also means being extremely judgmental and writing off many initial gaming experiences if they don't immediately draw me in me. But if that's what it takes to keep myself from sequestering gaming from my life, then so be it. I can't get bogged down in the bad. I have to remember the good and all I can hope is that the good keeps flowing, that June through December sees some positively fantastic, engrossing games. Until then, well, I have an extra level or two in Picross to complete. Hopefully that'll see me through.

4 comments for ‘Day By Day - This Year in Games: Jan-May 2008’

#1 DJH Jun 2, 2008 10:18am

For the first time in your life you have facts to cut through the haze of cultural expectations and reveal to you the truth, but still you fight against epiphany.

That you are playing titles which are rewarding as games and not as experiences is a great victory. Embrace what your subconscious is telling you: pure gaming is more fun than the narrative experiences which dominate the marketplace.

"Either it's been a pretty lackluster year so far, or I'm simply incapable of following most games to their end."

Or Rock Band is really good.

Experiencing a few games deeply rather than many games briefly is a cause for celebration, not concern. If you were to play only a single game for the entire duration of 2009, you could safely regard that as the greatest year in gaming history.

The lessons are right there in your data. Stop fighting them.

#2 Glenn Turner Jun 4, 2008 11:53pm

Thanks for the comment - I've been chewing it over the past day or two. In this case I'd have to argue that I'm not really experiencing either game any deeper than I was when I was 25 hours into them. I love them both to pieces, but I conceptually tapped them out quite some time ago. And while they're fun, and while I'd agree with you that pure games often are more fun than their narrative counterparts, I would still say that I long for the less fun, but richer character and story-based worlds, worlds that provoke and inspire, rather than simply mindlessly reward me for mechanically plotting squares on a grid.

I fully realize that pure games can hold their own over great stretches of time, and if I spent a year just playing Go or chess, under the right conditions I might just find that perfect gaming year you're talking about. But that's not the case with Rock Band or Picross.

While I previously said I treating them more like an exercise, it might almost be viewed more as a compulsory bad habit. The days when I'd felt forced to play something, I'd fall back on them, a lazy, routine fiddling that brought slight reward but whose greater joy diminished a long time ago and the time spent with it would be better spent elsewhere. Or maybe I'm just over-analyzing my play. I suppose we'll see in the next gamelog, eh?

#3 chopperdave Jul 4, 2008 07:26am

What method did you use to record all the times? Simply look at the clock when you start and stop and write it down? I would always forget to look if i did it that way.

#4 Glenn Turner Jul 4, 2008 12:57pm

Yup, pretty much. I didn't clock it down to the minute or anything - just rough estimates, and I'd usually round up or down to the nearest five minute interval.

I did forget a bunch when I started logging but, after 150 days, taking note of the times became routine.