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I played it over and over, trying to sharpen my skills, following the infamous Latin proverb oportet git gud.

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27 thoughts on “Discussion: Binge or Die

  1. I feel it’s slightly unfair to treat games like that. You can’t realistically read a book or watch a movie in such short piecemeal bits. At such short play times, like sub 30 minutes, and such long periods of not playing you can not make a game complex or unique, you’re stuck with essentially mobile games. Alternative to that are games made for an experienced “git gut” audience, but most people aren’t that, so it ends up a niche. “I don’t just mean git gud. I mean getting comfortable with the mechanics and remembering them.” – this just sounds the same? The overwhelming majority of games have very self-explanatory mechanics, I can fire up The Witness a year later and I still roughly remember how everything works, I can’t do the same with books or TV shows. That said, I don’t have a demanding family life, so who knows, maybe that brings a huge blight on video game mechanics memory.

    At the same time, yes, industry revolves around young adults and younger, ones who have a lot of time. So many games consist of mostly busy work. And I think it is because games are addicting in such patterns where it feels bad for the game to be short; games naturally develop for length, unless the designer is aware of that, which most aren’t.

    Still, framing all this as binging has that negative connotation which takes away from what games are. I don’t see anyone calling golf as binge culture, even though minimum play time is 2 hours and if you don’t play at least once a week, you’re bound to never improve.

    *Sorry if this read as very ranty, my head is all over the place.

  2. I would like to incorporate by reference my previous comment on health regen in FTL and Slay the Spire, which is now on topic! Unfortunately I can’t play Inscryption. It seemed like for a while there was a golden age for me where a lot of indie games were coming out for Mac, and Apple killed it by requiring developer licenses and this and that which is ostensibly supposed to be about screening for viruses but is really about skimming money off the top. I had to do like three command-line things to allow the copy of Patrick’s Parabox I got from itch to run.

    Anyway, deck-builders! I really feel like I do not have the deck-building gene. Part of it is the distance between action and effect–you take a card and five battles later it either does or doesn’t interact with something else in your hand–and part of it is that when they offer me a choice of new cards I want to take it! It does something! But if your build depends on a few cards showing up close to each other taking cards that aren’t those is bad. I won with 2/4 characters (one through ridiculous luck) and now I’m trying one where I’m sometimes trying for a leaner deck and I haven’t made it work. As I said there, if I don’t turtle completely I feel like my health is getting whittled away over the Act, and I’m never sure whether I’m taking enough risks. I did manage to beat a Final Level Boss with 1 hit point left which meant that I optimized that correctly, I guess.

    Ed, I think one thing is that golf is social, and takes place outdoors, and there is a trope of “golf widows.” And another is that golf is its own hobby, whereas people who play games like to play lots of different games, finish with one and start another, etc. But I’m probably overthinking it: Golf is specifically a pastime of wealthy men, which makes it more socially acceptable to binge it.

  3. Hello Ed!

    I would draw a distinction between “git gud” and learning how to play the game. I spend so much time re-learning keys or how systems simply work before you start getting into mastery. In years past, we’ve talked around here about how games embedding the tutorial in play winds up being a problem if you need a refresher. You can pick up the Half-Life Black Mesa Hazard Course any time, but Inscryption and The Eternal Cylinder have no such backup. Forgot a few things? Start again. Indeed, it’s not even clear how you would reset Inscryption’s tutorial. On the upside, rebuilding my Inscryption knowledge was not frustrating as there’s a certain structure/momentum to it game which is solid (not true for all games). I admit I am indeed talking about two different things at the same time – the tutorial phase and the git gud phase – but they both make similar demands.

    Some games seem beyond me. I love the idea of playing AI War but I tried the tutorial game years ago and it went on for hours; taking a break was not recommended. I forgot everything.

    Am I being unfair? I think so, sure, but only in the negative connotation. I’m not really setting out a problem in search of a solution, I’m just setting out what games tend to be. You’re right that if you don’t keep on top of a book, you’re going to lose track (as has happened many times!). Perhaps it’s just my age, OH GOD, but I find games require more frequency to really get on top of their systems. Like I need to stick at a game quite a lot, otherwise the lessons and skills just slide and a significant break can just break the momentum completely.

    I almost gave up on The Eternal Cylinder because I felt I spent half of each session figuring out how to survive again. It’s a reason why, despite protestations, I haven’t approached some Important Games, because I fear I will totally destroy them with fragmented play. Pathologic, for example, and Mass Effect. Or they will destroy me with late nights 🙂 Okay, maybe I should have just said games are not bingeable but actually a literal fight to the death in my house.

    “Binge” just seemed to be good word to hang this all on. But any term implying frequent, lengthy practice would work. As I said, I’m not looking for solutions. I think Inscryption’s embedded tutorial is a thing of beauty and I would shed tears if it was changed. There’s also something important in its structure about not being able to restart.

    It’s just another piece of the puzzle of how games can sometimes end up misunderstood. What some people perceive as addiction to screens – maybe that’s the only way you can play? How could anyone tell the difference between “addiction” and reasonable play? I think the mobile conventions go someway to resolving this tension. Pocket games can fill up spaces in the day, keeping that regular practice, and all those games are designed to play your way. If you can only play for five minutes, great, I’ll catch you later. Screw your gaming checkpoints.

    Gah, checkpoints.

  4. Ah, I see what you’re saying.

    I guess I have a very skewed perspective on this – I hardly ever need tutorials and I pick up on games within minutes. That troubles me a bit, since I want to do game design, non-verbally teaching people esoteric mechanics – but how will I know what’s understandable for mere mortal?

    Anyways, with how alien game rule sets can be compared to real life, you can reach much more alien ideas. Unfortunately I know only a single digit of games that exploit that to an interesting extent, and the heavy time investment requirements of many games are often unnecessary. So for them being perceived as addicting, I’d be hard pressed to disagree with that. Most games coming out, indie, mobile, AAA or whatever else, are optimized for the addictive nature of video games, intentionally or not.

    Not all hope is lost though, I see potential in VR where people can pick it up significantly faster than with traditional inputs (keyboard & mouse or gamepad). I saw it myself how non-gamer picked up Oculus and got into SUPERHOT really fast: something which would have taken a few hours on PC, assuming they’d even hold interest for that long. Unfortunately again: VR games so far have been nothing but disappointment.

  5. Yeah, I’d usually use “binge” to refer to, like, doing essentially nothing else with your waking time outside of work until the game is done — playing a 5-hour game in one day, a 15-hour game in one weekend, a 40-hour game in one week. Something I never do (except for maybe the shortest example), but know people who do. THAT behavior, I understand, is so far out of the question for someone with a wife and a kid and a day job, that it might not even register as being one end of the scale.

    But semantics aside, yeah, lots of games fall apart if you don’t play at least a certain amount in a week to keep it fresh in your mind. There are plenty of games that I, too, don’t-get-around-to-playing for a month, and have to decide whether I’m going to deal with the cumbersome phase of re-learning, or if “I guess that’s as far as I went with that game”. (This is one reason I try to maintain a rule where I don’t buy ANY PC games until I consciously decide that I’m done with the current one. Instead I constantly update an ordered wishlist of games-to-purchase, both on and off Steam.)

  6. Years ago I used to commute to university by train, and even if my commute was just 15-20 minutes, I tried to sneak in a chapter of a book each way. It’s not impossible to read a book piecemeal, even in short bursts. Some books are even better that way.

    Nowadays, I struggle to finish a 300-odd pages novel. I have to read/study a lot for work, and it’s not often that I’m in the right mind to read in my spare time. I read a short story collections – things I can pick up and drop and maybe if I don’t touch them for a week it’s not the end of the world.

    I’ve been doing the same for games. Even one hour every two evenings can be a lot some weeks, and I also find I’m wary of starting games I know will take me more than 6 hours to finish. Also, I have put games on hold I know are “hard to get into”, like the aforementioned Pathologic. As Joel said, I’m afraid I won’t be able to “get” those games if I’m tired after 30 minutes of dying/not knowing what to do. I played both Inscryption and The Eternal Cylinder over Christmas break, and I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. I kinda even rushed TEC towards the end, because I knew it had to be finished then or I’d risk abandoning it.

    I agree it’s a bit unfair towards longer or more mechanically complex games, or god forbid both. For mechanics, I’m not sure there’s any solution. I dropped I don’t know how many rogue-things because I kept forgetting important stuff. For narrative and pacing, I think games could do better to give players clear, or at least good, stopping points, and not too far apart. Two games I played recently are I think interesting to compare, A Short Hike and Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. Both short, exploratory games, clocking in at 2-3 hours. I absolutely loved both, to be clear. However, A Short Hike I felt was made to be finished in a single sitting, or at least heavily benefits from contiuous play for a couple hours, to familiarise yourself with the island and its inhabitants. Alba, on the other hand, is spaced over multiple in game days, which you can end at your own leisure after doing the main quest for each. I think that gave me the confidence to play it even for a short session, sure as I was that I could stop after 30 minutes or so at a “good” point in the flow of the game. A Short Hike, on the other hand, I had to find an entire evening to play and finish, and again I felt I was rushing a bit towards the end.

    Hopefully I’ve managed to express clearly enough what I mean – I’ve been ruminating on this while I consider my desire to replay the old Final Fantasy games, and the fact that I probably won’t be able to do it any time soon.

  7. Matt

    I don’t want you to think I’ve been ignoring you, I’m just getting by with scraps of time at the moment. I am en route to Wales for Important Things so can drop some responses.

    I find there’s a lot of overlap between the good deckbuilders that randomize and broughlikes such as Cinco Paus or Loopy Wizard. You have to make the best of the tools you’re given and take a risk every now and then – although in my Inscryption experience you have to take a bit more of a risk than you should in Cinco Paus. There are a lot of tricks and combos you can look out for and it gets the same part of my brain working as a set of fucked-up wands.

    I always feel for you when I put a Windows only game on Crashbook. I’m not joking. I really have a little Matt in my head, giving an audible sigh.

  8. Ed

    There are some games I breeze through without tutorials but I’m attracted to bad boys with alien rule sets. FPSes used to be a slam dunk but even they’ve started piling on extra verbs – it was fortunate I kept Control going pretty consistently because that started to load up a ton of systems. I’m not sure the overloading was even interesting and I suspect much of it was grind. I was hooked on Prey because the exploration was delicious and I played in spite of its skill trees. (Does anyone really say in a review “buy this game it’s got great skill trees”?)

    I think you have an interesting point there – because developers often try to exploit the addiction angle, maybe that has direct consequences in terms of the complexity of the systems. But because they’re focused on addiction, they don’t see the consequence of players dropping out who is immune to addiction because of the time constraints. Again, this isn’t anger about the direction of design, just an observation. No one has a play tester who only plays once a week for a couple of hours.

    Hmm, thinking about clicker games again. The inputs are usually quite simple but sometimes if you’re not paying attention you’ll miss a particular choice (Cultist Simulator is the extreme here, but it makes no pretensions at being an easy or simple game).

    VR sucks: film at 11. 🙂

  9. Stephen

    Yes, it seems we’ve all agreed to push the word binge to one side, and just ignore the fact that it’s in the title above 🙂

    The odd side-effect of this struggling with memory is an effect strikingly similar to becoming bored with a game. As you say, you face a decision about whether you relearn or jettison the game into the Sun. There’s a burden associated with the experience and you’re not convinced carrying on is worth it: are the hypothetical highs down the line worth the “grind” of doing the same thing again? And that’s the internal discussion you have when deciding whether to complete a tricky game.


    To be frank, I’m bad at everything right now: film, books, series, study. There’s just so much task-switching and living in a sub-optimal sleep deprivation state that only the real urgent tasks get access to the brain energy reserves. I blasted through a novella at Christmas because time was free and the book was short but then real life returned and that was that!

    You just reminded me of another game that is “pseudo-abandoned” because I left it for too long: Supraland. My GOD, that game has billions of things to remember and it is very, very long. I’m just not willing to dedicate weeks and weeks to a single game unless it’s absolutely brilliant (hey Bonfire Peaks!). And so Supraland just sits there and I have no idea where I’m supposed to go, what side quests I left outstanding or what secret areas I wanted to attempt to break into.

    Somewhat worse for me is that I do spend a lot of time meandering off the main path, just seeing everything that a game has to offer, sometimes testing its systems. Often, my Electron Dance brain is engaged and seeing it through the lens of An Article I Can Write which also gets in the way. I can eke out a short game for a long time!

    I tend to binge (uh-oh, there’s that word again) Cinco Paus because it takes a little while to refresh the memory, but then the games are pure joy.

    Interesting that even games intended for a single session may not solve the problem the design issue the developer intended. I hate that feeling of rushing instead of savouring and I’m sure that is not ideal for something like A Short Hike (which I have still not played).

  10. I binge Cinco Paus because if I close the app it doesn’t remember my progress. Macintoshes! (shakes fist) Having said that I just opened it up after not playing for a while, teleported in the middle of a bunch of monsters, and died on the first screen with no points. Then I died on the fifth screen with seven points. This may be related to the theme of the post. The pity is that, once you’ve internalized what is going on which I have not Cinco Paus is very well suited to playing in short bursts.

    [Alvo Preciso on a wand that then turns out to have Penetracao and Envolver? That’s just mean.]

    Windows-only, eh, I do it to myself, and it’s not like I don’t have far too many games to choose from. Looking around it seems like part of the issue may be that Apple has some proprietary thing called Metal? It kind of is painful to read about Supraland, though, it seems very much my thing. I once ran Knytt and Saira with Wine but I’m not sure that even works now. Apple definitely seems to have a policy of getting you locked in and then breaking all kinds of stuff once it’s hard for you to shift to something else. Free markets!

    I too have to run but I should also report that I’m more sympathetic with Slay the Spire right now after switching away from the character whose decks really require a holistic build to avoid failing completely, and whose lack of pants disturbs me.

  11. Haha, the pliers! It was the knife that made me wince. Good grief. God, I adored my time with Inscryption. The endless roguelike mini-expansion intrigues me but whether I’ll ever try it I don’t know.

    Anyway, there’s this game called Elden Ring at the moment which is quite long…

    What you’re describing with ‘accelerating play cycles’ is more or less the problem I had trying to play The Witness with friends over months. So much was forgotten between distant sessions. When Return of the Obra Dinn was floated as a possible future ‘co-op experience’ I ducked right out and it was so much better for it. Some games need sustain.

    Nice use of deck btw.

    So I picked up Loopy Wizard and loved it for about a week but then realised that some runs were just absolute non-starters while others were tantalisingly close to greatness before necessary manoeuvres led to death spirals. I had one fantastic loop going on involving clones, convert, ‘turn to gem’ and revive and that bagged me a high score of 142!

    But coming back to Elden Ring, I dropped… 40 hours or so into it over the last couple of months. There was a point where the game revealed its scale to me on the map and I despaired knowing how long it had taken just to get to where I was. It’s HUGE. But I think after Demon’s Souls and a good chunk of Dark Souls I’ve had my fill. I’m kind of amazed how so many hunger for things that are so familiar. I recall parking Dark Souls because I thought I was fed up with my class but it took Elden Ring some 10 years later for me to realise the core gameplay loop just doesn’t interest me so much anymore. And despite it being From’s latest iteration, it still has the same dreadful targeting/lock-on system and input buffer I was moaning about 12 years ago in the comments on Tap!

    Off the back of that (and after properly completing Yugo Puzzle–so good!) I finally returned to Doom Eternal to play the DLC. When I completed the base game it was on Ultra Violence which was very difficult. That was also two years ago and apparently the DLC starts hot. Of course, I was now very cold; my muscle memory had atrophied so I decided to play through the game again, but on Nightmare, ready for the DLC. At least I could skip the story this time. Well, it was rough for a while but I got gud and entered that ‘flow state’ again, remembering why I enjoyed the game so much the first time round. I’ve enjoyed the DLC between the odd bouts of frustration (id really know how to throw new enemies into the mix that disrupt your flow) but I’m definitely ready for a change of pace after this!

    “I fear I will totally destroy them with fragmented play.”

    Yeah, Ry has this fear with Outer Wilds! Despite that being a game you have to stick with, it’s got a very accommodating and ‘chunkable’ gameplay loop, and with a robust journal too. Lew started playing it yesterday so here’s hoping he sticks with it…

  12. Hello Joel,

    This letter was a really good read, and it left me a lot to think about. For me, this ‘binge-style’ of gaming means that I sort of often will just dedicate myself to one game at a time, and while sometimes I play a few in tandem, I more likely will have a ‘focus’ game that I’m working on pushing through. I wonder if games were shorter or if I had more time if I would change that approach. That being said, I do quite like when a game is paced well, and I do admit to liking ‘long games’ that just have a lot of quests and story to them–that’s what life is going to be like for an RPG lover–but I do understand your argument here. There are definitely a lot of games that demand more time than they necessarily need to, and the fact that ‘game time’ is so often an advertisement for a game’s quality is…suspect.

    For me, playing a game a lot is somewhat easy, games are how I calm down, they are my “hobby of choice”. I have a friend, though, who has to be in the mood for a game, so longer games take her ages to get through. I think there could be a line in ‘games made for gamers’ vs ‘games made for everyone’ line that could help here–obviously someone who *wants* to shove all of their time into gaming is going to want longer experiences.

    Also, of course, what’s going on in someone’s lives changes how much time they have for hobbies that require as much time as gaming, so it totally makes sense that you just can’t quite find that time right now. How we use our time is something everyone has to contend with and figure out–but no matter what you choose, as long as you’re happy, you’ve made the right choice for you 🙂

    Congratulations on your success in finding people you’ve been looking for! Everything you say about the film makes me more and more excited for it. No rush, of course, I know these things take time, but I’ll definitely be jumping on it as soon as you post it. And I’m sure I’ll watch it many times, I’ve done that with all your projects–you always give me so much to think about, and I appreciate that greatly.

    As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It always brightens my day to see an Electron Dance notification in my inbox.

  13. I think I finished Inscryption initially in under 10 hours? I suppose that’s some amount of time, similar to a tv show season. Is it a binge? If you play an hour every few days, hopefully the rules can stay in the mind, and a player can make it through. That seems reasonable to me.

    Honestly though, I think there is something to needing to be “in” the game semi-consistently. Unlike books or even tv shows, you have to make the thing tick. Yes, if you forget everyone’s names in Game of Thrones you’ll have a hard time following who’s betraying who, and if you drop a mystery novel for half a year you’ll forget the clues that point to the murderer, but in games it’s all up to you. You don’t push it, it doesn’t move. You don’t contain it, it doesn’t work.

    It demands the memory and sense memory to guide you through.

    I dropped Breath of the Wild for 3 months and when I came back I couldn’t remember how to jump on the shield or paraglide or even switch out my arrows for my swords. I haven’t picked it up in the 4 years since. Is it Breath of the Wild’s fault? Or is that just how my brain works?

    Or perhaps that’s just how games work. You’re in it or you’re back in the real world. Little either or. Is that immersion? When you’re so close to it that everything in the game makes sense, until you spend enough time away and then it all drifts off? Un-immersed. Surfaced. You daydream it during whatever else you do, and when the daydreams stop, you have to fall into it all over again.

    I don’t think it’s the binge that makes it what it is, but it is the top-of-mind, theorising when you should be working, playing when you aren’t playing that makes games live.

  14. Oh, how I envy you all. Being able to start things that these problems can emerge.

  15. About the word “binge,” I feel like the use here comes from binge-watching. As you all may know, at least in the USA it used to be that television shows aired once a week and you had to watch them when they came on and you could only watch them once a week.* Then with DVDs you would get a whole run of an old show at once and could watch it as much as you can, and then when shows just started streaming some places started releasing entire seasons at once, and you could watch the entire season even though it was theoretically broken up into episodes to be watched one at a time, and that was binge-watching.

    This is what I feel like about binge-playing, that even if it’s not chewing up all your non-work hours it’s still playing more than it seems appropriate to play in one sitting. Like, this is why Wordle only releases one a day (as well as wanting people to talk about Today’s Wordle, and also there aren’t that many letters). Slay the Spire should be doable in bites, the combats are very short, but I look at the timer at the top and I’m like, “Wow, I just played this for an hour and a half?”

    Which is different from the kind of regular practice that seems necessary to stay gud. If I played fifteen minutes of StS a night my skills probably wouldn’t deteriorate, though I guess I might lose track of the particular deck I’m building. Which is in fact how I read books these days, just before going to sleep, and with most of them I feel like I’m not losing track of the plot so much? But with books you can page back to refresh yourself.

    And Popular Gamified Apps maintain that steady practice but non-bingey model, Duolingo is content if you do fifteen minutes of Norwegian a night without chewing through a lot of your time. Precisely because this is how you maintain progress in a language!

    [Mechanical annoyance: One thing that StS does that keeps me bingin’ is it doesn’t save after you collect a post-combat reward–it offers the same rewards, you just have to click again to collect them–which pushes me to start the next level, which pushes me to finish the next level, which… Slice&Dice has this too but it offers the rewards at the beginning of the level so I can easily quit out after finishing a combat. Slice&Dice is really good btw.]

    Also, what Gwen said about the joy of seeing a new Electron Dance post!

    *Related, when I teach intro logic I have to talk about the difference between “everyone has someone they don’t respect” and “there is someone who no one respects” and in explaining that I talked about how the students probably didn’t know about Rodney Dangerfield, who got no respect, and indeed they didn’t. Then I made fun of how old I was with the Grandpa Simpson routine about “I had an onion on my belt as was the style at the time” and they didn’t know that either. Then I died and am typing this from the afterlife.

  16. There have been plenty of games I’ve drifted from and returned to weeks or months later, discovering that I no longer had any idea what was going on or how to play those games. So, I recognise the problem! My typical response is either to YOLO from wherever I am, or to contemplate starting over. The latter usually leads me to realising I don’t want to and that I’m done with the game, or recognising that the game is still fun and I’m willing to take that step (even if I subsequently drift from it again).

    All of these things are okay. Games have been my day job for some time, but they’re also my hobby, and I’m happily a long way from the mindset I had some years ago where I wanted to ‘finish’ games and was tracking completion on The Backloggery. That’s fine if it floats your boat, but for me I’ll just have fun for however much time, at whatever frequency, I spend with a game.

    The YOLO attitude can be fun sometimes too. Taking a cavalier approach and seeing what happens can open up unexpected possibilities. In the kinds of action or strategy games that are my forte, at least.

    I’ve played about 150 hours of Elden Ring since it came out, with breaks at points to play though stuff like a They Are Billions fan campaign, Brutal Legend, trying the new Dune strategy game, just yesterday the 40K XCOM game (first impressions available upon request), Umurangi Generation, and a dip of the toe in the waters of Death Crown. Plus various multiplayer and mobile games. I’ve not really struggled on returning to Elden Ring after a break. Perhaps that’s because not much time passed with my sojourns elsewhere. Perhaps it’s because Elden Ring is rarely far from my mind. Perhaps it’s because I’ve played rather a lot of Soulsbornes games at this point, and what was once terrifying is now comforting, even when it provokes tensions. I kill most of the bosses I encounter on my first or second attempt. I think back to the Gargoyles or the Gaping Dragon and it’s like tourism in my own memory: I see it, but I don’t truly understand it any more.

    I have no point to make about ER/Souls. Just sharing. 🙂

  17. Matt

    I wish I could remember the wand names like that. Let’s look these up. Alvo Preciso, that’s kill only if beam ends on a square with an enemy. Penetracao, beam goes through walls. Envolver, beam goes through border. Ha ha. Oh man, like I said, “fucked-up wands”. Penetracao + Envolver is a Cinco Paus combo that should be called beam-up-the-butt.

    What you’re saying about short sessions not being that short at all is precisely how I lost four hours to Inscryption. I didn’t do it deliberately, I just got into the endgame, did well, and wanted to explore what was beyond the endgame. I was aware of midnight passing but I could’t give up now. Just a few more minutes…

    I hope you can continue sending us messages from the afterlife, Matt. It’s always good to lampoon oneself unexpectedly by making an old man joke that no one understands because they’re not old enough to understand it.


    Thank you for appreciating my deck joke. It makes everything worthwhile. On Inscryption: The knife is also bad, but the knife turns up after the pliers, so you’re already the primed. When you use the pliers the first time, that’s a holy-shit-in-a-handbasket moment.

    I don’t seem to be good at managing a long Loopy Wizard session. I think a streak of four games is that longest I’ve gone. So many times I kill myself with too-many-offensive spells that I can’t cast on anyone except myself. I’ve parted ways with Mosaic because of that rising concern that the RNG can throw you trash at times.

    Interesting thoughts about the SoulsRingsBorne genre. I remember when I played Dark Souls I was like: dude, I can play this forever. This is brilliant! Except I stopped and now I can’t go back :scream: I would still love to experience “defeating” its areas. And still no Anor Londo. Can totally understand feeling like that type of game has been exhausted for you.

    Best of luck to Lewis on his Outer Wilds journey!


    There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good long game and after playing a lot of smaller form experiences I feel restless and want to play with something bigger. I still want to have a go at Morrowind one of these days! But it’s such a fine line between engineering for fun and engineering for exploitation and it long games can leave me with that queasy feeling at times that I’ve been doing a lot of treadmill stuff (see: Control).

    I guess I also need to be in the “right mood” to play a game more than I used to be unless a title has absolutely gripped me, although I am now also suspicious of compulsions like that. A compulsion really does push me to binge in the Netflix sense which is bad news for good sleepytimes or anything else I need to do. Everyone’s gaming life changes over the years – and I’ve had periods where games were not part of my life at all.

    Thanks for the kind words towards the end of your comment. I might have to switch to an alternative film project just to get something out as the current one keep slipping…

  18. John

    Oh I like that. The idea that because a game is compelling, you’ll carry it with you in mind rather than treating it like an object to pick up and put down. Which is part of the game as addiction: you want to return to its virtual world as soon as you can, whether it’s Mini Metro, Snakebird or Dark Souls. Or, perhaps, Death Crown.

    I think this happens much less for me these days, simply because it isn’t generally healthy right now to let a game overwhelm me, so I’m standoffish by default. But the best break through that mental armour. Subnautica and Outer Wilds are good recent examples, where I was trying to solve seemingly intractable problems in my downtime.

    I last played Inscryption on Thursday night and I’m not expecting to have Inscryption time again until Wednesday. I think I’ve played enough now to keep the rules buoyant in memory (I’ve made it into the “third phase” of the game) but it’s typical of how I start games. Time just passes before the rules get bedded in.


    Agh, this is the saddest comment here. Maybe the next post should be about “not even being able to start games”.


    Ahoy there, Shaun. When you think back to the Gargoyles or Gaping Dragon, do you ever think back to the Capra Demon? Because that is one boss that I think some Souls veterans back then were less enamoured with.

    I’m still afflicted with attaching “Electron Dance value” to games. If I play a game and don’t write about it: did I ever really play it? And so playing becomes a more involved exercise where I’m trying to map what I learn to a moodboard in my head – is there something to write about here? What is it? I think this is also an unhealthy habit and I need to learn to let go a bit more. I’m getting better at making a decision to proactively graveyard a game, just decide that it’s had its day.

    The YOLO choice is fascinating because it can lead to less-ideal scenarios which make for more interesting adventures, as if you switched up the difficulty. But I always have that nagging feeling that I’m missing lessons and not playing as intended, which undermines the adventurous aspect. Have I forgotten that this was how I played every game back during the Pirating Years???

    I’ve always wondered what playing games feels like for someone whose job is in games in some capacity. Does it feel like research? Does it feel like work? I’ve seen threads online where developers are doing a livetweet stream of their playthrough and making design notes as they go along.

  19. Joel – I work very hard at not remembering the Capra Demon. Thank you for undoing years of therapy.

    In all seriousness, that was a terrible boss and a sterling example of how FromSoft are not a studio of geniuses in all regards. In my first playthrough I cheesed it by throwing firebombs from outside the boss arena. I hated it so much.

    I sometimes miss writing for Arcadian Rhythms, as does AJ (though he still writes somewhat frequently elsewhere). But I don’t miss what you mention, about that attachment of value. I’m glad you’re improving at letting go of games.

    My day job is QA, and unlike some folks who work in testing I don’t go trying to break games I play for fun. Both at work and at home I get to enjoy thinking about and analysing design decisions, backseat designing, thinking through how game systems function, pondering the technical aspects of this or that, analysing art design, UI and UX, and so on. These are all things that interest me and support my profession but they are not, crucially, a core part of my job. So I think I get off quite lightly with regard playing games feeling like work. I’ve certainly had bad experiences in the past with fusing hobbies and work, though I know not everyone does. It probably also helps that my day job is in mobile gaming, and while I do play those for fun too, my heartlands are PC and console. 🙂

  20. Joel–I do not remember the wand names, I was looking at them as I typed the comment. Because I had started a third game. Which I lost quickly. Another thing that happens when I haven’t played Cinco Paus in a while is I mix up the effects with circular icons.

    I want to say something more about regen in roguelikelikes and some general thoughts about positive feedback loops or what Tom Francis more memorably calls snowballing, but I’m thinking I should just post to my dormant blog and link here.

    But I do have a vaguely on-topic thought relating to something I’ve been playing, which is that deck builders can have this moment of unearned grace which I think is very pleasurable for players, the moment when you get just the right draw to set up a combo that goes BOOM. Which you can manage your deck to make more likely, but still there’s a satisfaction from its being something you couldn’t quite have foreseen. And this is shared with matching games and Pegglelikes, which both can produce spectacular cascades.

    The game I’m playing being Beast Breaker, where you fight monsters by peggling off their scales till they break, from the studio of Asher Vollmer, who made Threes, which I thought might not have attained as much success as its knockoff because it didn’t create those spectacular unearned cascades. Beast Breaker is fun but it makes me do too much stuff in between peggling.

    Important question: Remember there was a Broughlike (but definitely not by Brough) where you had to collect banners of three different colors, and your final score was the color you’d collected the least of? You could leave by an exit and collect a banner after killing an enemy of that color on that level? Each color had associated spells and every three collections you leveled up associated spells, and around twelve banners the level-up was “this spell disappears” and then you die? Anyone remember what that was called?

  21. Thanks! I was thinking of it as something that scratches the same itch as Mosaic, and it turns out it’s by one of the people who made Mosaic!

  22. Twist! Now I can play Inscryption, if I buy it. Is this something I should do?

    IDK if I’ve mentioned it but Slice&Dice, which I bought a long time back, is a really good not-exactly-deckbuilder (you have characters represented by dice with attacks etc. you can roll, and as it turns out a lot of it is about getting items in configurations that let you pull off wacky combos).

  23. update part 1: I made a rookie mistake and failed to check the size of the download. It’s OK though, I have a little space on my hard drive. Darkest Dungeon has gone back into the cloud.

    update part 2: what

  24. now that I played a bunch of Inscryption a while ago, I can report that the pliers were not a holy shit moment for me, because I completely failed to realize what was actually going on

    still in abeyance till I clear out a bunch of disk space, which I’m not sure how to do

    anyway I’m very sad that Google seems to have stopped letting me search the comments here, didn’t we have a discussion about Gris where I mentioned Knytt Underground as a platformer you might want to play that’s really about grief? I wanted to recommend it to Kat because she was talking about grief! also everyone else.

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