Over the last couple of years I’ve found it difficult to play games for actual fun. A game, after all, is a potential Electron Dance article so I approach each one like a loot-filled mansion ripe for burglary; there are words in there somewhere, I just need to figure out how to liberate them. This careful, methodical approach means that play can really feel like work, so I often put off games that might be more work than the norm.


If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’m going through some medical shenanigans. It’s obliterated my concentration and hollowed out my interest in writing. I still like the idea of publishing a piece of writing, but I just don’t have the motivation to do all the other stuff that goes before it. You know. The actual work.

Disaffected with the site, I unplugged from the Twitter world as my feed descended into GDC hysteria. There are only so many monetize your teens ha ha and moments astounding of truly inspirational and must-play jeez you gotta recommended I can absorb in a single hour.

And I found myself doing something unusual. Which was playing games. For fun.   

I mentioned Multilytheus (Astro Assembly, 2013) last week, a complicated puzzle that kept me distracted for a few days. It’s actually a simple game in principle – press switches to control environment – but requires a delicate mental balancing act as each element intersects with multiple problems. It kept my brain engaged and off other matters.

I didn’t think I’d write about it, because Multilytheus was a short game, so I was playing for fun. That seemed so refreshing I chose to approach Tower of Guns (Terrible Posture Games, 2014) in the same way.

As I explained last week, Tower of Guns is a roguelike FPS. The shooter is best visualised as a cleaning game and Tower of Guns is all about the cleaning. Play is partitioned into small arenas – each of which you need to clean of cannons, robots and also coins and items. The urge to hoover up every single blue chip – even when I’d maxed out my weapon – was overpowering. It was perfect for me.


After I completed the game the first time, taking down “The Maw” which was so enormous I had no idea what I was looking at, I wondered whether playing something for fun was the key to enlightenment. Maybe I should go back to something I didn’t connect with and try again?

I had another go at first-person puncher Zeno Clash (Ace Team, 2009) but this was rubbish for me. I was looking for distraction and all I got was this lousy stress. Mouse button to punch, hold mouse button for triple punch, W to grab, space to block, space + move to dodge… no. Too many controls. I was stabbing random buttons like I was playing Defender (Williams, 1980) at the age of 8 all over again.


I was bereft on Sunday night. I wanted to “dabble” with something but none of the shortcuts called to me. Space Giraffe (Llamasoft, 2007) fluttered lashes at me, but I’ve never mastered it – and I was looking for accessibility, something comfortable to slide into. I even made the mistake of trying out Occult Chronicles (Cryptic Comet, 2013) whose arcane card structure I had already forgotten; the game did not last long.


Then I saw Spheres of Chaos 2012 (Iain McLeod, 2012) parked in the corner of the desktop. Another shooter.

Until this moment, every time I’d played Spheres of Chaos I’d fire it up, die, quit. It’s always been this permanent five-minute desktop distraction, like Probability 0 (droqen, 2012). Pass a few minutes until death takes me. Can’t waste time playing something I’m no good at.


Can’t I?

I found myself playing for a good 90 minutes. Dead? Try again. Dead? Try again. And again and again. Although you get used to the patterns of Spheres of Chaos, every now and then the game will lob in a black hole or a few bugs to boot you into a panic. The screen becomes a throbbing, pulsating Rorschach pattern from which only one thing can be interpreted: your death.


Spheres of Chaos refuses to be tamed. It refuses to let you sit in the middle of the screen and mind your own business. It will oust you from your complacency, tell you to get up out of that chair and do something.

Get up. Out of that chair. And do something.

So I write this.

spheresofchaos2012-3 spheresofchaos2012-2

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5 thoughts on “Silver Bullet Cure

  1. I’m very bad at actually paying attention to twitter the majority of the time – I don’t understand how people do it and get anything at all done – so I had no idea about your current situation. Very sorry to hear about it, HM.

    I’m happier however that you’ve rediscovered playing for fun! I’ve been… experimenting with my outlook and attitude of late. Not in quite the same way, but. It’s really liberating to just enjoy something without worrying about turning it into another piece of your own output.

    Zeno Clash I have also bounced off. I was enjoying it purely for the art and character design, but I reached a boss who took me down a couple of times, and he’s a multi-stage boss with only a checkpoint at the start of the fight. Hmmnah, not right now, thanks Zeno Clash.

    Occult Chronicles looks like a less charming take on Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble.

  2. I had a tweet last week that called out last week as “the worst week of the year”. I was just getting my mojo back up and running just over a week ago and then Something Else happened. Drive is an all time low right now. This post is a kind of explanation of why there hasn’t been a real post for three weeks.

    Occult Chronicles is kind of fun but requires a lot of time learning. I’ve planned for a long time to make a diary series out of it but never got around from mastering *all* of its rules. I loved Vic Davis’ previous work Armageddon Empires.

    I don’t know how long playing for fun will continue. Life is always calling. So is the site.

    And I did promise to write a book, after all.

  3. I think I had your Zeno Clash experience with Lugaru. I got to the real fights and the camera was always spinning around and I had no idea what I was doing. And the tutorial was so long I had forgotten huge parts of it by the end. (Zineth has the same interminable tutorial problem.)

  4. I’ve all on keeping up with Tap, ED, AR and Qt3 and their respective forums, never mind social media! I’m yet to make my debut on the ED forums, for shame.

    Sorry to hear about your medical issues and writing funk Joel. Hope you’re back to your usual self soon ie. not playing games for actual fun and writing more 😉

    I went to the EGX 2012 with no intention of writing a thing and that kind of relief meant I could just play without worrying about how I’d write about my experiences. When I got back however, there was a lot I wanted to write about so I made a start and came up with three rather lengthy mind dumps. I attributed that sort of output to the lack of pressure on me to write something but in all honesty, it could have just been a good show. EGX 2013 didn’t seem quite as wall-to-wall with interesting stuff (that or I’m getting jaded). Either way, these days I try and play games with no-strings attached even if that means I don’t end up writing about something until my ‘catch all’ end of year list 🙂 (The new On Tap feature should alleviate this issue somewhat.) But I’ll echo Shaun’s sentiments that it’s liberating to just enjoy something without worrying about how you can crowbar an article out of it.

    Aww, I loved Lugaru and enjoyed Zeno Clash. Funny you mention Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, that’s just what I thought Occult Chronicles looked like too from that screenshot. I have played neither though!

  5. Games that reward “mastery” tend to require a lot of dedication. This is easy to offer up to the Alter of Game during the first few decades of life but pretty much out of the question later on. I must admit with Zeno Clash I’ve not felt like it’s grabbed me at all – even though I was really looking forward to it.

    I’ve still been playing a lot of Spheres of Chaos this week. I got up to 14 spare lives at one point and I was like, blow me, this is gonna be a high score. But then I lost 8 in a row on one wave! (It was still totally a high score.)

    Gregg, for me, the shine has worn off writing about conferences/expos. They were never popular but always a lot of work. Maybe I should still attend just to show my face or something. Let people know I’m not dead (yet). Just have fun instead of managing interviews and video and photos.

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