It’s no secret that games are marketed to the youth of today. Kids, teenagers and young adults make an ideal target market because they all have an abundance of time and disposable income (or someone with income willing to pay for them) due to their relative lack of responsibilities. As we get older, however, life starts to get in the way, and instead of gaming away entire weekends without a second thought, every half hour of spare time becomes precious.
This issue is not simply one of quantity. If all gaming experiences were equal, and we just played to satisfy our fun requirement for the day like Sims, then we’d all probably be quite happy tapping away at Angry Birds on our lunch breaks until the end of time. But games have come to include entities of epic scale where it can take up to an hour just to get into your groove. Fallout 4 is estimated to have around 400 hours of gameplay, which is roughly my allotment of gaming time for an entire year. This may be sufficient to put me off buying it altogether, as I already have too many unfinished games in my library.
But again, it’s not just about how much we play or which games we prefer, but how we choose to play them. When I play an RPG, I like to roll specific characters with carefully chosen strengths and weaknesses, to get a different experience each time I finish and start over. As a result, I have about a dozen different versions of Skyrim and Dragon Age I planned to eventually get through, but now it seems like even finishing my current playthroughs of either is a tall order. Moreover, when I play a game in a series, I like to play the entire series (in chronological order of setting), to experience the rise and fall of characters and factions, to feel how the world changes over time. Combine these two preferences in the form of the Fallout series, and that’s about two years of gaming time written off right there.
Multiplayer can be a nightmare when you’re short on time and patience. Co-ordinating with friends is often impossible – especially if they live in different time zones or work odd hours – which leaves you at the mercy of strangers. When time is abundant, having someone screw up the mission (whether accidentally or on purpose) is an inconvenience; it’s something you can laugh off and easily try again. But when you’ve got nine minutes to pull off this job before you have to leave for your real job, and some dunce wanders lazily into enemy fire, there’s nothing more frustrating. Even if you can pull together a competent and co-operative crew, waiting in lobbies at the mercy of other players’ connection issues can make it all just seem not worth it.
New games are being released all the time, many of which challenge our perceptions of what a game can be. If I were to spend the next hundred years doing nothing but play games – and wash occasionally, I suppose – I still probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with every great new release that hits the shelves. So, what do we do when that hundred years becomes a hundred minutes (and that’s if we don’t wake the baby)? How do we keep from feeling shut out of the gaming scene altogether?
My advice: Be smart with your choices, picking the games and play style that will give you the best return on time investment. Don’t bother with trying to platinum or 100% games; unless you literally can’t sleep at night until you’ve completed it all, it’s not worth hunting out every collectible and failing the hardest challenges over and over just to get that trophy. Don’t feel bad about leaving a game unfinished, especially if you already know how it ends. If you feel like you’re playing more out of obligation or stubbornness than joy, put it down and find something else.
Listen to your favourite gaming soundtracks at work, if you have the means and permission (or can do it on the sly). This might, at times, just remind you of what you’re missing, but more often than not it’ll let you feel like you’re in that world again. Also, try switching from AAA to indie games to scratch the same itch; they’re shorter, cheaper and are currently providing some of the brightest new ideas in gaming.
Lastly, play the games that make you feel good in multiple ways. For example, I play Total War: Shogun 2 both because it’s an excellent game and I love Japanese culture. And one day I hope to dig up Banjo Kazooie and Chrono Trigger again not just for my own enjoyment, but to share with my future kids.
Contrary to the games we play, we only get the one life. Most of this will be spent working and pursuing meaningful, life-changing pursuits such as love and travel. But if we’re smart with our gaming time, whether it’s a little or a lot, it will be enough.