Why I’ve given up on gaming (reluctantly)
I used to love playing video games. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Call of Duty, Killzone, Starcraft — I spent many a night lost in these virtual worlds. Sometimes I just wanted an action fix — hello, CoD and Killzone — while other times I wanted a mental workout akin to solving a puzzle — Starcraft for me was always about figuring out the correct approach to a problem. The tanks and zerg rushes and so forth were just pieces of the puzzle.
Sometimes I played games for social reasons — my wife would join me for sessions of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, which were the equivalent of scary movies for us. I still have memories of being creeped out by those Silent Hill games. We played Diablo together, although that was usually an exercise in frustration — she spent time in town looking for the perfect item to equip when I wanted to be out in the wastelands killing demented birds and their kin with my rusting sword.
Then World of Warcraft changed everything. Not only for me but for the entire gaming industry. And that’s what eventually drove me away from games.
At first I loved WoW, but for totally different reasons than all the other games I played. The social element of WoW changed games for me from a puzzle to be figured out to actual human interaction with other people. That interaction made the game completely unpredictable and wild, which was its main selling point for most people, I suspect. Let’s face it: people weren’t buying WoW for its cutting-edge graphics or brilliant storytelling. I was a PVP player, and I still have incredible memories of exciting battleground moments or surprising encounters in the world of Azeroth — unscripted events that could never happen in other games. (For the record, I started off Alliance and then converted to Horde, as one does. I mainly played an undead fire mage, although I dabbled with hunters, paladins and warlocks.)
But the WoW grind eventually got to me, as it does most players. I grew weary of repeating the same quests with only cosmetic changes — you know, kill 10 of x and bring their gizzards/bones/heads/pebbles. I started mainly levelling up on PVP but Blizzard had an uneasy relationship with PVP and the rules were constantly changing on players. Eventually I abandoned the game when PVP became too much of a gear grind — you couldn’t compete without the epic gear, and you had too put in way too much time to acquire that gear. I had a life outside of WoW, and I never wanted to be more than a casual gamer. So I let my subscription lapse and went on to other things. Hello again, books!
The problem was WoW ruined me for other games. I’d grown to love that social interaction too much to return to the static, predictable games of the single-player world. I tried experimenting with games of a different sort when the iPad came out, and I enjoyed the usual tower defence games and their variations — thanks for the good times, Tiny Heroes! But the games of the iPad generation are too often free to play, which changes the whole gameplay model. Rather than it being about a great experience you’re willing to pay money for, the game becomes a model for trying to extract money out of you in the form of upgrades, unlocked content, what have you. I find these games just grinds in a different form. I never did finish the sequel to Plants vs. Zombies because it just lacked the quirky joy of the original (to me, anyway).
The breaking point for me was Hearthstone (see screenshot above). I thought I’d give it a shot because it was free to play, so hey, why not? I tried it out and quite enjoyed the solo play, so I moved on to playing other gamers. I also enjoyed that for the same reason I enjoyed playing against live people in WoW PVP — it’s a challenge. But the challenge quickly became boring when I repeatedly got nuked by cards I simply couldn’t beat. I played for a about a week and it became clear to me the only way I could compete with other players was to buy extra decks so I could get my own nuclear cards or grind my way to super-powerful cards — a variation on the gear grind that had driven me away form WoW. I briefly debated buying some extra cards because I enjoyed the game, so why not give Blizzard some money? But then I realized that such a model would necessitate me always spending more money, as I knew from experience that Blizzard would keep releasing expansion packs or new cards or whatever to keep their core gamers hooked. I’d never be able to play on level ground because the whole free to play model depends on putting pressure on players to upgrade.
I just wanted to be a casual gamer who could play my way through a fun, narrative experience in my rare moments of downtime, but that seems to be the opposite way the gaming industry is going. They want to hook those serious players and keep them hooked, and forget about the casual gamer. This was made clear to me in a recent online thread when I expressed my feelings about Hearthstone being pay to play and several people corrected me, estimating the number of hours I’d need to grind to be competitive (a rather high number, I thought) or mentioning the spreadsheets they’d made to optimize card matchups. That’s when I realized the gaming world had morphed into something else, something that didn’t have room for me. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t seem to be for casual gamers anymore.
Or maybe I’m just getting old and out of touch. Like a game no one plays anymore…..
Have you read…?
The Mona Lisa Sacrifice
The first book in the Cross series, featuring the enigmatic character of Cross, the man who woke up in Christ’s body after Christ left the earth to wherever it was he went. Written under the alias Peter Roman. Because, you know, Christ, Romans….
Click here for more details.