Solitary Soundings

Musings of a solitary gamer. "The advantage of conversation is such that, for want of company, a man had better talk to a post than let his thoughts lie smoking and smothering." (Jeremy Collier) Comments welcome.
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WTF--Where's the Fun?

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"‘Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said—’ the Hatter went on, looking anxiously round to see if he would deny it too: but the Dormouse denied nothing, being fast asleep. ‘After that,’ continued the Hatter, ‘I cut some more bread-and-butter—’"
"‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked. ‘That I can’t remember,’ said the Hatter."
Microbadge: 2022 RPG Geek Play-by-Forum Initiative participantMicrobadge: Solitaire WargamerMicrobadge: Live and let liveMicrobadge: I speak SpanishMicrobadge: I completed the 2022 VGG challenge: played 25 video games or played for 250 hours
Have I ever done anything just for fun? I wonder.

I may have when I was a child. In my teens I sometimes aspired to it: I saw my friends raising hell with carefree abandon, and I wanted to find the courage and spontaneity for that. I always (or almost always) came up short, though. I was too reflective or self-conscious. Whatever I did, I automatically graded myself on my performance, so to speak.

Over time, the grade became more important to me than the raw experience.

Games are supposed to be for fun. But at this stage of my gaming life, I'm not sure I ever do it just for fun anymore. I'm not even sure where fun fits in.

For one thing, I play only strategy games. Once in a blue moon I wish for a drastic change of pace, so I load up a submarine sim or start a cRPG, intending to just immerse myself in the make-believe. But if it's an action game (like the sim), I soon start resenting the time pressure. And if it's story-based (like the RPG), I begin to resent the dialogue and all the walking around. So, the experiment is short-lived, and I bounce right back to strategy gaming again.

And strategy games are basically thinking games. Whatever the setting, I'm dealing with some fairly complex, long-term problem solving. I'm working on building a winning structure from the ground up, overcoming any resistance along the way. Once I've completed that work, it's easy to grade my performance. The game often does it for me, just by displaying a victory screen or giving me a score.

Mind you, I'm not very good at strategy games. In some ways I don't really have a head for them, or the right mind-set. I get dreamily immersed in the game and fail to pay close attention to which moves would be most effective. Because of that, I typically play on low-to-medium difficulty settings. Still, I'm not in it for the fun; I'm essentially doing the same thing a chess player does--concentrating (to whatever level I'm capable of) on strategy and tactics.

Well, some people might call that fun. It depends on where you're coming from. I suppose I could twist things around to where that's my kind of fun. But when I compare it to other kinds, the word "fun" doesn't seem quite right.

Those other kinds of fun--or what I think of as pure fun--are much less intellectual and much more spontaneous. They're also tied in with immediate pleasure more than long-term satisfaction.

I can see an intense action game (like a danmaku--a word I just learned today) being a lot of fun. The experience is immediate and involves all the senses, and the activity is so rapid and persistent that there's no time to stop and think, but only to act. It might be the gamer's equivalent of jamming with a jazz band.

I can also see RPGs and other story-based games being fun. They're a lot like movies or novels, only you get to be one of the characters and actually do stuff and make things happen. There's the potential for all the romance and excitement and adventure of any good story, and the experience is accompanied by a full range of emotion.

In the strategy games I play, those kinds of fun are all but absent. Yeah, I'm immersed in a make-believe world (the game universe), but I'm only very loosely connected with any particular role. There is no story line; the narrative that develops is only a series of decisions. I don't feel like an evil mastermind or a great captain or anything in particular; I'm just a guy playing a game--even if it is supposed to be a game about conquering the galaxy or whatever. So I don't feel many of the emotions that a character in a story might experience; mostly it's just glee when my plans work out or frustration when they don't.

Nor, in my turn-based games, do I feel anything like the excitement of shmups and flight sims and real-time arcade games. Because I'm a mediocre player, I do tend to play quickly and sloppily, and that gives me the impression that things are moving right along. But I can always stop and look around and take time to consider my next move. I can even save the game and come back to it later. And actually, I derive a lot of satisfaction from that--feeling like I'm the master of time and can afford to make and execute plans entirely at my leisure. But that satisfaction is not the same as what I'd call fun.

Like most everybody, I guess, I play games to get away from it all for a while. It's a break from daily work and chores, a respite from the tensions of living. In short, a hobby or pastime. It's what I do when I'm done, for now, with all the have-tos of life. Now I'm not pressed by obligation, so in the game I'm free to do as I please. And it's safe to do that, since the worst that can happen in a game is losing--which is no big deal at all.

Yet, once the game is under way, I never do just as I please. Instead I become all too aware of in-game obligations--the many things I ought to do, or have to do, if I expect to perform well. Even if it is just a game, I'm still going to feel bad if I do something stupid. So I have to pay enough attention to avoid that as much as I can.

That's why I generally avoid another kind of game--the puzzle game. In a puzzle game, you either get it right or you're stumped. Sometimes it's a series of fast-and-easy puzzles; other times it's a set of hard-to-figure-out puzzles. Either way, tension and frustration build before you see the pattern or solution, and then you're relieved once you do see it. That puts me in the position of feeling stupid, worried, and frustrated at least half the time. The relief I experience in the end (if I'm not hopelessly stumped) hardly seems worth all the sweating and grumbling I had to do up to that point.

What it apparently all comes down to is my inability to ever stop judging myself. Self-evaluation, to me, is like breathing. Whatever I'm doing, however grave or trivial the consequences, I automatically monitor and reflect on my performance. I fell miserable when I fail, and I feel elated when I succeed. There's never a moment when I can say, "Oh, I was just fooling around, trying that for fun." In my world, everything counts, right down to the moves I make in a game that I'm supposed to be just relaxing with.

As an aside, maybe that's part of why I've taken to solo gaming. I don't want the extra pressure of seriously competing with others, but I also don't want to have to lighten up and learn to be silly around people.

And yeah--that leaves me wondering, Where's the fun? What ever happened to childlike abandon? Where's the true letting go, the sheer joy of immersing myself completely in the experience of the present moment?
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