Random Ruminations

It seems to be part of my nature to reflect on all my experiences--even the hobby experiences many people consider trivial. And I reflect best when I'm typing. So, here are some of my thoughts on games and gaming. Enjoy them if you can, comment if you like.
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City Builders--Fun or Folly?

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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."
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As I'm reevaluating my collection, one kind of game I'm wondering about and may experiment more with is the builder (sometimes called city builder). I think it started with SimCity way back when.

I've played at a couple versions of Sim City, but my interest in it never held. It was fun in the beginning, once I got a few things to work and was on my way. But it became less and less fun as systems grew more complex. When I found myself demolishing and rebuilding, I chided myself for failing to do things right in the first place. Meanwhile, the financial balance sheet kept nagging me. What led to my giving up was persistent question, Am I playing this game, or is this game playing me?

Yet I keep hearing about other people enjoying this type of game very much and even finding it a soothing experience. So I keep looking at building games that I've played and then abandoned, wondering if maybe it's time to try one again.

One thing players who enjoy this sort of game seem to have in common is a measure of self-forgiveness. If they realize something they've done is inefficient, they shrug it off or laugh at themselves, and then they either live with the situation or do something to correct it. Same thing if disaster strikes, burning a building or turning a section of the city to rubble. Just clear the ground and rebuild when it's possible and convenient.

Another quality I notice in builder fans is a genuine interest in--well, building something. And often that something is a pile of money. To my mind, money is a necessary evil: as long as I have enough of it, life can go along smoothly, but I'm always in danger of running out, so I have to keep scrambling and adjusting in order to tread financial water. That whole process is just an irritation to me. But builder fans are more optimistic, or maybe greedier. Besides just erecting structures to form a city (which is what I'm focused on), they aim to build an economic engine and make it run as well as they can.

I just watched a short video this morning where someone demonstrated how to play Anno 1404. He was playing on easy and just enjoying the game, and the video was aimed at beginners. It reminded me of my attempt at playing that game. Watching and listening, I found the game appealing. Maybe I will play it again.

But I have some reservations, because I remember some not-so-fun things about my own previous experience. I was tasked to provide a bunch of hemp rope or something, and I expected it to be easy, but for some reason my help fields or rope manufacturers or something went idle. It was exasperating clicking around trying to troubleshoot the problem. Another time I needed to mine stone or iron, and I thought I had things set up right for that, but I must have done something wrong, because it just wouldn't work.

When I hear from gamers who love this kind of game, it turns out they have similar experiences; they just don't get flustered over them. If something seems mysteriously broken, they'll work around it until they can get it figured out. And when they do eventually figure it out, it's a relief, and it opens the way to improved production. Watching things work is part of the fun; solving problems and making things work better is another part. Players who know how to have fun take it all in stride.

So, I'm wondering if I can learn to do that. Because I have a low frustration threshold, and my tendency is to get flustered and raise the roof anytime things go seriously wrong.

Anno 1404 is reputed to be a forgiving game, ideal for beginners or players who just want to kick back and take it easy. I did experience some of that, but I also got exasperated with the game after a while and abandoned it.

Stardew Valley is another such game. It's supposed to be an ideal game to relax and unwind with--a get-away-from-it-all fantasy where a player can just do as he or she pleases, free from pressing deadlines and overwhelming tasks. Yet I didn't get far into it before I started complaining. The clock and calendar kept reminding me I'd better try to get something done (even if it's just going fishing or chatting with neighbors). And notes in the mailbox kept pestering me with invitations. So I feared missing out on important events, and I felt obligated to clear some ground and create a farm.

Anxiety and obligation--the same bugbears that plague me in real life also tend to spoil building games for me.

Fans of such games advise me to just lighten up and do one thing at a time, because there's really not much hurry. Nor is the game punishing. Unfortunately I've spent my whole life feeling I have to be on guard and ready to compete, and that's a hard habit to break.

Another game I'm considering--and I watched a video on this one the other day too--is Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom. I've played a few games in this series, and Emperor is reputed to be the best of them. I enjoyed the tutorials well enough, and I had some success playing. But again, my own determination to do the right things constantly imposed anxiety and a sense of obligation on my endeavors. Why didn't I build walls? Where should I have placed them? Where should the gates be? Why isn't my trading with this other city working the way it should?

I may reinstall one of these games and try again. But I know that in order to have a good experience with it I'll have to make some changes in myself. I'll have to learn to take things as they come, forgive myself for mistakes, and define success in other terms than those that apply to wargames and the usual kinds of games I play.

Can I do it? Should be an interesting experiment.
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