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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The Long and the Short of It

p55carroll
United States
Minnesota
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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—’"
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"‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked. ‘That I can’t remember,’ said the Hatter."
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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
I've heard others say this too, but I'll say it here for myself: the older I get, the less happy I am with long games.

When it comes time to relax and settle in to immerse myself in a game for a while, I browse through my collection. Everything there catches my interest; after all, they're my favorite games. But I catch myself quickly rejecting this, that, and the other thing. And sometimes my process of elimination leaves me with nothing at all.

One important criterion is game length. Yes, I could play this game, and it's a great one, but I'd never finish it in one sitting. I'd have to save it after a couple hours and come back to it later.

Well, that's nothing new. I was doing that with board wargames back in high school. I don't think I ever played a wargame all in one sitting; it always took at least several gaming sessions. I didn't mind that at all. It gave me something to look forward to.

But back then, I had my whole life ahead of me. I still do have the whole rest of my life ahead of me, of course, but I've grown pickier about what I want to commit myself to.

Also, I guess I've always preferred what someone called short feedback loops. Though I play strategy games all the time, I'm not really a long-range planner. In a game like Civilization, I just start with my one settler and focus on my immediate surroundings; I never think ahead to building, say, five cities by turn such-and-such. And I'd never use "map tacks" to plot where I'm going to build districts. I do almost everything on the fly, throughout the whole game. Once the map is explored and civs are established, I start to see some kind of overall plot, and I act accordingly. But it's still not planning per se. My only plan is to somehow get ahead, stay ahead, and win if I can.

Because of that, it's always discouraging to me if I reflect back on a long game I've finished and realize early mistakes or general carelessness throughout resulted in a loss. The only way to fix that would be to plan better and be more meticulous. And that sort of thing goes against my grain. It tends to dampen my fun.

In a short game, most everything that matters is right there in focus. I can be cautious or take risks; I can apply logic or just hope for a run of good luck. Whatever I do, the consequences won't be long in coming. Sometimes it feels like a roller-coaster ride, and other times everything goes my way or goes against me. But no matter; the game will end soon enough that I'll be able to play again. Maybe I just learned something I'll be able to put to good use in the next game. Anyway, at least I always get another chance.

There are other factors that go into my choosing a game, though. And quite often I'll pick a long game over a short one because of those factors.

One is immersion. For me, the joy of gaming has a lot to do with escape. Whether I'm playing a wargame, a story-based game, or a sim, in my imagination I'm somewhere else for the duration. My attention is off my physical surroundings, and I'm doing something out of the ordinary in an extraordinary setting. That happens to some extent even in an abstract game; concentrating hard on chess or go is enough to get me fully absorbed in the game and all but oblivious to real-world phenomena.

But the experience of immersion is enhanced if the game draws me into a long, complex story in a richly detailed make-believe world. I guess it's like delving into a novel instead of just reading a short story. So, if I decide I want the full measure of immersion, I'll sometimes put up with a game being long.

Another key factor is challenge. I'm not competitive in the usual sense, but winning or losing affects me a lot emotionally. So, although I have no interest in beating anybody else at a game, once the game is under way I'm intent on doing everything I can to win it.

I don't track my win-loss record or anything, but my success in the game I'm playing is tied in with the above-mentioned immersion. I'm the hero of this story, and I'm determined that my story will have a happy ending. If it does, I feel I've accomplished something and maybe have the makings of a true hero. But if the ending is tragic (i.e., I lose), part of me feels like another failure tossed into the dustbin of history.

That makes me reluctant to choose any game that I'd perceive as too hard--too competitive or too big a challenge. And many shorter games are like that. Classics like chess and checkers, for example. But also combat flight sims, submarine sims, and so on. I like that the games are short, but I hesitate if I feel they'll be too hard.

With computer games, there's a simple adjustment for that: just pick a comfortable difficulty setting. I'm grateful for that feature, and I do use it. However, I'm just competitive enough that I push myself a little. I can't stand to play a game on Easy, even if that's all I can comfortably handle. It's pure vanity, I suppose, but I expect to win without much trouble on Normal level and be able to handle higher levels as well. And it doesn't matter what game it is, or that the settings actually vary from one game to another. The labels matter to me, and I'll feel bad if I lose a game on Normal. Or feel terrible if I lose on Easy, or feel great if I win on Hard.

I find that longer games are often more forgiving. Design teams don't usually put a lot of work into creating truly challenging AI; it's enough for the computer-controlled players to behave in what seems like a reasonable way. Beyond that, the program can just give them material advantages at higher difficulty levels. Hardcore players can seek out human-vs-human multiplayer games. But players like me can learn to win more often than not on what's labeled Normal level.

So, that's one reason I might choose a long game--because it makes me feel like a brilliant strategic planner even though I'm not one.

And yet, as I said above, I'm usually reluctant to commit myself to a long game. And when I play one, I regret it during certain phases of the game--those protracted periods where too much of the same thing is happening over and over. It gets to where I wish the game would end and I could start another.

Because there's something wonderful about a fresh start. I've heard many Civ players say their favorite part of the game is the beginning. Chess and go players, too, like to study openings. In a story-based game, setting out on an adventure means limitless possibilities lie ahead.

And when you play short games, you get more fresh starts. I like that.
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