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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Outgrowing Games

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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
I guess I've gone through countless changes during my life. And yet I have what another VGGeek calls a present bias--an irrational sense that the way I am is the way I've always been and always will be. So, when I think about gaming, I expect to continue enjoying the games I've had fun with all my life. When I look closer, though, I find that's not the case.

I'm not up for cataloguing all the changes in my gaming preferences and habits, but one in particular stands out for me today: I seem to have developed a (probably permanent) distaste for heavy (complex) games.

I enjoyed both light and heavy games in my youth, but in my twenties and thirties, I could delve deeply into an extremely hard-to-learn game and happily lose myself in it for months or years. I've mentioned my fifteen-year affair with ASL many times, but there were a number of other such prolonged infatuations as well. Usually, in each of those cases, I thought I was embarking on a lifelong project that would grow ever more complex and thus more and more satisfying.

The trouble was, I'd identify too much with the current project. Each time, I'd wrap myself and my whole hobby life (and even some of my life beyond hobbying) into the game I was learning or developing. But I'd eventually reach a point where the project didn't feel like me anymore. Then I'd have an existential crisis, abandon the project, and start seeking something new.

But today--maybe just because I've been through that so many times, or maybe just because of my age--I usually stop short of even dipping my toe into the water of a gaming project that big. When I discover that a new game is a "heavy lift" (i.e., it's going to require a good deal of study and practice to even get the basic hang of it, and then more time and effort to become competent), I balk and turn to a lighter game.

Some games, of course, are as light or heavy as you make them. Games like chess and go, for instance, can be lifelong challenges, but they're simple enough in structure that you can also breeze through them casually. So you can find whatever level of commitment you're comfortable with.

But then there are board games like ASL and computer games like Dwarf Fortress (one I've never seen or played), where just learning how to play is a big undertaking. You study the manual and then practice playing; you make mistakes and correct them; you probably miss out on whole big aspects of the game at first, then discover how they work later. Sometimes it's like taking a college course and following it up with an internship.

In my youth, as I said, I loved that. But then I liked college courses too. Each time I took on one of those "heavy lifts," I figured it'd probably serve me well in the future. Maybe it'd also be an ego boost, as I could show off my knowledge and skill to anyone who cared. Meanwhile, it was a meaty subject--something I could sink my mental teeth into and enjoy working away at.

Nowadays, though, I find I just don't want to do that anymore. I could still do it, and now and then I get a little way into it, but after a while I sigh and say to myself, "Nah--too much trouble." It may be a good game, but it'll never be the game for me--one that becomes a big part of my life. And if it's going to be just a game, why should I work so hard at it?

Recently that happened with the computer games Silent Hunter III and Sword of the Stars (the latter just last night). A few years ago it happened with the board wargames The Civil War 1861-1865 and Ironclads. And in a way, it has happened with RPGs too.

Back in the 1980s, one of my projects was finding a good set of RPG rules and building it into a multifaceted lifelong hobby. I figured I might do it the normal way--get a few players to join me in the scenarios. But I also wanted to devise a solo-play system and maybe collect and paint miniatures and do other such things. But I gave up on the idea by sometime in the 1990s. And now it's hard for me to even immerse myself in a computer RPG, because each one takes so long to play, and many of them have tough battles and puzzles along the way.

So, it feels like I'm settling in to a new phase of gaming that suits this segment of my life. I still like playing games a lot; it's how I pass the time almost every weekday evening and on weekends. But I groan at the very thought of playing any of those "heavy lift" games--the ones that are sure to be a lot of work. That's especially true if the work involves learning how to play at a basic level--how to get past being a beginner and graduate to being an advanced novice or somewhat competent player.

As a matter of fact, that's as far as I ever get in most games anyway. I don't have the patient, attentive, meticulous nature it takes to "min-max"--optimize my every move. I play games by feel, and my imagination and emotions usually cloud my reasoning to some extent. So for me, as long as I get to where I'm competent at an advanced-novice or low-intermediate level, I feel I've arrived. From that point on, I'll continue to play and enjoy the game in my own way, at my own pace.

It's OK with me if a game has options for learning more or getting better. I suppose I expect that of any good game. As long as they're just options, I'm free to take them or leave them. Dominions is a good example of that kind of game. I was able to learn how to play in a reasonable amount of time, and it soon became one of my favorite games. But when I look at how expert players are playing, I realize I'll probably never come close to that. There are tons of things I could still learn and stand to practice. However, I can still start a game anytime and thoroughly enjoy playing it through in my own way, at my own level.

I suppose that's the same with classic games I've learned over the years--chess, checkers, go, rummy, backgammon, and more. In all those games, I'm at a level where I can play confidently and usually beat a beginner without much trouble. But if I play against a strong AI or human player, I'm humbled very quickly. In my youth, I used to resent that; I wanted to master the games, and I felt I ought to be able to do it without nearly as much effort as it would really take me. Now I've changed; I know I don't want to put that kind of work into any of these games, but I still enjoy playing them. And it's good that I can learn a little something more each time I play, even though mastery will always remain beyond my reach.

So, I'm at least starting to outgrow the notion that I ought to aim for mastery in any game I play. I don't feel as pressured about that anymore.

But what I've really outgrown is the desire to launch into any heavy commitment when it comes to gaming. I think I've been worn out by previous attempts at that. If I say to myself, "This game looks pretty tough to learn, but it might be great a year or two from now, after I've learned it," I reply to myself by saying, "Yeah, but it might not be so great; it might be like all those other games I've abandoned."

All games take some investment of time and effort. I've just learned, the hard way, that big investments don't always have big payoffs. So nowadays I prefer games that reward me with short-term satisfaction and leave options open for further investment.

Also, I prefer to limit the number of games I invest my time and effort in. Just one or two heavy-investment games can be enough or too many.
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