Re-Discovering The Love Of Discovery As A Grown-Up Gamer

As a young ‘un, exploring every nook and cranny in video game worlds was a delight.  Limited gaming time as an adult can make it a chore.

Let’s bring the joy of discovery back, shall we?

When I was younger I would get 4, maybe 5, video games a year. Christmas and birthdays would each bring one brand new title, wrapped in cellophane and with that – mmm – new game smell.  I’d play the heck out of them then trade them in to get my hands on as many other games as possible through the year.

Given that my access to new titles was limited, I’d try and find video games with either a lot of replay value (Fifa, WWF games, Tekken, Gran Turismo) or games with a lot of content. And by “a lot of content” I mean “stupidly long play times” to tide me over until the next time I’d be gifted a game.

This approach meant I’d fritter away tens, or even hundreds, of hours playing games like Final Fantasy, Pokemon and Grandia, fully immersing myself into the game world and religiously searching out every corner and hidden treasure chest. I’d think nothing of spending a weekend doing two-hour long endurance races on Gran Turismo then exploring Gaia in Final Fantasy 7 until the early hours of the morning. Oh, to be young again…

Gran Turismo on the PS1 showing a blue car racing around a race track.

I have no regrets about the time I spent sitting 2 feet in front of the screen wrapped in a duvet, but as I have grown older, the realities of life have crept up on me. Employment, marriage, the birth of my daughter, responsibilities — needless to say, my game time has become more and more limited as the years have passed.

The birth of my daughter brought about a change to the way I game. Gone were the leisurely strolls through game worlds speaking to every NPC possible and raiding every chest my beady eyes could find, replaced with solely racing through the main story and a few key side quests.

Being limited to an hour or two of game time every 3 or 4 days has meant that I rarely feel rooted in the universe of the game I’m playing. I’m no longer an inhabitant of these worlds; I’m a visitor on a fleeting visit. My experience feels disjointed and, thus, I’ve found myself starting to care less about the little details hidden away by the game designers to create a living, breathing world, and more about just “getting through” the games I have.

Having an intimidating list of games to play on Steam thanks to those pesky sales has only increased the anxiety to complete as many games as possible as quickly as possible.

I have managed to convince myself that focusing on the main story is the best way to experience the “best bits,” and I have used that to justify skipping the side missions that often reveal the real charm of the universe I’m temporarily inhabiting.

In all honestly, this has helped me to get through my Pile of Shame relatively efficiently, as I’m finally down to less than 100 games to play. Yes, 100…and, yes, that is an achievement.

A list of Steam video games.

When I said I was weak for those Steam Sales, I wasn’t lying!!

But if you were to ask me even routine questions about the games I have been playing, I’d probably have forgotten or completely skipped over some key details in my haste to complete the story and move on.

Take Remember Me, for example. I remember that the main character is Nillin. I remember the setting was a futuristic rendition of Paris, that my main buddy was called Edge and that the story was about mind control and memories. But I couldn’t tell you who the enemies were, or the names of any other side characters. I couldn’t tell you what the real point was or whether it was accomplished sufficiently.

It’s ironic that I don’t remember all of the details in Remember Me, but it isn’t the developer’s fault; it’s mine.

Remember Me is just one example; I’d say my recollection of 99% of games I have played over the two years would be the same. The main character is X, the setting is Y, the reason for the main quest was Z and, if I’m lucky, I’ll remember that the main bad guy was called Z and I killed him in some epic set piece. The adventure and experience up until that final moment are mostly lost on me.

Nilin from Remember Me standing in a futuristic street of Neo-Paris.

Even writing that makes me sad, as it is such a substantial departure from the way I used to enjoy playing video games. I yearn to play and enjoy video games the way I used to, and I still would if it didn’t mean sacrificing the beautiful additions to my hectic life that have accrued over the years.

Luckily, Fallout 4 has given me a taste of how I used to game.

Yes, the main story has a horrific scenario (SPOILER: watching your wife being murdered and your son abducted, then waking up in a nuclear wasteland hundreds of years in the future goes down as “horrific scenario” in my book). But, I didn’t feel the urgency to charge off into the wasteland to find my child immediately. While that could go down as poor writing or pacing, what it did present me with is a vast world to explore with an abundance of things to do within it.

There I stood, dressed in my blue vault jumpsuit looking out at the world in front of me and, for the first time in too long, I began to ask “I wonder what’s over there…let’s go find out…”

I have trawled through the ruins of houses to find a baseball card for an eager (but misguided) baseball enthusiast. I have retrieved the last surviving egg for a heartbroken mother-Deathclaw. I have saved a robotic detective from certain death at the hands of a mob-boss gang leader. I have…enjoyed exploring and doing every side quest I have stumbled upon – a feeling I thought I had lost forever to the complications of adulthood.

I am 28 hours deep into Fallout 4, and I have barely scratched the surface of what the Commonwealth wasteland has to offer. And you know what? I love it. The sheer volume of content for me to get through before I can finally say “I’m finished” doesn’t intimidate me at all. Even within the sporadic gaming sessions imposed by my life, I am enjoying gaming the way I used to. And I am going to try to hold onto that feeling in every game I play from now on.

Thank you for reading.


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