Have you ever seen a trailer for a game and immediately knew it wasn’t for you? This happens to me consistently, and all it usually takes is a trailer or screenshot for me to see the mechanics at play to know a game isn’t for me. While I try to keep an open mind about every game, it’s a challenge for me to look at certain mechanics or genres and still feel compelled to play it despite what the critical reception is.
There’s been a lot of great games that have already come out this year, but I honestly haven’t played most of them because of this inherent bias I have against certain mechanics. It isn’t a qualitative judgement about the game or the mechanic in question, it’s just something I know won’t jive with me.
I guess you could just chalk it up to personal taste and knowing that every game isn’t made with me in mind, but sometimes I feel like I’m doing myself a great disservice from not giving these games a fair shake. That’s why I wanted to do a deeper dive into the elements and genres that immediately rebuff me, and try to get to the bottom of why that might be the case.
STRATEGY & TACTICS
It’s weird to start this list off with something so broad and nebulous as “tactics,” but allow me to make my case. There are phenomenal tactics games out there that people have raved about for years that I’ll never play. Games like the X-Com series, Starcraft, and even the Divinity series all seem so interesting from a distance, but rebuff me the second I get a little too close. It’s hard to nail down exactly what it is about these games that’s kept me away, but honestly it’s less about an inner conflict with the mechanics themselves and more about me being incapable of properly strategizing a coherent plan of attack in these kinds of games.
Quite frankly, I’m miserable at these games to the point where they just feel overwhelming. Usually I end up walking away from these games feeling like an idiot because I’m just so bad at applying foresight to these combat encounters. There’s also the issue of learning the internal mechanics that make things work in these games. For instance, when I played Divinity: Original Sin II, not only was I having trouble figuring out a good plan of attack, but I was also trying to learn what spells and attacks were effective against the enemies and the environment. It felt like I was learning two games at the same time and failing at both.
I’m not great at strategizing in general, which is why real-time strategy games like Starcraft and Warcraft never appealed to me. My only tactic is to build my army as fast as I can and click on enemy troops and buildings in the hopes something happens that I like. There’s also a lot of plate spinning in these games, where I’ll have to contend with a multi-pronged attack plan, while managing the defenses at my base, while making sure troop and supply production lines are working and so on and so forth. It’s a lot for me to focus on at once, and I inevitably fail miserably at each of them whenever I try to play one of these games.
There is one glaring potential exception to this however. At some point in the next few weeks, Baldur’s Gate III is supposed to enter early access. Now, I’m incredibly excited for the game for numerous reasons, but the main one at this point is because I know the inner working mechanics it’s going to be using. It’s running off of the Dungeons & Dragons 5e rule set, something I’ve become very familiar with over the years. It’s led to me looking at Baldur’s Gate III as less of a strategy or tactics game, and more of a way to play D&D by myself. There’s a lot of mental gymnastics going on in my head to make me feel at peace with Baldur’s Gate III, and I completely acknowledge that.
Like most kids in the 90’s, I was a big fan of Pokemon and would consume everything it touched, from the show, the games, the toys, and of course the cards. The thing is, despite owning a ton of the cards and organizing them into a nice binder, I never actually did anything with them. I’ve never once actually played Pokemon as a card game before. I just wanted cool little pictures of them to collect.
That mentality has shifted as I’ve gotten older, but not in the direction of actually playing card collecting games (CCG) whatsoever. I’ve moved in the other direction, away from collecting cards and even further away from playing CCGs. There is something incredibly boring to me about building a deck of cards filled with spells, monsters and other stuff, and playing against other people with it. I’ve had people try to get me into Hearthstone and other games before, but I just don’t have the patience for any of them.
The CCG genre is incredibly popular and beloved by so many people, and I’m not trying to take anyone’s enjoyment of these games away from them. Focusing on games like this are extremely difficult for me because of just how slow and methodical they inherently are. You’re supposed to take your time and strategize, but as we’ve discovered earlier, I’m bad at that.
You might ask, “why not learn to play them so you can get better?” A good question to be sure, but I’ve only got so much time on this planet, that I’d rather not try to force a square block in a round hole for more of it than I already have to. CCGs are great fun for the people who can focus and really wrap their minds around them. Hell, my Discord channel is currently filled with Magic: The Gathering Arena optimal deck links and people constantly playing it. While I’d love to be able to engage my friends on this topic, I know it just won’t happen and I’ll end up just grousing about how much I dislike everything about CCGs to them.
To be completely honest, I don’t know why people enjoy the horror genre in any aspect, whether it be games, movies, TV shows, or even going to haunted houses on Halloween. I don’t like any of it, and it’s because I don’t enjoy being scared. Nothing about the emotion of fear seems fun to me at all, and I don’t get how some people are so eager to get frightened.
I get that some people get a great adrenaline rush out of a scare, or can appreciate a nice haunted tone in a movie or game or whatever, but I’m not one of those people. To me, fear was something I wanted to avoid and steer clear of as best I could. I don’t enjoy feeling on edge, I don’t admire the artistic talent it took to evoke that spooky tone, I just don’t like any of it.
Call me a coward or whatever, but fear was just never something I actually wanted to experience. That’s why when people clamor about the latest Resident Evil game or talk about the masterpiece that P.T. was, I can’t even begin to have that conversation with them. They might be stellar games through and through, appealing to everything a horror fan wants, but to me they’re just an expensive way to feel uncomfortable and have nightmares.
Once again, you can enjoy and praise the horror genre all you want, but none of it is going to make me willingly pay money to be scared. We haven’t even talked about games that like to throw in a jump scare in it just to shake things up. Bioshock Infinite had one of those and I’m still angry at it for including it.
If I’m being honest here, JRPGs combine two things I’m really not that crazy about into one package that I don’t have any reverence for. As far as anime goes, I think I’ve enjoyed maybe one or two of them in my life, and they’re pretty mainstream if I’m being honest. I know that people really enjoy anime, and I’m not here to take that away from you because I truly believe that certain anime media can be really cool, particularly in the badass fight scenes that I’ve seen posted online. Anime can be cool is what I’m saying.
But the other half of that equation, the turn-based RPG part of it? That’s the part that I can’t handle as much. In my life, I’ve played part of one Final Fantasy game, and watched a childhood friend blast through large sections of Final Fantasy VII when it came out. Both of those experiences were pretty agonizing for me. And I know it’s unfair to target the Final Fantasy series here, but they’re one of the few touchstones I have in this genre of games. I never had the urge to play anything in this genre, so I’m well aware that there might be something that I might find interesting somewhere out there.
Similar to my issues with tactics and strategy games, I’m just a poor planner when it comes to gaming… and probably everything else in my life. So making sure I’ve got the right party members, items and buffs never really appealed to me in video games. I used to point to the fact that taking turns in combat made no sense to me, but that’s a pretty juvenile argument that I no longer use especially considering my recent reverence for D&D.
The reasons I won’t play those games today has changed significantly since I was younger, but they basically boil down to the fact that a lot of JRPGs are way too long and dense for me. Those games usually have so much going on in them that I can’t keep up. It’s the same way I feel about intense classic RPGs like the old Fallout games or last year’s Disco Elysium. They’re highly regarded games that I just don’t have the patience for.
There’s the concept of “plate spinning,” or the idea that you need to manage and keep tabs on a lot of moving parts at once. I notice this mostly in survival games where you need to worry about your food, thirst, stamina, temperature and so on. Both this and time limits feel like two sides of the same coin that I want to just throw into a storm drain.
Sometimes these mechanics are intrusive and steal the focus away from anything else in the game. When that happens, a switch flips in my head that instructs me to stop any forward progression and just hoard everything I can find for the next few hours. Maybe that’s how you’re supposed to play the game, but it just feels like paranoia-fueled busy work to me.
There are some exceptions to this rule however, and it only occurs when a game isn’t too intrusive about it. For instance, Minecraft has a hunger and stamina meter, but it’s such an afterthought that you really don’t need to do much aside from carry a few steaks on you at all times. The ‘survival’ portion of the survival mode in Minecraft mostly applies to you not dying in whatever monster-filled chasm you inevitably arrive at.
Even Red Dead Redemption II had some light survival mechanics that were easy to fulfill. If you find yourself in town, you might as well snag a hot meal and a bath and refill your dwindling meters. Both of those last for days as well, and you’re never really in danger of starving to death or passing out from exhaustion. It’s that kind of light touch approach that I can deal with when it comes to plate spinning, but games that are designed around your ability to multitask efficiently just stress me out.
Remember back in 2017 when we could go places and do stuff but ultimately decided to stay inside and play PLAYER UNKNOWN’S Battlegrounds instead? I do. In fact, I played a whole lot of PUBG, to the point where it started to get tiring which ultimately led to me falling off of it about a year later. It was a marginally better time.
But now if you asked me to play a battle royale game with you, I’d probably find any excuse I could to avoid doing so. I don’t necessarily have anything against the genre itself, but I have played enough of one of the most popular ones out there to have had my fill with the genre entirely.
This feeling was cemented when I tried to play Fortnite a few times, and bounced off of it almost immediately. From PUBG, to Fortnite, to Apex Legends, Ring of Elysium, Radical Heights and The Culling, I’ve played a lot of these games, and I think I’ve had my fill of the entire concept itself.
These games can still offer up a lot of entertainment and satisfaction, but they can also be sources of immense anxiety and stress. I’ll never forget the tension that would fill the air when you’d hear a gunshot ring out in the distance during a round of PUBG. Hell, everything in PUBG was incredibly tense when I think about it. The sound of a car, the sight of already opened doors, the literal ring of death that’s slowly closing in on you, it was all designed to be stress inducing.
Stress inducing as it was though, it was a lot of fun. But I just don’t think I need that in my life at this point. I like having stakes in games, I like tense moments, but battle royales seem to luxuriate and bask in these moments to the point of sensory overload for me.
A lot of what I’ve talked about here are just some personal examples of things that turn me off when looking into new games. They’re not value judgements or statements about the product itself or the people who actually enjoy them, they’re just my personal proclivities and nothing more.
Something also interesting to note is that just about everything I’ve listed here plays into my personal issues with anxiety and attention span. It’s weird how you can know all these various facts about yourself, but not be able to see how they’re all intertwined until you actually write them out and try to find a connective thread.
Ultimately I’d like to impress upon you that liking these things is totally valid and I want you to keep enjoying whatever it is you’re playing. If everyone felt the same way as I did, then these games wouldn’t be made anymore because people would stop buying them. The world is filled with different people with different tastes, and while some of these mechanics and genres aren’t for me, I celebrate the people who garner enjoyment from them in my place.