A few years ago we were streaming out some Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds to our gigantic audience of like 4 people, when one of the folks in our chat blindsided us with a simple request: “Can I join you?” It was a request that more experienced streamers would not engage with at all, but like a house of cards our convictions came crumbling down in an instant. Our inexperience laid bare and our judgment dissolved, we let them join us — live and unvetted. Of all the ways that story could have ended, I would not have expected it to end with us having excellent chemistry with what would become a really good friend, which is exactly what happened.
But that story is an outlier and represents the only time in my life that I’ve ever made an ‘internet friend’, and they kind of forced my hand cause I didn’t know how to say, “nah, we’re good,” in the middle of a stream. Like, they could have hopped on our stream and just said the most horrendous shit they could imagine, but instead they were extremely cool. It all worked out, but it’s made me think about all of the online communities I’ve avoided and the connections I never made, mostly because of a crippling social anxiety.
It’s weird to me that in an age where internet anonymity emboldened people to be as vile and repugnant as possible, that I can’t muster the courage to interact with people online. I think my fear comes from that ’emboldened asshole’ thing though, cause while I’m not the type to engage with folks online whether it be positively or negatively, I worry everyone else is gonna be really shitty to me the second I open my mouth.
I see people engaging with each other inside of games, on social media or over Discord, basking in the glow of their shared interests and I wish I had that. I wish I had a place that I could log into and just kind nerd out with random folks who are just as weird and dorky as myself. But I don’t know where to start, and more importantly, I have this crippling social anxiety that makes even the simple task of hitting the automated “say hello” button that pops up in Discord servers a tall order.
All of this begs the question, ‘to what end?’ I have friends that I talk to pretty regularly and we’re all pretty dorky, it isn’t like I couldn’t blab about video games or D&D to them. I guess I just want to meet new people, but regardless of if that’s in-person or online, I’m terrible about being brave enough to engage with anyone new. Like, I’m not even the guy at the party who spends all his time on his phone, I’m guy who didn’t even show up to the party and feels terrible for not going but also relieved.
This isn’t just about wanting to make new friends though, because the other side of this whole situation is me wanting to find welcoming communities of like-minded individuals. I know they’re out there, but I just don’t have it within me to make that jump and engage with one of them. It’s social anxiety manifest in spaces where I assume I’d be welcomed, but the possibility of them being exclusionary, no matter how infinitesimal, outweighs my desire to make new connections. Simply put, I think I’m just afraid of rejection.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks?” Aside from being an incredibly weird idiom that people use, myself included, it’s also been the technique I’ve been using to find a game I can really stick with, except the spaghetti in this metaphor is my money and so far the wall is a garbage can that’s on fire.
For those of you who aren’t aware, I have a problem with sticking to one video game for long stretches of time. Not since the days of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Overwatch can I really remember spending significant time with a game that didn’t involve me playing virtual basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing the NBA 2K games as kind of a mindless time waster, but it’s been a good long while since I’ve really dug into anything else.
That isn’t to say that I haven’t tried though. I’ve given so many different games a shot, ranging from the underwhelming but somewhat enjoyable Gotham Knights to the eternal grind-fest that is Disney Dreamlight Valley. I took advantage of Black Friday sales and picked up the bland and lifeless reboot of Saints Row, the slick and stylish OlliOlli World, and even four different Crash Bandicoot games, all of which reminded that I never enjoyed those games when I was a kid and I have less patience for their bullshit now. Those games are fine enough but none of them held my attention for any longer than a few hours which is a shame considering that while I do have disposable income, it isn’t that disposable.
I don’t have a problem with running through countless decades of NBA history in NBA 2K23‘s MyEras mode, but eventually I’d like to do something else that doesn’t reimagine what life would be like if LeBron James was drafted by the Knicks or whatever. I have some other games on the docket that I’m eager to try, but I worry that I’m just beyond the point where a single game is going to satisfy me for that long. I’ll openly admit that I’m a very picky gamer who constantly feels like they don’t have enough time to commit to something new, but I know there’s got to be something out there that’ll appeal to my weirdly specific tastes.
But therein lies the problem: I don’t know what I’m looking for. The closest thing I can think of that might even be in the neighborhood of what I’m interested in would be something like Destiny 2, but even that is a tough putt because of how much of that game there is and how much of it I’ve missed that trying to start now seems overly daunting. Maybe I’d enjoy it, but the odds are that I’ll be overwhelmed by the lore, mechanics, and my desire to play the game “correctly” by looking up optimal builds or whatever the hell you do in Destiny 2, that I won’t actually play the game how I would have if it just came out.
I think this all boils down to my anxiety about wasting time. I don’t have as much gaming time as I used to which leads to me being overly precious about how I spend said time ultimately leading me to do nothing with it because I fear that I’ll use it on something that wasn’t worth it. So I use my time doing something I know will mildly entertain me instead of taking a chance on something new that might genuinely captivate me or leave me profoundly disappointed.
I don’t have a curative salve to apply to these particular neurosis that’ll make me suddenly understand that I actually do have plenty of time to engage in my hobbies and I don’t need to be so scared about potentially wasting time, but I’ll keep looking for one. In the meantime I just need to stop wasting all this dang spaghetti.
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.
Apex Legends came out a few weeks ago to immediate acclaim and success. It was more or less a surprise release that seemed to refine the battle royale genre of games, and produce something that positively builds on formula we’ve seen up till now. Despite the heaping helping of praise that’s been dumped upon Apex Legends, I don’t know that I’m entirely jazzed to play it.
For context, I’ve played an hour or two of Apex, so I’m basically the leading authority on the topic. What I played definitely led credence to a lot of the claims I had heard too. Being a Respawn game, it just feels phenomenal to play. It shakes the jankiness of PUBG and doesn’t require me to build anything à la Fortnite. Instead it most closely resembles the Blackout mode from 2018’s Call of Duty Black Ops IIII, which for context, is a very good thing, but they differ in two very key ways.
The first and most obvious difference is price point. Apex is free to play, which for reference, is cheaper than the $60 Black Ops IIII is. Free to play while not only making a game more accessible to play, also seems like the only real way a standalone battle royale game can really survive these days. It’s a smart play, and works even better when you have the potential for good cosmetics for people to buy. Which leads us into the second main difference from the genre.
Apex is charming. Both in map and character design, Apex Legends has a lot going for it. People appear to really be resonating with the characters in a way I haven’t seen since Overwatch happened. So I guess that means there’s probably a lot of porn of Apex out there, huh? But considering the characters are already pretty beloved, that opens potentially profitable avenue for skin and taunt sales. Which I’m pretty sure they’re already doing, but my point still stands. A game that combines the potential profitability of Fortnite with the characterization of Overwatch can be a dangerously profitable concoction.
I just wish that I knew what I was doing in Apex. I haven’t spent enough time with it to know the layout of the map, or what guns do what, or when to use character abilities or even just general practices I should be aware of. I want to play more of Apex, but the concept of having to adapt to a new one of these kinds of games just seems exhausting from the outside looking in. Luckily, I’ve got some friends to help motivate me and carry me through those early hurdles, but I don’t know that I’ll ever feel the battle royale fever again like I did when PUBG was released.
All things considered, I welcome our new battle royale overlord with open arms. I don’t ever see Apex Legends ever being released on phones, but who knows? I thought the same thing about PUBG, yet here we are.
Every time that I end up playing Overwatch, I’m reminded how mechanically sound and charming that damn game is. On its surface, it’s a pleasant game to play and look at. It’s so weird that every time that I finish a session of playing it, I end up feeling angry or dejected. I can probably attribute it to the constant ass-beatings I end up getting from game to game.
Despite all that, I still have over a hundred hours in the damn thing. It’s this abusive relationship that keeps pulling me back in by waving a rolling gun-hamster in front of me only to kick me in the dick for being interested in it again. But it isn’t just me, I have friends who have spent way more time in Overwatch than I have, and have these violent encounters with it. The craziest part is that we all genuinely love this game despite how toxic it can be to us.
And it isn’t just Overwatch either. Dota 2, League of Legends, Fortnite, PUBG, Hearthstone, and so many more, all have their hooks so deep in people. Presumably said hooks are so deep in order to pull you closer and beat the shit out of you.
But playing a game that has the ability to illicit a huge range of emotions is a good thing, right? No matter how angry and pissed off that I get at Overwatch, it’s an experience so memorable I end up writing about it. It’s like seeing a sports team you like blow it in the playoffs. You hate them for losing, but you don’t stop watching them altogether because of it.
I love Overwatch, but I also fucking hate Overwatch. I’m sure there’s some real science that could explain this sensation, but for the time being I’ll call it “The Overwatch Effect.”
Video games, lets talk about em. The year has come to end and it’s about time for me to share my thoughts on the ones I played. 2017 has been a hell of a year, so lets dive right in.
Personally, the game that has endured through 2017 and has been a calming respite remains to be Cities: Skylines. There’s something nice and relaxing about building a new city from the ground up and swearing that this time, there will be no traffic jams. With the addition of some great mods and add-ons that allow me to get more granular than before, I’m continuing to find joy in watching my little hamlet transform into the next Times Square, even if I never play it right.
Alongside of Cities: Skylines, I’ve also been able to return to Astroneer from time to time and see it progressing quite nicely. There’s been noticeable performance enhancements and new feature drops that have made it a delight to return to. As well as that, my favorite game of last year, Hitman, continues to be as fun as ever especially since giving me the ability to attempt the Elusive Targets I’d missed, once more.
Swing and a Miss
It’s probably obvious, but one of the biggest flops of the year in my eyes had to be Mass Effect Andromeda. Right from when EA and Bioware pitched the premise of the game I recall feeling the slightest tinge of skepticism. A story that ran parallel to the events of the original trilogy but also made sure to remove the possibility of ever seeing any familiar characters was enough of a bummer until the game came out. It was so boring and uneventful. Every aspect of Andromeda seemed to be an artists interpenetration of what made Mass Effect great without ever understanding the reasons behind its success. “We gave them aliens to bone, put that shitty car back in, and let them explore the planets that have nothing interesting on them. What more could they want?!” Mass Effect Andromeda was such a damn bummer.
I Think Something is Wrong With Me
I feel so strange. Even now if you were to tell me that I could fight robot-dinosaurs in a post apocalyptic setting with a bunch of science-fictiony intrigue sprinkled on there for good measure, I’d justifiably lose my mind. So then why didn’t Horizon Zero Dawn do anything for me? Everything about that game was wonderful. It looked amazing, it was fun to play and also there were freaking robot-dinosaurs to kill. Many would attribute bouncing off of Horizon due to The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of The Wild releasing 3 days later. But even before that, from the moment they let me loose in the open world, I just had no desire to explore or learn about these characters. I think I wanted to learn more about the fall of modern civilization and where the robots came from a lot sooner than the game wanted to tell me about it. I still don’t know how that game wraps up. Maybe I’ll give it a go in 2018, but who knows.
Along those lines, the game people kept telling me about was NieR: Automata. I was so intrigued by what I had heard about this game that I was desperate to try it. I was told that I needed to beat it a third time to really some crazy shit. But after the first time around I had no interest in forcing my way through it several more times. Another game that I really wanted to like was Absolver. I wrote a piece about my feelings about the difficulty and how it failed to resonate with me, but the quick and dirty version is that I never felt like I was getting better, I only felt like I got lucky.
Bring Your Friends
Some people are an army of one, others like myself are very much not. That’s why the only way I’ve played PLAYERUNKNOWN’s Battlegrounds has been with my friends. We’ve even streamed a whole bunch of it because we play it that much. From defeating another squad who thought they were alone, to flipping just about every vehicle we ever touched, and of course getting that chicken dinner together, PUBG is packed with reasons why it’s the best game I’ve played with friends all year.
But where PUBG is very tactical and requires a ton of coordination, sometimes you just need pure chaos to have fun. Stick Fight and Gang Beasts are two games that released this year that exemplify that mentality. They’re both janky and glitchy enough to where the physics themselves become a new character you’ll have to contend with. But it’s all fun and lighthearted which makes them a blast to play when you’ve got a couple of friends around.
Game of the Year
This year, before most of the biggest titles came out, a little game called Night in the Woods released on the PC and PS4. Night in the Woods is a game that resonated with me on a fundamental level and mirrored a lot of my experiences in life. It told a story that struck me on an emotional level while also having an awesome sense of humor and painfully charming aesthetic. I still have trouble expressing every reason why Night in the Woods was so wonderful in my eyes. Sometimes a game just hits you the right way, and that’s what happened here. It’s the game I’ve thought about most this year and have replayed twice already. Night in the Woods is easily one of my favorite games. Click here for a more complete version of my thoughts.
A close second this year, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is perhaps the most unsurprising entry in this list. I won’t beat a dead horse here, we all know why Breath of the Wild is on so many GOTY lists. It’s an achievement in a systems-driven, open world game. It’s the epitome of “you see that? You can go there.” But the best part about that, is there’s always something to do when you get “there.” It’s truly a phenomenal game and what’s even more impressive is that it made me love a Zelda game the way no other entry in the franchise has.
Where Night in the Woods and Zelda were locked in for a long time, this third entry took me a lot of time to decide on. While I have plenty of great things to say about PUBG and why it’s one of my favorite games this year, I have to give the edge to Super Mario Odyssey. Mario Odyssey isn’t a perfect game, but it’s just so damn charming. In a year where you could look around and have found plenty of reasons to be scared upset or angry, Odyssey was just this beacon of color and positivity that I needed.
Lastly, I’d like to just add one more thing.
2017 has, for lack of a better term, been an interesting year. The games were (mostly) good while a lot of things outside of the industry maybe weren’t as great. With that in mind I’d like to thank everyone for watching our videos and reading the occasional features we put up. You have no idea how much your support means to us.
I hope that 2018 is a better year… like, in general. So Happy New Year everyone. Be good to each other.