When reading about or watching games is more fun than actually playing them

I really like to watch Overwatch tournaments. I’m currently catching up on Season 1 of Blizzard’s Overwatch League. It’s a hell of a lot of matches, and I watch at least one or two maps every day.

I don’t play the game myself anymore though. I gave it another chance after a long break a couple of weeks ago, but was instantly reminded of why I just can’t play it and stay sane. So I keep my hands off it and just watch others play.

How is it possible to have that much fun watching others play a game that’s not fun to play yourself?

To give credit where it’s due, Blizzard does a fantastic job with those presentations. The tools they’ve implemented for good camera angles, slo-mo replays, bird’s eye perspective etc. provide an excellent and entertaining viewing experience. They also have a great pool of casters who commentate the matches in pairs and do a stellar job at it (my favourites are Monte and DoA). I wouldn’t just watch some guy play the game on Youtube or Twitch, but this is highly professional e-sports broadcasting.

Overwatch League

I don’t think I’d have this much fun watching if I had never played the game myself though. The fact that I know the heroes, what they can and can’t do and how they complement each other makes it easier to follow what’s happening despite the breakneck speed, and theorizing why this hero was picked over that one adds another layer of excitement. But I guess you can learn all of that just by watching attentively for a while.

Still the question remains why I can’t play the game without instantly becoming the Hulk, yet watching others is so much fun.

EVE Online is a game that poses a similar conundrum for many people. They love to read about events that happened there, yet give up after a short while when they try playing it because they find it to be too complex and/or boring.

While I’ve never given up on EVE myself I can still totally relate to that. I know from experience that reading Wilhelm’s chronicles of big fights, for example, is indeed more fun than participating in such fights myself most of the time. At the very least it’s much, much faster.

EVE Supers
Looks like epic fun, but might well have felt like walking through molasses for a whole day

I guess what both cases have in common is also the answer to my question. Just watching or reading about these games lets you experience the great and fun aspects while sparing you the frustrating or boring parts.

For a long time I couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that enjoying a game doesn’t necessarily require to actually play it. Whenever I had fun watching an Overwatch match I immediately thought ‘I really need to play myself again’. No, actually I don’t.

It’s a pity that I can’t enjoy playing Overwatch, but I think I’ve made my peace with that now. Instead of sulking and fretting about it I prefer to just be glad that there is, in fact, a way for me to still enjoy the game.

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Memorable vs always fun gameplay

The other day Tyler contemplated about what kind of games are worth playing, and which one’s are more or less a waste of precious time to him. It’s an interesting read. He concludes that, while it’s all fine and dandy as long as you’re having fun, the most important aspect to him is if the game creates good memories. My first reaction to it was ‘Exactly, mate!’.

He cites Heroes of the Storm as an example for games that are fun to play, yet don’t leave lasting memories or feelings, making the time spent playing them meaningless to him in the grand scheme of things.

When I look back at all the games I’ve played I too hold those most dear that left me with lasting memories of thrilling or hilarious adventures. I even have a couple of posts in draft stage that will share some of those.

ArcheAge Adventure1
Just a little teaser, stay tuned

It’s no surprise then that I always gravitated towards games that offer much freedom, because that makes memorable stuff to happen more likely. It’s the reason why I still keep coming back to EVE after almost 13 years, and why I am more interested in sandbox style games in general.

But: everything has two sides. Thinking about this made me realize that the games I have the fondest memories of were also the ones with the highest percentage of downtime. By downtime I mean either doing a lot of extremely boring stuff, or even waiting for something to happen and essentially doing nothing.

EVE, for example, can be like that to the extreme. First you grind pretty boring missions or combat sites for hours on end to earn enough funds for your PvP ships, then you participate in fleet ops that take three hours or longer and there’s not even a single hostile ship to shoot. It’s not always like this of course, and when it’s not it can be very awesome. Unfortunately the ratio of boringtime to awesometime has always been pretty bad for me, at least until we joined Holy Cookie.

EVE_POSrep
Slowly repairing a station’s shield with no enemy in sight

On the other hand you have those games with pretty fixed gameplay loops, like HotS in Tyler’s case or Path of Exile and Overwatch in mine, which do let you experience cool moments but don’t really leave lasting memories or feelings. If you hear me telling a ‘That one time at bandcamp…’-story chances are it will be about EVE, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Black Desert or ArcheAge. Maybe Everquest II. PoE, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Destiny 2…probably not so much.

What the latter games don’t have, though, is the aforementioned downtime. At all. You log in…and play. And play. And play some more. Until you log out again. It might always be pretty much the same and therefore not give me those coveted memories I want to blog or tell my buddies about, but if the gameplay is fun to me, it’s fun all the time and not just a small percentage of the time with a lot of boring in between.

PathOfExile 2015-03-22 14-26-35-508
If this doesn’t look like fun I don’t know what does

Now, what to do with these insights? I guess I’ll just continue to play whatever I feel like at any given moment, until that one game finally comes along that has the potential for the most memorable experiences while omitting all kinds of boring gameplay and downtime.

One can dream, right?

My blog’s first birthday

Yeah, I missed it by a couple of days. Oops. 🙂

birthday cake 1
Have a piece of cake anyway

On June 6th 2017 I wrote my first (and second) blog post(s). I had been reading fellow gamer’s blogs for quite a while and been thinking about writing myself more than once, but never got around to it until then.

I didn’t have a specific plan in mind, just that I wanted to write about things that interest me and occupy my thoughts. My target audience: myself, first and foremost. As I said in my first post, I want to capture and hold on to events that delighted, fascinated or just amused me. If anyone happens to stumble upon my musings and finds reading them worthwhile I’m all the happier of course.

The first year yielded 34 entries, almost one entry every ten days on average. This is of course much, much less than most bloggers produce. The main reason for that is my pretty high personal threshold for what’s interesting enough to be written about. While I like to read about fairly mundane things (if it’s done in an appealing way) I very often deem stuff that happens to myself not worthy to write down. I just can’t imagine myself or anyone else being interested in reading about how I did my dailies in Path of Exile for the umpteenth time or that yesterday’s EVE Online fleet went largely uneventful. But maybe I’m just not as capable an author as the good folks whose blogs I always like to read, no matter the contents.

If I do write about something I usually use a lot words though. If WordPress offers a total wordcount of all posts combined I can’t find it, but I’d estimate that I wrote about 800 – 900 words per entry on average, which would sum up to about 29.000 words. That’s not as much as it sounds (an average novel clocks in somewhere between 50k and 100k), but if you had asked me 15 months ago if I’d be willing to blog almost 30k words within a year I would probably have declined politely but decisively.

It seems that I don’t want to talk about stuff very often, but when I do want to talk I like to be thorough (Lakisa would probably use the word ‘exhaustive’).

Unsurprisingly the majority of posts were about the games I played. 13 were at least in part about EVE Online, 10 about Black Desert Online, 4 about Overwatch and 2 about Path of Exile, which more or less reflects the time I spent playing these games during that year. 8 were about broader gaming topics like player-made music, randomness or toxicity in multiplayer environments. I haven’t talked much about non-gaming topics at all yet, but maybe I’ll get to that during this second year.

I’m really glad to have started this blog. Writing is a lot of fun, lets me practice my English and, most importantly, preserves events and experiences I might forget about otherwise. A big Thank You to all bloggers who inspired me to do this, to Lakisa for reading it all and encouraging me, and to everyone who also takes the time to read it. Cheers!

Gaming resolutions for 2018

Normally I don’t make resolutions because I know from experience that I do what I want to do and don’t what I don’t anyway.

Or so I believed for a long time. From late 2016 to mid-2017 I went through a tough stretch in my life that made me revaluate a lot of what I do. Thinking about it in earnest I had to realize that I actually do things that I don’t really want or like to do fairly regularly, especially in gaming.

I’m not a hardcore achiever when playing games. I never chased after world firsts or top ladder spots etc. But I too set goals for myself. During 2017 some of those were reaching a certain rank in competitive Overwatch every season I played, getting the first Relic Weapon with my Warrior in FFXIV and getting my 1000th registered kill in EVE Online.

Of those three I achieved the second and the third. Did I have fun while working towards those goals though?

In EVE, yes. I didn’t try to force anything here, I attended to fleets (which are fun) regularly and the kills just happened.

Still 10% snuggly, am I? Say that again when you’re at the business end of my rocket launchers!

The other two? Hell no.

Getting a Relic in FFXIV is pure grinding. Finally getting it was great and all, even checking off some of the intermediate steps felt like nice little achievements. But it wasn’t actually fun to do. To be honest, some stretches were soulcrushingly boring and repetitive. I didn’t stop though. I’ve come this far, I really want that Axe, yada yada.

Worth it? Debatable…

I already talked at length about Overwatch. It’s still a great game, but I still can’t stand losing matches and losing rank. Trying to reach my goal there had me screaming in rage at my monitor more than once, which can’t be healthy.

So here’s my gaming resolution for 2018:

Don’t continue doing things long after they have ceased to be fun!

I have set myself no specific goals whatsoever for Black Desert up to now, and I’ll try to keep it that way. The same goes for EVE. Just playing and having fun feels really great. And isn’t this what games are supposed to be all about anyway?

A happy and healthy year 2018 to everyone!

My multiplayer malaise

Since I started playing and got addicted to Ultima Online in 2001 I have almost exclusively played multiplayer games.

The reasons are manifold. It’s not that I always play in a group, far from it. But even when playing alone, being in a world inhabited by other players gives everything I do a far greater sense of realism. When I craft, not only can I use the item myself, I can also sell it to someone else. When I am too lazy to go out and gather crafting mats myself, I can buy them instead. And yes, I too am not immune to feeling a sense of pride when I achieve something not everybody achieves, and being able to show it off by riding a special mount or wearing a special title or somesuch.

I also like that there’s no ending in multiplayer games. To be honest, I’ve become reluctant to invest dozens or even hundreds of hours into a game that I know will go “that’s it, you’re finished, now go and play something else” at some point. I feel that everything I achieve while playing the game will just go poof when I reach that point.

As of late, though, I withdraw from all kinds of multiplayer activity more and more. I hardly ever play Overwatch anymore, I have cancelled my FFXIV subscription. At the moment I mainly play Uncharted: The Lost Legacy on PS4, GTA V (just the story mode) and Path of Exile (always alone except for the occasional trade) on PC.

Why the change of mind?

It’s actually rather simple. During the last year or so, the vast majority of encounters with other players I had (EVE Online being the exception, believe it or not) were…bad. Just bad.

There’s been much talk about toxicity in all of online gaming lately. MOBAs and Shooters like Overwatch seem to be the worst offenders, but they’re not the only ones, as I had to find out.

When Lakisa and I were playing the Main Story in FFXIV sometime in August we reached a point, as you regularly do in this game, where we had to do a dungeon to progress further. And I absolutely did not want to. The last dungeons we had done had been utterly stressful and unfun experiences, and I just didn’t want any more of that. The group finder does a solid job in getting you together with folks playing the right roles relatively quickly. What it can’t do, though, is get you together with people who are relaxed and fun to play with. And this kind of human being seems to pretty much not exist anymore in that game. Everyone is go go go, pull now, pull everything, faster, faster, all while standing kneedeep in bad stuff all the time. I’m telling you, I refuse tanking or healing for anyone I don’t know from now on.

Unfortunately this pretty much killed my enthusiasm for that game altogether, so we are taking a break.

There’s a whole bunch of multiplayer-centric games launching before the end of the year that I’d normally be very interested in. I’ll pass on most of them.

There’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Lootcrate shenanigans aside (they’re bad though, reason enough to not buy it to be honest) this looks pretty awesome. The ‘I’m right in the middle of the battle of Endor’-feeling of the first game was tremendous. It wasn’t perfect, but they seem to have taken a lot of fan feedback to heart and improved part two a great deal. The story campaign isn’t enough reason for me to buy it though, and I just don’t want to play the multiplayer right now.

Call of Duty is returning to World War II. I haven’t played a CoD since Black Ops 1, but this one looks pretty interesting. Still, not buying it.

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is all the rage and makes all the money right now. It sure looks fun and interesting. Won’t be playing it.

The one I’m really looking forward to and that I’m actually gonna buy is Destiny 2 for PC. I haven’t played the first one because I don’t like to play shooter mechanics on console. But I’m pretty sure I would have liked it, and the sequel seems to be, while not very innovative, a straight upgrade on all fronts. The most important thing: I can and will only play it either alone, or together with a couple RL friends that are also buying it. The enemies’ AI might not be great, but at least it won’t make me ragequit the game with it’s antisocial behaviour.

No play with and/or against strangers for me anymore, no Sir. For now anyway.

The return of Deathmatch

In his latest developer update Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch’s Game Director and pretty much Blizzard’s ‘Face of Overwatch’, announced that Deathmatch is coming to Overwatch.

The announcement was a pretty big surprise for most, since Jeff had stated previously that they don’t want a Deathmatch mode in Overwatch. Even more unexpected though was my reaction to it: I’m totally hyped!

I haven’t played a round of Team Deathmatch since Modern Warfare 2, so about 2010. I can’t even remember which game I played my last round of Free-For-All Deathmatch in. Probably Unreal Tournament (the first one, aka UT99 or Classic UT), so somewhere around 2002. I can’t say that I missed it much. Or rather, I wasn’t aware that I missed it.

I’ve written about how much Overwatch’s gameplay tends to frustrate me, how furious I become when things don’t go my way. My joy over the announcement made me think about what’s important to me when playing games today compared to what was important to me in the past.

When I say I didn’t miss FFA Deathmatch, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. Now that I think about it, I actually had the most multiplayer-shooter-fun in Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, Quake, UT and the like, playing FFA Deathmatch. It wasn’t really about winning or losing. Sure, there was a scoreboard and at the end of a round someone was declared winner, but we didn’t care too much about that. We cared about that one time when Player A walked right into the proximity detonators set by Player B and got exploded 50 yards into the air, or the spectacular fadeaway jump-headshot Player C killed Player D with, only to get shotgun-blasted unceremoniously in the back by Player E right afterward.

In more modern shooters the rather simple fun of frantically running around and fragging each other has been largely replaced by more or less complex team objectives, and, above all, diverse means of progression. Just having fun doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. There are duties to fulfill, achievements to accomplish, ladders to climb, levels to gain and knickknacks to unlock.

All these things work. They motivate people, make them spend more time with (and money for) the game. If they didn’t, the focus of game development wouldn’t have shifted so dramatically to stuff like this in the past 10 years or so.

Call of Duty 4 (aka Modern Warfare) blew everyone’s minds in 2007 not only because of it’s single player campaign basically being a playable Michael Bay movie. It’s multiplayer progression system worked so well and was so addictive that it set a new genre standard pretty much overnight. Since then, almost every game in almost every genre has to have progression systems, ladders for players to climb, hoops for players to jump through.

Somehow, along the way, the gameplay itself seems to have become almost an afterthought. I’m not saying that most modern games have bad gameplay. But it sure seems to be very important now that I become hooked and busy for as long as possible. Having fun while being busy is kind of a bonus, but not necessarily required.

That’s why I’m really excited about Deathmatch coming to Overwatch. I hope it will bring back some of the good old, relaxed and carefree fun that I remember from so long ago.

I love and hate Overwatch

When Blizzard announced Overwatch my first reaction was a resounding “meh”.

Not that I don’t like team based shooters, quite the contrary. I even was in an Unreal Tournament clan for a while (back when 2k4 was the current title of the series).

I still like to play shooters. I just like to play other genres even more now, I guess. The last shooter I played quite extensively had been Modern Warfare 2.

There’s also Blizzard’s affinity for comic style graphics, which I’m not fond of in general. I refused to try out Diablo 3 because of that, although I had played 1 and 2 excessively and love them to this day. I never tried WoW either, despite my penchant for MMORPGs. I’m not a sucker for high end graphics per se; if the gameplay is good I don’t mind if it’s engine looks like it’s 15 years old. It’s just this overly stylized look I’m not into.

A few weeks after Overwatch’s release a couple of friends tried to talk us into playing it with them. They told us about some of the more unusual characters, which piqued Lakisa’s interest, because she doesn’t normally play shooters at all. I still wasn’t convinced though.

Then I saw an article about the game, and the headline picture was one of Reaper.

overwatch-reaper-header
I can’t find the article anymore, but it might have been this picture. Doesn’t really matter, he always looks badass.

“I HAVE to play this character” my inner self screamed. To be sure I looked up some info about how he actually plays. Suffice to say he plays as badass as he looks, so I said to Lakisa “You know what, let’s buy Overwatch”.

It really is a great game. It’s incredibly polished, as is everything Blizzard does, and the attention to detail is nothing short of amazing.

For what is essentially nothing but a 6 vs 6 lobby shooter, the world and the characters are fleshed out in finest detail. Having played on and off for about a year now I know these characters and locations as well as those of TV shows running for eight or more seasons.

Granted, much of the lore and backstory comes from out-of-game sources Blizz has created, like these incredible animated shorts made to introduce some of the characters, or these comics for additional stories in the Overwatch universe. But much of this also seeps into the game, like voicelines the characters say to each other automatically when they meet, or little details like the arrow Hanzo shoots at Genji in the “Dragons” animated short still sticking in the ground at that exact spot in Hanamura. Blizzard’s attention to detail is really second to none in my opinion.

It also plays really well, obviously. And much to my amazement, I’ve come to really like the stylized look, so much so that I wouldn’t have it any other way now.

We’re also having a lot of fun watching pro tournaments. It’s very interesting to see players on such a high level play the game, and the commentary is usually pretty good and entertaining.

For all these things, I love Overwatch. But I also really hate it.

For me, playing in a competitive environment means playing to win. I just can’t help it. Intellectually I know that playing a game is (or should be) first and foremost about having fun. And I do play to have fun. It’s just that having fun in this type of game means fighting as best as I can, and hopefully winning.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a sore loser. Naturally, some might disagree. I’m just saying that I can enjoy myself despite losing, as long as I and everyone in my team gave my and their best, and we had a good fight.

A loss in Overwatch seldom feels like that to me. Most of the time when my team loses, I feel that either myself, or (more often) people in my team were too ‘stupid’ to win, for lack of a better word. I feel that not eveyone picked the best hero for the situation, not everyone played their picked hero to his/her potential, the hero of a very strong player in the enemy’s team wasn’t properly countered, and so on and so forth. It frustrates me to no end. More than any other game has ever managed to frustrate me.

Should I stop playing then? Probably. It’s just that I love everything about the game so much. I’m even thinking about doing something I’ve never done before: buying an outfit from a pro cosplay manufacturer, and going to a con or tournament dressed as, of course, Reaper. I’m trying to convince Lakisa that she needs a Mercy outfit to match. 🙂

So. What to do when everything about a game is much more fun than playing the actual game itself? I’ve never had this problem before (and yes, I do realize it’s very much a first world problem). If I figure out the answer, I’ll let you know.