You still have time to play video games? I get that question a lot these days. I pride myself on being a game journalist who plays games. But I understand why people feel like they’re too busy to play games through to completion. Many days, I don’t have enough time to play.
Take Wednesday night, for example. I put the last touches on my stories for the next day. And by the end of Thursday, I had published 14 stories. That represents a lot of labor. How much? In my newspaper days, we rarely did more than 14 stories in a week. On Wednesday and Thursday, I only had time to play Clash Royale and Pokémon Go on my iPhone. Like many people, I only had the time for gaming snacks. I run into a lot of people in the game industry who feel guilty or ashamed about the amount of time they do, or do not, put into playing games. And I know a lot of parents who worry about much time their kids put into games. I suppose we put a lot of time into worrying about time, as we can’t get it back.
I’ve had a good run of completing games in recent weeks. I played through Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, twice. That was a good 40 hours. Abzu, on the other hand, lasted for just a couple of hours. It was a nice snack in between some huge dinners. I went on to play Gears of War 4 for nine hours. Then I moved right into Mafia III, a 35-hour game. Since 2K gave me the code shortly before the launch, I didn’t get my review of the game up for more than a week after the game launched. Then I moved right into the relatively short eight-hour campaign for Battlefield 1, and I was sad that I didn’t have many hours to spare for the outstanding multiplayer. Then I jumped right into Titanfall 2‘s 10-hour single-player campaign. This week, it’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. You could call this dedication on my part. I feel like I’ve reached the end of a forced march, a burden forced on me by my own completionist tendencies.
I think that game developers and publishers should be acutely aware of these kinds of play patterns, and how complex our lives have become. It’s so hard to carve out the time that I put into this string of games. On a few nights, when I was powering through some of the games, I had to stay up all night. And at my age, all-nighters aren’t all that easy to do, as I pay for them with exhaustion for days afterward. I can’t do that so much anymore. I feel there are parents out there who are judging me, that I must be an awful father because I play for so many hours. I understand that time is precious.
I was quite upset with 2K when they sent me Mafia III so late, considering how long that game was. But I understand their reasons for doing so. I can’t, however, fathom why Electronic Arts and Activision didn’t reach some agreement on when to launch the top three shooters of the year. Sure, they can’t collude as businesses. But surely they should have know that launching Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare over three consecutive weeks was a really bad idea.
It is possible to get the single-player campaigns of those games done in three weeks, especially for dedicated hardcore gamers. But I like to level up through the entire multiplayer ladder, playing the shooter games until I’ve hit the top level. Since that process usually takes weeks, I now have to choose which one of these games I’m going to play for an extended amount of time on multiplayer. Other gamers are going to have to make the same choice, and two out of three of these games are going to suffer as a result. That’s just a case of the game publishers shooting themselves in the foot. It makes me mad, and I think those publishers owe us some kind of apology. But there’s not that much harm. I suppose I could eventually level up in all three games in the coming weeks.
For this season’s string of console games, I put in more than 115 hours of gameplay. I also put a lot of hours into various virtual reality games. I don’t regret any of that time. Yet I also have my shelf of shame. Tom Russo, a gamer friend of mine, told me he put more 200 hours into playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I have to confess that I played it for just a couple of hours. (I have, however, watched a lot of videos of people doing silly things in Skyrim). Based on my own tastes, I rarely get a chance to play and finish role-playing games or massively multiplayer online games, so I don’t even start them. At GamesBeat, we’re lucky to have writers and freelancers with a variety of tastes, so we can provide reviews to satisfy a larger spectrum of readers.
When the job of writing news or stories about the business of games gets hectic, I am always tempted to stop playing games. But ultimately, I believe that will make me less useful to readers. What use is a game journalist who doesn’t finish games? Once in a while, I calculate all the things I could have done if I didn’t play. I could have written a book or two, for sure. But they would have been boring books, written by someone who dearly needed some kind of gaming break.
Last year, I played the real-time strategy game Total War: Attila for maybe 400 hours, or so my Steam timer told me. For a game reviewer, that was kind of nuts, and it was a rare thing for me. When I did that, I deliberately took myself out of the rotation for reviewing a lot of games. I just played what I wanted to play. It was liberating, and I didn’t really pay that much attention to the hours I was putting in. This year, I felt like I wanted to throw myself into the new games. Mostly, that meant playing Triple-A games rather than sleeper indie titles.
My mobile gaming friends asked why I would put so much time into console games. My virtual reality friends felt like I should be playing nothing but VR because that represented the future. But I feel that the titles like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End were highest form of the art. I can’t call myself a critic and a games journalist without playing some of the best experiences available. Rather than cover a single segment of games, like mobile or VR, I feel that I should be familiar with the full spectrum of games.
I also appreciate new ways to experience games, like Twitch or YouTube, where I can be a spectator just to educate myself about games that I should know about but just don’t have time to play. By watching the streams or game videos, I can appreciate and learn about a much wider array of titles that I can’t find the time to finish.
I’m not wed to a single platform. Games find their way onto every new platform. And I follow games wherever they go. It’s what I love to do. Some people unplug totally when they want to relax. I play games for a living and for fun.
And while I’ve carefully counted the hours I’ve played for console games, I can’t even begin to figure out how much I play while on the run. If you added up all of the time that I’ve played Clash Royale and Pokémon Go this year, I’m sure it would add up to more than the time I’ve put into the console games. But I’m here to say that whatever works for you is fine. You shouldn’t feel obligated to play games or worry about which games to play. It’s not like being an English major where you have to worry about reading the right stack of books. You should play games if you think they’re fun. Game developers and publishers should respect the time that you have and carefully decide how much of your time to take. You should be aware of the time you put into games, as it says a lot about you. But I don’t think any of us has to apologize for putting so much time into something that we love.