The Importance of Standing Still

The games industry moves at a ridiculous pace. No sooner has generic sequel three hundred and twenty two been announced, and suddenly the latest console rumours are flying, another developer has closed, and before you know it there’s yet another upgrade for your PC. With all the titles being hurled at video gamers these days, and the variety that we as gamers are spoiled with, it’s not surprising that we want to play as many of them as possible. Only the most devoted and hardcore of gamers get to play all the biggest releases, especially if you split your time between different platforms and series.  This is made all the more difficult with the growing size of games generally.

It’s less about re-playability, and more about having a world that you never actually see the end of these days. I know this isn’t true for all games. Some genres don’t cater for a huge world and for others it would impact the game in a negative way. However for some big developers, small games are a thing of the past. Open worlds, sandbox games, call them what you will – they’re here to stay. If done properly, they’re a winner every time and even those that aren’t amazing tend to do fairly well in the long run. Both Infamous and Prototype will be fortunate enough to have sequels, despite being average games, yet any potential Alan Wake (a non sandbox game) future remained questionable for some time despite being a fantastic game.

Why? Is it because I wouldn't go for the purple dildo?

The majority of triple-A titles today have both a single and mutiplayer aspect, which I feel I must play if I’ve spent my stolen (read: hard earned) dabloons on it. It’s worth considering that many games are growing in terms of actual game worlds. Linear corridor shooters are very much a thing of the past, unless they are combined with a captivating story. Even id Software, famous for the Doom series which is the quintessential corridor shooter, have moved into more open grounds with the recent release of Rage. So we’ve got more games with the sandbox, open world settings and those very play-pens, those virtual universes, just keep getting bigger on an individual basis.

So we sit down and rush. We speed through these games without a second thought, desperate to see what it has to offer; we do what the rest of the internet is doing – get the achievements and all in time for next week’s release. Some people aren’t so lucky though. Life gets in the way. You have to work, eat, and maybe sleep. A severely pissed off person who used to resemble the individual you were having regular sex with is saying something about “Using up your last fucking chance monkey boy” and then BOOM, it’s next week and fuck it! You’ve not finished the game. You’re behind. Son of a biscuit. Quick! Call in sick at work! Pull an all-nighter! Bollocks. Even then it’s too late; you’re trading in ‘Generic Title III’ for ‘Generic Title IV’ the next day and you’ve not even had a chance to see the ending. It doesn’t matter though, because three’s now old hat and four’s where the action is! This is a sad fucking existence.

Developers don’t need to worry about you having a second go because, chances are, you won’t see the end of the first play-through. You may wonder who these people are that aren’t finishing the games they buy and to a non gamer this very notion sounds insane. People buy clothes and wear them. They buy music and listen to it. They purchase films and watch them. Surely it’s the same for games? Not in the slightest. Actually it’s the total fucking opposite. Games can have an average lifespan of anything from six, to more than a hundred hours. That’s anything between a quarter of a day and at least five full days. So it’s no surprise that a good portion of people have a “MUST PLAY” pile taller and more unstable than The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Now, where the hell did I park the plane?

I’m still playing through Elder Scrolls: Oblivion for god’s sake; that’s a mixture of getting sidetracked with other games, save-file losses, and life in general. The fact I’m still trying to complete a game from 2006 really begs the question: “How can I justify buying its sequel?” The truth is that I can’t. I just spend the money on a new game, and its predecessor remains unfinished. The actual truth though, is that I shouldn’t – if I’m buying games just so I can have the latest one then the reason I started playing games got lost along the way some time ago. Thankfully, that’s not the case; my last purchase was Uncharted 3 and prior to that it was Dead Island (what a fucking mistake that was). So in comparison to the number of releases in between, I’ve not really bought that much. To be honest though, this isn’t about the lack of time we all have. It’s what we should be doing with those in-game moments that we do have. It’s because, while still trawling through Oblivion, I realised something.

As games move to a more open world setting, the days and weeks we spend traversing them grow, and combined with this need to play everything that comes out through fear of playing something that isn’t current, cool or “what everyone’s playing” leads us to rush through these experiences. We play the game, but do we really absorb it? These huge worlds, full of lush environments, intimate fauna, teeming with possibilities and experiences; there are a myriad of side quests, random occurrences, people to talk to, things to see. We charge from objective to objective, searching these worlds for the bare minimum in order to get to the next big thing, and totally miss the point of it all.

This world and its inhabitants have been created for our viewing and playing pleasure; the effort and detail that goes into some games is phenomenal. At the time of writing, I’ve not played Skyrim but I can only hope that the entire internet is playing some practical joke on me when saying it’s awesome, yet some people will charge through it. They’ll bounce from quest to quest doing what’s required of them as set out by each person they come across. Even random exploration takes them into caves, castles and coves searching for the best loot and treasure. Players of Far Cry 2 drive from station to station, searching for weapons, dodging bullets and completing various missions. Gamers familiar with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. will remember times of Russians playing guitars, dodging various creatures and enemy patrols. We’re still missing the point though.

Have you ever just stopped? I mean literally stopped in-game and just looked around. It’s beautiful. You’ve got a living, breathing world at your finger tips. Yes there’s one outside of the virtual world but you can’t interact with that in the way you can a game, nor can you hit the reload button if you stab the wrong guy or sleep with the wrong person. Just stop and look; survey and admire. Don’t think about the next objective, or wonder what’s around the corner – just get into a nice position and take a gander at the view. This won’t work for all games. People playing Superman 64 are now committing suicide because it’s got the graphical appeal of the circus midget and the bearded lady having sex. Let’s be honest though, if they’re playing that piece of shit they were probably beyond any help you or I could provide. For certain games though. It will work incredibly well.

So I implore you – load up Skyrim, reinstall Far Cry 2, dust off that copy of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.; get in the game, find a spot on a high ledge and just look out into the world that has been created for you to soak in. Don’t rush to save the world, find some diamonds or kill that guy for a can of beans.. just sit.  Sit and watch the day become night, the zebra in the shade of the tree, and the vibrant fluctuations of the local denizens. Take it all in, and appreciate the medium that has become faster and bigger than anyone could of predicted.




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5 Comments

  1. Stu says:

    Although Rage was by no shadow of a doubt the worst game I purchased last year as a ‘day one’ purchase, I couldn’t ever knock the visual beauty of the game. I totally agree, sometimes I do find myself burning through campaigns oblivious to the surroundings that someone somewhere has gone to great pains to make look stunning.

    There are some games though that just smack you in the face with sexy graphics before you even start playing. Borderlands was the first game in that gorgeous pseudo-reality cartoon cell-shaded style I’d played since XIII and it immediately jumped out at me. Similarly when I looked up in Rage and saw the clouds I did so with an intake of breath…they looked amazing.

    That said, someone the other day was talking about games that had snow-based levels…the obvious ones came to mind like MW2, Skyrim, etc but after a few I began to get really stuck. Despite Borderlands having some snowy final stages I totally blanked it, and reading this I’m glad I’m not the only one that doesn’t always fully take in the surroundings…mind you when knee-deep in psycho midgets weilding shotguns there isn’t much time to do so…but still, I feel guilty.

    The next game I play I will make myself take it slower, enjoy it more and drink in the virtual world someone very kindly designed for me.

  2. SimonJK says:

    I understand where you are coming from, Chris, but I have learned from my decades of gaming to stop and smell the roses and milk every minute out of each game I purchase as I never know when another game will come out that fills the void created by playing so many great games in the past, I have even more recently rebought some of my favourites for the current console to keep aside for the days of barren releases. Admittingly Open World is my favourite genre and not just RPGs, I just love to play a game and go where I want, when I want and do whatever taking every bit of scenery and weaponary along the way, if a game doesn’t give me play time in the hundreds of hours I really do feel cheated – and in the case of Borderlands I clocked up over thousand hours. Unfortunately more recently game releases seem to almost be calculated in the amount of playable time inline with the next release. I tend to avoid the obvious and hold on to the favoured whilst playing one or two games at a time till overcompletion.

  3. MarkuzR says:

    You know what’s funny…? When I was playing Oblivion, although I can’t remember whether it was the Xbox or PC version, I ended up coming to a valley which had a high waterfall and I spent ages just wandering around in an area of no more than 20x20ft to see how beautiful I could get it to look. I created a save point to show Lorna, and when I pulled it back up a day or so later to let her see it, she’s like “ooh there’s a chest” and I hadn’t even seen it. So not only had Bethesda created an incredible piece of landscape which, by sheer coincidence, was visited by me at sunset… but they’d even dropped a chest there as some sort of reward for anyone who happened across their oasis of perfection.

    Same thing in Risen really, where I found this stream that was rolling down a stepped area downhill, but the light bouncing off the water was just incredible and the little Nautilus creatures were scuttling around my feet. I waited for ages, just looking around at the beauty.

    The (sad) thing is that I’m’ the polar opposite of the people you describe in this article. I’m the guy who spends 200+ hours in-game and barely does anything because he’s just wandering around looking at the world in awe. When I was reviewing Skyrim, I went a bit mental with the F12 key on Steam and ended up taking THOUSANDS of screen caps. Some were for the purposes of the review so there was context relevance, of course, but mostly it was just caused by “fuck me that’s gorgeous” moments. In fact, as mundane as it may seem to most, this is my favourite screen cap from Skyrim…

    http://www.gaminglives.com/wp-content/uploads/skyrim_3_gall02_enlrg.jpg

    So yeah, I’m that guy who meanders around the world soaking everything in and spending so much time in awestruck silence that I forget all about the questing and killing. I still say that, regardless of how many glitches they tend to produce, Bethesda are the kings when it comes to in-game detail and creating sights that will leave you speechless.

    Your best yet.

  4. Chris-Toffer says:

    I originally wrote this as a very small 300-500 word piece for a job interview. I found it a couple of months later and really decided to expand on it because I liked the concept. I found myself looking around these worlds and though it was something of a really missed opportunity, not to enjoy them.

    Mark; that screen shot is awesome. I should try and best it!

  5. Edward says:

    I love this article, and I think I may love you.
    Okay, definitely no to the latter, but this is a brilliant article Chris, and you should be proud of yourself :D

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