The Problem Mildly hung-over at 9:30 in the morning, I was recognized as a Peggle master. A unicorn, a pumpkin, and the other Peggle Guides welcomed me into their fold and my achievement was recognized. It was a unique achievement for me- something I never planned on, never aspired to, and will never proudly proclaim. My girlfriend, fast asleep next to me, had no idea that I was suddenly that much more accomplished. Hopefully, she never will. I wish that I hadnít actually played Peggle.
The problem isnít that I donít have other games. I have lots of other games. The problem is that I have limited time and I donít know where to start. Peggle is easy. Itís there, you can be playing as soon as you activate your device, and you can stop in the middle at the slightest interruption. Itís the perfect unplanned distraction and thatís why my victory was so hollow Ė thereís nothing to Peggle, so finishing the game really rubs in the fact that your life has only been changed by a loss of that time and a dubious mastery.
Some would argue that any time spent playing games is time wasted, but that argument commonly relies on premises like ďgames are worthlessĒ or possibly ďall diversionary activities are worthless.Ē Both arguments seem way too Puritan to take seriously.
That said, there are games that provide a richer experience than others. Games can add to your life by telling stories, cultivating friendships, and more generally being really engaging entertainment. As reviews show, there are lots of games that do that, and, as my collection shows, I own a lot of those games, so why was I playing this casual nonsense?
When you donít have much time, the 20-40 hour game that provides a deeper experience seems daunting. Youíre probably going to have to learn a control scheme, an inventory system, a range of characters, several maps, and pick up pieces of knowledge that are only useful for that game. Even if your NPC companions are yelling ďFire works best on goblins!Ē you need to remember where the map is and how to give a goddamned potion to that glass cannon of a mage that keeps running into the middle of the fray. If I know I have thirty minutes to kill, spending those minutes trying to recall exactly what I was supposed to do with a glowing elixir just donít seem like immediate fun.
What Makes it Worse The problem is made worse by the all too common first world problem of a backlog. Many of us picked up a gaming habit when we had more free time and less disposable income. Even though you may have less time to game now, games are better than ever, cheaper than ever, and you probably have more disposable income. Thus, the backlog Ė that collection of games that got an 80% or more on Metacritic or were recommended by a buddy or scratch a nostalgia list that youíve really been meaning to get around to. So now that youíre confronted with a free thirty minutes, which of those gems do you start up? †
What Hasn't Been Helping You would think that reviews would help. Some of them do, but most of them donít. Thatís not because the reviews are fixed (though some may be), or the grades are meaningless (though they often are), or the reviewers donít have the same tastes as you (though they might) Ė but itís because the reviewers are in a different situation than you. Theyíre paid to review and they can and often must devote hours at a time to playing a game to get the review out on schedule. Their experience of the game will be fundamentally different from yours because they are experiencing the game in a fundamentally different way. So while they can tell you that the game may potentially be an A or 5 stars or 95%, that doesnít matter. Itís like a foodie has told you that you should have lobster for dinner, but youíve got to be out the door in the next thirty seconds. While itís objectively true that lobster tastes better than that stick of pepperoni that you grabbed, the lobster isnít even an option.
What I Propose to Do I need a different review and, if your constraints and backlog is like mine, you may as well. Iím going to try reviewing games from the distracted gamerís perspective. One where the system isnít turned on for weeks at a time, where the most frequent chunk of time available for gaming is thirty minutes and you feel completely overjoyed when youíve got an hour to yourself every other weekend. These reviews will try to help get the most out of that limited time by taking into consideration things like: time needed to get to gameplay, familiarity of control schemes, ease of saving unexpectedly, and the sheer enjoyment you can get out of a small amount of playtime. More importantly, I'm going to be revisiting the good games that you probably have or see on sale in a bargain bin but don't know if you should start. I hope that youíll find it useful.