Thursday, May 30, 2019

Those Endless Days

Sandrian at Aeternus Gaming has a post up entitled "Gaming Irony", in which he observes "I want to game more when I have less time but when I have more time I game less." In all the time I've been playing MMORPGs, twenty years this November, I've never really had that problem - until now.

Over the course of those two decades I've always been employed, although my hours have varied a lot, from "full time" (five days a week, ten hours a day, including travel time) to as little as half that. For the last few years I've been working a steady four-day week. It gives me a good deal of free time but for playing games and writing about them, I've never really felt it was enough.

This year, though, for one reason or another, I've had more time at home than I can remember having for a very long time. Even though I'm back at work now, I'm only working half days and I've already been pencilled out for the entire summer in anticipation of time I may (or may not) need to take off for health reasons.

The thing is, although the cause of my absence from work is serious, I've actually felt pretty well in myself. There's certainly been nothing to stop me playing video games as much as I want for the entire time I've been at home, or writing about them.

It was unfortunate, then, that for wholly unconnected reasons, my interest in Guild Wars 2,  the game I've been playing solidly for the last seven years, hit its lowest ebb at much the same time I found myself with the most time to play. A number of factors influenced my declining enthusiasm but the overriding reason is simple: GW2 bears very little ressemblence these days to the game I rated so highly and enjoyed so much during the years between launch all the way to the release of the second expansion, Path of Fire.

Still, while I was working my regular hours, my decreasing enthusiasm for the game didn't present too much of an issue. It fitted into a routine that suited me. Depending on my start and finish times, which vary by several hours on different days, I'd either do as many of the dailies on my three accounts as I could before going to work in the morning or I'd do them first thing after my evening meal when I got home.

If I did the dailies in the morning I might well not log in again that day. I'd often play EverQuest 2 instead or dabble with various other MMORPGs as the mood took me. If I did the dailies in the evening I'd sometimes get involved in World vs World or some PvE meta and find myself playing GW2 until bedtime.

All the fun you can bear.
 My decision on what to play was also affected by Mrs Bhagpuss's choices. The sad decline of WvW, these days an embarrassing parody of the compulsive, competitive, co-operative game-mode it once was, had already drained much of the limited interest she retained in GW2. She disliked Path of Fire even more than I did, not least because she can't use any of the mounts without getting severe motion sickness.

That problem largely put paid to her completing most of the Living World content, for which mounts are increasingly required, but she'd already lost interest in the story even before the lurching monstrosities appeared. I don't believe she's cared about the increasingly byzantine and ludicrous plot for at least three years, which probably puts her bang, smack in the middle of mainstream opinion on the subject, if public feedback is to be believed.

With my routine disrupted, leaving me free to log in and do my dailies at any old time of day, and Mrs Bhagpuss playing sporadically, then not at all, I found my own desire to play GW2 all but disappeared. Even the dailies ceased to be satisfying slivers of entertainment slotted into a busy schedule. They began to feel like something I was doing because doing them was something I did.

Thankfully, I haven't suffered anything like the same degree of ennui or disillusionment with EQ2. I can still play that game with every bit as much pleasure as I could five or ten years ago. The same, with varying intensity, could be said about any number of other games whose icons sit on my desktop, hoping I'll pick them. Had I fallen out love with GW2 while my work routine remained unchanged there would have been plenty of candidates fit to plug the gap.

Instead I found myself anticipating anything up to six weeks of free time, to be spent at home at home doing nothing too strenuous. Playing video games and writing about it looked like an excellent fit for all those extra free hours.

And so it was, once I realised I needed to find a new game to hold my attention. As I mentioned at the time, I'd been holding one or two MMORPGs in reserve for just such an occasion (although I'd been thinking more in terms of a gaming slump than surgery). I picked Star Wars: The Old Republic and it turned out to be a very good choice because I both enjoyed it much more than I expected and found it to be a great source of material.

We have to talk. We have to talk.

There was just one problem. TOR is a particular kind of game. Try as I might to play it like a regular MMORPG, there's a lot of listening and watching to get through. And, as Sandrian says about a game he's playing, having to watch a lot of cut scenes does take a chunk out of your day.

Which is fine. Passing time is one of the reasons I play MMORPGs in the first place, after all. But all those cut scenes have a curious effect. Not only do they make me more likely to play shorter sessions due to the amount of story I'm expected to consume, they also make me think that if I'm going to sit back and watch, I might as well sit back and watch something better.

As a result, I've made some significant inroads into my unwatched DVD collection these last few weeks and my Amazon Prime account has seen some extra use. I don't think I've watched this many TV shows and movies since I discovered EverQuest back in 1999.

It's not just gaming that's taken a hit. I've also read less these last few weeks than I have for... well, forever. I read two books in the five days I was in hospital but when I came home it took me a whole month to finish the next one I picked up. I can't remember that ever happening before.

Next week I go on holiday. When I come back I might possibly find myself spending the entire summer at home. I can't predict how good or bad I'll be feeling but I'm reasonably sure that for most of the time I'll at least be up to playing video games and writing about them. Whether I'll want to, though, is harder to predict.

One thing I'm interested in evaluating is how much of my slight disconnection from gaming derives from the lack of a fixed routine, how much from having a lot more available time to play and how much from a dearth of compelling, fresh content.

Can I be blue for you?
I do suspect the lack of really exciting new MMORPGs to try has more to do with it than anything. Playing old favorites works very well for me when I have both limited playtime and the need for something relaxing to do. Not so much, it seems, when the days stretch out ahead and I'm eager for something interesting to fill them.

 I've long been of the opinion that novelty is overrated but circumstances change. Right now I could use something that feels both familiar and new. I would be willing to bet a significant amount of money that, should Brad McQuaid's Pantheon go into some kind of early access alpha this summer (at a more reasonable buy-in than the current $1000), I'd suddenly find there weren't enough hours in the day.

Whether World of Warcraft Classic can fill that bill I'm not sure. I know WoW well enough for it to count as familiar and I never played Vanilla so maybe that qualifies as novel. It seems very likely I'll be finding out, come the time. I'm not sure there's all that much on the horizon for the summer, so why not?

In the meantime I'll just keep on as I am. I'm not even sure I'm playing all that much less than would be if I was workng regular hours. It's more that I'm not using the extra time I have to play more. That has surprised me, a little.

If I don't play as much I have less to blog about, which is another irony, because, of course, I have a lot more time to spend on writing. One thing I'm considering is expanding the range of topics I write about here. I've been very strict about this being an MMORPG blog but I have quite a few other interests I'd like to mouth off about now and then. I've often considered starting another blog or two to cover them but Wilhelm's excellent post on Catch 22 the other day made me think I might just feed the odd non-MMO post in here, once in a while.

We shall see. I'll think about it in the weeks after I get back from Spain, when I find out how the next phase of treatment takes me. For now, though, it will be business as usual, which means I'd better get on and play some MMORPGs so I have something to write about!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide