Most of the time when I sit down to play, I do so with the thought that I’m going to play a single game for some amount of time. Frankly, usually I end up playing a bit longer than I mean to, but that is neither here nor there.
I sit down to play games for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I’m excited to experience something new. Other times, I want to go back to great old game and experience the familiar warmth of its story or characters; after all, old games are like old friends, you have to go visit them every once and a while. Or maybe I’m going to
suffer through play a game that I don’t particularly like, but that my friends love (I’m looking at you, DotA [I only play because of the excellent Basshunter song about it]), and I’m in the mood for blowing stuff up as a team.
Anyway, the point is that I don’t like to feel like I’m wasting time when I play games. At least, not most of the time. I rarely feel like I am playing something for the sake of playing something because I don’t have anything better to do.
Gaming Elitism Incoming
This is part of the reason why I’ve always had an aversion to many mobile and social games: they seem much more like time and money sinks than anything else. I feel like modern PC games that I play don’t fall into this trap. Limbo has amazing art, music, and atmosphere. In Minecraft the player is invited to flex their imagination muscle and build the world around them. In Mass Effect, the player must make difficult choices which have long lasting effects on characters and the plot (well, most of the decisions do). While I understand that there is a market for pick up and play games, that’s never been what interests me: I am looking for an active connection to the game on both an intellectual and emotional level.
But… sometimes that doesn’t matter. And then there are games that I play simply because, well, they are a great way to unwind. Space Marine is a great example of such a game.
Guilty Pleasure Gaming
Space Marine is an third-person action game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The single-player is short and highly scripted, the characters are for the most part forgettable, the voice acting is passable, the plot is predictable, the game design suffers from being an obvious console port, the gun play isn’t great, the multiplayer modes are ho-hum and the controls are awkward. I wrote up a post about the multiplayer last year.
All of that said, it has been a guilty pleasure of mine and I’ve put over 200 hours into the game since it came out.
Every time I think about this, I can’t really understand it. While I’ve played through the campaign a few times, most of my time has been spent on the multiplayer. The game is decent; it’s a fine third-person shooter. But I can’t name another third-person shooter that I like. I like that you can customize your multiplayer appearance (I typically roll with the My Little Pwnies chapter colors: pink/purple/gold) and the combat itself is fun, but there are some aspects of it that are incredibly frustrating, such as the lack of dedicated servers, constant host migrations, and ever present lag demons. The game is heavily flawed.
But for some reason I can’t stop playing it. Intellectually, the game is fine. It’s decent. But not 200 hours decent! Hell, even when I was playing this evening to take the screenshots for this post, the game lagged out on me and the entire game dropped right in the middle of the battle.
It baffled me for quite some time. Even when I “quit” playing, I would still log in and play for a couple of hours every week or so.
Rhyme and Reason
I think that I have figured out why this happens. It has become a form of passive entertainment for me. If I were to fire up a new game, such as the wonderful Dishonored, then it would require more brainpower. My brain would be fully engaged with learning the maps, following the story, avoiding enemies. It would be a form of active entertainment, with me trying to figure out how to take out the next pack of enemies (non-lethally, mind you).
With Space Marine, my fingers already know all of the key commands and there is nothing really to worry about. I know when to fire, when to use my melee attack, what types of weapon loadouts to use. I won’t say that I’ve mastered the game (I’m mediocre online at best), but I know what to expect when I sit down to play. The game has a comforting familiarity about it now.
I also don’t take the game as seriously as other games precisely because I view it as not as good as other games, such as Battlefield 3. If I screw around for a few matches and only use my pistol and my team loses, I can still fall asleep at night. But if I am playing Battlefield 3, I feel as though I should always be trying really hard to win and I am much more hard on myself about how well (or poorly) I perform.
That’s a lot of pressure and it affects the whole game experience and my emotional connection with the game.
Sure, I’ll be frustrated when I’m playing Space Marine, often cursing the lag or ill-timed host migration that has me flying off the edge of the map into oblivion, but overall the experience is very relaxing.
I would say that Team Fortress 2 fulfilled a similar role for me when it first game out. I’d play pyro, just running around and setting people on fire. And what’s not to love about that? There though, the cartoony style helped me to not take the game too seriously. As a matter of fact, my in game name was Brown Cows Make Chocolate Milk, and my spray featured the a cow Joker from Dark Knight, with the phrase “Why So Chocolaty?” scrawled on it. Good times.
I don’t know why I’ve spent so much time on Space Marine. It is decidedly mediocre at best, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t fulfill an important role in my gaming library, that of the guilty pleasure game.