A Gamer’s Perspective — Are Gamers Too Spoilt For Choice?
Life’s tough for gamers these days, don’t you think? In the stead of that heavily sarcastic introduction, E3 2012 proved to us pretty definitively that our days of destitution and gameless poverty are long over. Indeed, our choices have been bolstered to options far more extensive than just the metaphorical chicken or beef. In fact, there are now enough games on the market to not only justify but necessitate sub-divisions within the classic genres of old. No longer is a three-letter acronym or term such as RPG or ‘Shooter’ considered enough to inform you of what you’re getting yourself into; these days we need to know everything from the angle of the camera to the nationality and sexual orientation of the developers. Personally, I’m holding thumbs for the release of a Tazmanian MMOFP-RPG-LSD-STD.
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, though. Making light of seemingly over-specific genre classifications might be the most fun you can have when Diablo 3 isn’t in the mood to recognise the existence of your internet connection, but we must remember that these classifications don’t exist because the chief developer had nothing better to do with their time than to come up with another superfluous acronym to unleash upon the world. These classifications are, in fact, a response to the growing need for developers to be able to distinguish themselves from their competition. This need is a result of the extensive range of games now on offer which we gamers have the privilege of being able to enjoy, and demonstrates just how far gaming has come from the days when there wasn’t even enough competition to dent your sales, let alone necessitate classifications to set yourself apart.
Superficially, at least, this sounds like awesome — after all, the more choice there is the more able we are to get the game most suited to our individual tastes, right?
Up until recently I would’ve been among the first to answer that question with a hearty “Hear, hear!”, before swiftly returning to occupying myself with drooling over November’s list of upcoming game releases. Recently, however, something very important happened: I had exams. Now, being the model student I am, the amount of TED talks I spent my afternoons watching shot up in inverse proportion to the amount of exam-relevant schoolwork I got done. During one such “Right, this is the last one” session, I happened upon a very interesting talk by a shorts-wearing man who goes by the name of Barry Schwartz. In the talk, Schwartz discusses the idea that an excess of choice makes us less satisfied with what we choose, even when our choice is the best one. This is usually the point where I would’ve noted how interesting the talk was, closed my browser and gotten well underway with understanding the relationship between pressure and volume… Fortunately for Physics, though, (’cause let’s be real — I would’ve raped that shiz) I still had an unfinished cup of tea. With no coasters in sight, it seemed that my only option was to use my Physics textbook to hold the cup in order to protect my desk from the horrors of erroneously spilt Rooibos. As such, my only option was to put a bit more thought to what Schwartz had said. His analysis combined with a bit of my own, thrown in with my experience as a gamer, has led me to believe that an excess of choice is a large contributing factor as to why we don’t always get the most out of a session of gaming.
Initially this might seem like a bit of a weird view to hold — I doubt many of us would consciously think that having lots of awesome games to choose from is something that harms our gaming experience even a little bit at all. The opposite seems far more likely, if anything. Bear with me for a second, though.
Think back, if you will, to November last year, when Saints Row: The Third, Skyrim and Uncharted 3 (among others) all released within mere days of each other. I’ve already discussed in an earlier column why releasing so many games at the same time is a bad idea for retailers because it dilutes the attention each one gets from consumers, but the point I’m going to make in this column is that playing so many games at the same time is bad for the gamer, as it dilutes the attention we give in our own capacity to each game.
Any of these games releasing on their own would have commanded our full attention, and we would easily have sunk a hundred (if not more) hours of pure joy and ecstasy into either one of them. When released at the same time, however, we have a bit of a problem: we have to figure out which one we want to play.
This means that when we eventually decide to sit down and play Uncharted, we can’t give it our full attention because we keep thinking about that quest in Skyrim, and when we finally cave and switch to Skyrim, we can’t get rid of that niggling feeling that we might be having more fun playing Saints Row. Such is the problem inherent to choice. When given only one choice, we can’t really blame ourselves for making the wrong decision. So what can we do but our utmost to enjoy whatever it is we land up getting stuck with? It is, after all, all there is.
What comes hand in hand with choices, however, is the capacity to make the wrong choice, like choosing not to read this column, or to play any game from the Halo series. Or, in the case of our November example, choosing the game which isn’t actually the most fun. Regardless of the fact that we would probably have an equally fun time playing Saints Row in July as Skyrim in October (unless you have finals soon, in which case enjoying Skyrim would be a lot harder because of the whole guilty-over-not-studying thing), the mere existence of other choices means that we question the choice we inevitably do make, coming to doubt whether we’ve actually made the ‘right’ decision. Thus, we enjoy the fruits of our choices less, even if he we have made the best choice possible.
This is something I’ve experienced first-hand time and time again in my own gaming career, most recently when I got hold of The Witcher 2 and Skyrim at roughly the same time. Afraid that I could be having a better time playing the other game (regardless of whether Skyrim or The Witcher were the flavour of the moment at that point), I couldn’t immerse myself fully in either. Short of playing both simultaneously (which I did try, but does aren’t as nimble with a controller as you might think), the only resolution I could think of was to decide to play every ounce of awesome out of Skyrim that I could before moving on to The Witcher. And sweet, potato-stuffed goose, did it ever work. By limiting myself to only one game (and in a sense taking the choice away from myself), I started enjoying Skyrim ten times as much as I had been.
It’s really easy for us gamers to get caught up in the hype of the all latest releases, obsessing over them and buying them all up at the same time, the harsh reality being that hard as we try, we can’t play them all simultaneously. We complain constantly about how expensive games are, and yet so often we don’t even put enough time and energy into a single game to extract our money’s worth. After all, a game doesn’t truly come alive for us if we speed through to the closing credits on Medium difficulty. You need to invest something of yourself into a game, becoming engrossed in the world it weaves around you to really get the most you can out of it. Something you simply can’t do if your attention is divided between the game you’re playing and the three others sitting seductively on your desk.
So, here’s my challenge: set yourself a time period; a week, two, maybe even a month. Choose one game and pour your heart and soul into it for that time. If it sucks then feel free to choose a different one, and go with it instead. This isn’t about putting yourself through torture, after all. Rather, it’s about being conscious of the damage that allowing yourself too many choices can cause and working to minimise that rather, to give one game at a time the chance to wow us that we would otherwise deny it.