On Social Singleplayer and Slow Gaming

I played through the original Dead Space last Fall. And by “last Fall”, I literally mean that I spent that entire season playing through the game. I snatched an hour every here and there, savoring the game in discrete chunks like Charlie with his yearly chocolate bar. Every day I’d come to work and the coworker who’d loaned me the game would ask if I’d played any Dead Space the night before. I frequently hadn’t, but on the days that I had we’d happily natter away for a few minutes about the tricky battle, amusing scare, or infuriating story point I’d encountered. I wrung every drop of entertainment out of that game in one long, winding playthrough, and a large aspect of that was due to the fact that it was my water cooler topic for months on end.

I’m sick at the moment, and with Dead Space 2 once again provided to me out of the largesse of my coworkers, I popped the game in yesterday and proceeded to crash through several hours of it without respite.

I’m not sure I could tell you what happened in more than about 15 minutes of it.

I don’t know how professional game reviewers do it. Hell, I don’t know why gamers do it. Playing halfway through an entire game in a day is like drinking Dom Perignon out of a yard glass. Dead Space 2 is a fantastic game. An aesthetic triumph, shooting and puzzling gameplay that clicks like watch gears, and buttery-smooth level design that anticipates my reactions and desires so well that I feel as though it’s the game playing me rather than the other way round.

I have these wonderful impressions of the game, but I’d have to refer to my notes, had I taken any, in order to give you any examples of what I’m talking about. I’m certainly going to want to do another playthrough, a more relaxed one that takes the scenic route and savors the story and atmosphere that I barely noticed yesterday. I probably should have just played it that way from the get-go.

By contrast, I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood on and off for something like two months now, and I’m about halfway through it. The game is massive, of course, but you could probably blow through the very core of the mission structure in a dozen hours or so. I’m glad I haven’t; AssBro has a lot to offer a player willing to spend time fucking around and getting to know Roma.

There’s been a movement for several years to set aside fast food in favor of “slow food”: healthy, sustainable, local food rather than mass-manufactured calories that are made to be shoveled into the craw and forgotten as soon as the diner’s hunger abates, if not sooner. Very recently, the designers of The Path marketed their title as a “slow game”. There’s no combat, no puzzles, barely any story. There are images, characters, and moods to take in and think about, and that’s pretty much it. While this is a worthy experiment in design, I’d like to take a different tack and suggest that slow gaming involves players as much as designers.

I remember as a kid how excited I was when my granddad got me an NES for Christmas. It was our first real gaming console. The games we got were few and far between; they arrived on birthdays, subsequent Christmases, and the occasional hallowed days when we gathered enough of that scarcest of childhood resources, money. We spent months on every game, played slow, savored them like an annual chocolate bar. I’ll grant that the paradigm for game design has changed. Publishers are making games that are meant to beerslam $50 million worth of visual effects down our eyeholes in six hours. Still, I think we can make an effort to play these games slowly and really digest them rather than wolfing them down before reaching for the next morsel. I’m sure the craftsmen who pour so much effort into creating the worlds we play in would appreciate it.

More on this later, perhaps.


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