Minding the Gap

Image by Flickr user Sharon Drummond
Image by Flickr user Sharon Drummond

The way I play video games has changed drastically over the past few years. As I’ve alluded to in the past, I only have time play games on the weekends; and some weekends I don’t have time to play at all. I’m sometimes able to make up gaming time on holidays and extended (stay-at-home) vacations, but I generally play now anywhere from two to four hours a week. (It’s something that I’m still getting used to as only just a few years ago I was able to devote at least two hours a day to gaming.) Adding to my gaming time management issues is that fact that there’s another gamer in the house. We generally work it out so that we aren’t playing games on the same consoles at the same time, but sometimes games have to be set aside for one reason or another. Recently, I took time off from Grand Theft Auto V on the PS3 because of Beyond Two Souls. We rented the game and my husband played through it first, which was fine as I had a game to finish on the Xbox 360. (I wanted to play BTS, but figured I’d put it on hold until GTA V was finished.) A week later, figuring that I’d return to GTA V, my husband absolutely insisted that I had to play BTS.  Since he doesn’t often rave about games, I knew that this game had to be something special, so I started it up. It took me a little longer to get through it that he did, but boy…was it worth it! I still don’t have any words yet to describe the experience, but it was an amazing. The experience, that is. The jury is still out on it being a good game. (More to come on that…someday.)

With BTS under my belt, I decided this past weekend it was time to get back to Los Santos, and this was after nearly three weeks off from it. I started up the game and then…um…where was I?  Yeah. I could not for the life of me remember where I was or what I was doing. The menus were no help as any dialogue or catalog of previous actions had been erased. Thankfully, after several minutes of me wandering around in a stolen car, a message from one of my cohorts told me what I was supposed to be doing. And then a waypoint appeared on the map telling me where to go. I felt a little pathetic for having such a terrible memory and having to rely on the game to tell me what to do, but honestly, I might have been wandering around for another hour before getting back on track, and I simply don’t have time to waste when it comes to gaming.

The vast majority of today’s games, or rather the action-adventure RPGish games that capture my attention, have been designed to be more helpful than not when managing gaps in gaming time. To take a couple more examples, I also started playing Dragon Age II again after…goodness…it has to be at least three, almost four months, as well as LEGO Harry Potter, Years 1-4 after a month’s gap. I wasn’t too worried about LEGO Harry Potter as it readily tells you where to go as soon as you start a level. I was a little more worried about Dragon Age II  since, well, we didn’t depart on very good terms (i.e. I got very bored with it generally). But sure enough, it didn’t leave me in the lurch either. One look at the map and a quick conversation with one of my team members reminded me of exactly where I was and what I needed to do. And off I went.

I know that many claim that maps, waypoints, breadcrumb trails, in-game hints, saved dialogue, and the like make some of today’s game too easy. That these assists lessen the challenge of gaming and make us whine and moan when a game seems too hard. And I can’t really argue with that. I know for myself that my tolerance for brutally difficult games has become almost nil. As I’ve said before, if I only have an hour to play something, I’d rather it be an hour of fun than an hour of toil.  As the days move into the spring and summer and my gaming time become even scarcer, I know that the gaps between gaming will become much larger. One of the ways that I’ve learned to deal with this is to switch to less difficult, shorter games once it gets warmer out, that way there’s less of a chance that I’ll leave a game unattended for half a year. So while I might have the chance to squeeze in the majority of Assassin’s Creed III, or maybe even finish Dragon Age II before the sun comes out in earnest, I know that I should soon start focusing more on level-by-level games, like something Mario, or maybe Kirby, as well as a number of shorter indie titles that I’ve had my eye on, like Gone Home.

So while I might wish sometimes that I didn’t have to deal with gaming gaps, I don’t mind them too much as, well…I’d rather not miss out on the rest of life. And I’m glad that some developers have realized that not everyone who plays their games is able to complete them in a matter of consecutive hours. But how to you mind your gaming gaps? How to you deal with coming back to a not-yet-finished game after a matter of weeks or months? Or are you on the other side of the coin, someone who has time to complete games quickly and efficiently?

9 Comments Add yours

  1. BlaksamuraiX says:

    I know what you mean. Ive had several occasions where I leave a game for a few months then try to get back into it. My most recent one was final fantasy 9 on the Playstation I havent played that game in over half a year but I figured Id try it again (the reason I stopped playing was because school was becoming a little much.) And as soon as I start it up Im thrust into the middle of this world map with no direction and no idea of what I was doing. I realize that that was before games like that had reminders and such, but I just wound up starting over. I manged to beat it faster because I recalled areas where I had trouble and it also helped that I was still on the first disc. But generally I don’t have too many problems picking up left behind games. I just give myself a couple of days to get myself back in the groove.


    1. cary says:

      You make a good point that starting over is sometimes the best way to get through a forgotten game, especially an older one. Last year I attempted to pick up with Final Fantasy VII after a very, very long time. I could hardly believe it when the game started up right where I had gotten stuck. I didn’t get very far before realizing that I’d probably be better off just restarting the whole thing. (I haven’t done so yet, but I keep swearing that I’m going to finish that game someday!)


  2. duckofindeed says:

    I usually have time to play all the way through a game without any gaps. My main gaps come when I get distracted by another game or a game gets too hard, and I give up. Most of the time when I quit a game and come back to it years later, I just start the game over from the beginning, hoping that if I beat it this time, I’ll get to enjoy the full experience rather than just a chunk of it

    I did, however, stop in the middle of “Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories” on the PS2 in order to play a newly bought copy of “FFVII”, but that was fine, as “CoM” is a bit boring, and I needed a break. I also stopped in the middle of “FFX” in order to play the PS3 I just bought, but I didn’t have much trouble getting back into it, luckily, and I wasn’t very far into it yet.

    I do have trouble going back to games on this Sega Genesis collection I have on the Xbox 360, though. I forget where I am in those, or I forget the passwords required to start a previous file again, which was the case with “Ecco the Dolphin”. I don’t feel like starting over in that game…


    1. cary says:

      I did the same with Chain of Memories — took a break because I just wasn’t enjoying it all that much. After a couple months, I went back to it and had a much better time (though it’s still not my favorite KH game.)

      As I said in my response to BlaksamuraiX, starting a game over is sometimes the way to go. But it can be tough returning to old games. There’s so much out there to play now, and the more new games that come out, the easier it is to push old ones aside.

      I’ve never played Ecco the Dolphin, but I’ve read things both good and bad about the game. I understand that it it might be up for a remake. Not sure if that’s a good thing.


  3. Hatm0nster says:

    I typically play all the way through games when I first get them, but it’s when I start trying to do additional playthroughs that gaps start happening. Sometime I’ll come back and want to finish, something I’ve found to be easier in games that have actual “levels” like Mario. With games like FFVII or more recently Mass Effect, I lose investment in playthroughs I’ve left to stagnate, so I’ll start over. It works out fine in most cases, but sometimes I’ll get into what I call an infinite loop: where I’ll keep starting a game over and over until I eventually stop playing altogether.

    When I had more time for games this wasn’t much of a problem, but now that I’m limited to weekends I’m in the position of trying to break myself of 17+ years of gaming habits. Progress is being made, but slowly. 🙂


    1. cary says:

      Old habits die hard, right! As I said in my post, I continue struggle with overcoming the desire to game when, in reality, there are so many more important things that need to be done. I’ll certainly admit to occasionally procrastinating on the important stuff to squeeze in a little game time here and there.

      I agree that the gaps get with additional playthroughs, or even just trying to complete side quests after a game is complete. I’ve still got tons left to do in Red Dead Redemption even though I completed the main story, but who knows when I’ll actually be able to get to any of it. But beyond that, it’s sometimes hard to find the motivation when there are so many other games to play.


  4. simpleek says:

    As you know, I’m doing my video game challenge! 🙂 I do find it hard to recall what happened previously in a game I left to sit for months or even years! Yikes. At least for RPGs, I make sure to finish one mission level before potentially letting it sit for a while. At least it’ll be easier to jump right in without trying to figure out what my objective was. Level by level games are easier to leave in the middle because most of the time there isn’t a significant story or plot point to keep in mind really.


    1. duckofindeed says:

      Definitely true. Games like “Mario”, for example, are very easy to leave and come back to. I have some old “Mario” games on the SNES that have been left unfinished for years and years. Because they’re so darn hard. And then every once in a while, I come back and try and see if I can get any farther. Usually I can’t. The only problem with leaving such games for a while is I get out of my groove, and I don’t play as well when I do return to the game. But, as you said, at least there’s no story that I’ve forgotten.


  5. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    As we roll (ever so slowly it seems) in Spring, my gaming time is becoming more and more scarce. Before too long, I know that it may take me weeks to return to games that I’ve only just started. In this article I wrote for United We Game, I examined those gaps, those long droughts between gaming, and how they affect play. Some games are fine to let go of for awhile, while others demand immediate attention, and determining the right time to play the right game can be a challenge sometimes.


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