Playing just because it is fun

I’m old. We didn’t have video games when I was a kid. Instead we’d play board games. Monopoly, Risk, Mille Bornes. Stuff like that. When I was alone I’d play wargames, the old paper map and cardboard chit kind. (Yes, I’d have to play both sides, but I made do.)

All of this was fun. I loved games then, I still love games today.

Somewhere along the way, though, I started to require something more from games in order to feel satisfied by them. Some reward. Just playing isn’t enough. It might be gaining levels or earning loot. It might be unlocking Achievements.

I don’t like this about myself very much.

A few things have me pondering this aspect of gaming. First is Anthem. Now for me Anthem is kind of the exception. I have SO much fun just flying around the world blowing shit up that I don’t pay attention to levels or loot. I’m just having fun. Many people, however, seem really upset right now because they don’t get enough loot when they play. The general upshot is “If I’m not getting good loot, I’m just wasting my time.” In effect they are saying there is no value in the actual playing of the game, just in the rewards for having played.

Next, I gave the turn-based Battletech a shot over the weekend (there was a free-play weekend on Steam). Started a campaign, played the first mission for 30 minutes or so, and lost. “Damn, what a waste of time!” I thought. That I was having fun for that 30 minutes didn’t figure into my immediate reaction. I didn’t even think about how sad that was until hours later.

I used to play a LOT of strategy games, and if I could beat them the first time I played I would be kind of upset. I played them for the challenge of trying to beat the AI and that was enough. I didn’t need to get a “Legendary Item” when I’d won a battle. My reward was the satisfaction of winning and having had fun playing. (And of course the chance to start another game.) Now apparently losing a mission means the game sucks?

It has gotten so bad with me that even after I got my new PC gaming rig going, I still tend to play on the consoles. There are a few legit reasons for this, but one big stupid reason is “Achievements.” I don’t have a “gamerscore” to track my progress on PC so I am not getting “rewarded” for playing. It’s the same reason I don’t play the Switch much; I’m not getting a pat on the back because I beat a level or whatever.

I would like to “fix” this about myself. (I would like to fix it with regards to the entire gaming community but I realize that’s beyond my abilities.) I would like to go back to playing games just because I’m enjoying playing them, and not because I’m chasing a tiny dopamine hit when I get a good loot drop. I’m not sure how to un-train myself, though.

What makes it even harder is that so many aspects of life are “gamified” these days. Heck the fact that “gamify” just means “bolt on a progression system” feels like a huge part of the problem.

I think the board-gaming community is my only hope. They still play for the enjoyment of playing, and not for phat loot or cheevos. At least, I think that is the case. Maybe I need to break out the paper maps and cardboard counters once again.