I’m currently enjoying my time off from work on this lovely extended weekend. I’ve spent some time with family, caught up on sleep, and relatively speaking, had all of the time in the world to tackle my backlog goals for this year. Yet, for some reason, rather than tackling more content within Pillars of Eternity, or booting up Final Fantasy VII, I find myself wasting hours instead watching shorter YouTube series about gaming, such as Extra Credits or Game Grumps, or enjoying other people play RPGs in shows like Critical Role. Meanwhile, I’ll have a nice low attention span game like Clicker Heroes, or Knights of Pen & Paper +1, running on my main monitor.
Why is this? Why am I choosing to spend the time that I’ve so very much craved to play video games on essentially anything that isn’t a deep, rewarding, RPG experience? The answer seems to be right up in my face, but I just don’t like admitting it. The barriers to entry for RPGs are way too goddamn high.
Ancient internet memes aside, I think there’s a serious point to be made here. Day summed it up beautifully in an episode of Mostly Walking, but unfortunately I can’t remember which one it was. I’ll try to do his words justice with my own.
Essentially, RPG experiences are now generated with the intent of providing players with a means of escapism into a world that is separate from our own. Entire histories of civilizations and universes are generated for us to fall into, explore, and impact directly.
To be clear, this is most certainly a good thing. It is my personal opinion that a good RPG should have a narrative that would still be just as captivating if it wasn’t in an interactive medium, or put in other words, if you took this game’s story and made a book out of it, and it’s just as enjoyable to the player, then you’ve got yourself a great RPG foundation.
The issue, as I think most of us are already aware of, is time. Time is the evil overlord that Ganon, Sephiroth, and Palpatine dream of becoming. As an adolescent, time was a significantly smaller factor in my decision making process. I didn’t question if I had time to fully explore and conquer the Shadow Temple in Ocarina of Time, I just did it. I didn’t consider how much time it took to level up my weapons in Dark Cloud, I just did it. I could go on about this further, but I think it’s fair to say you’ve experienced something similar yes?
Now let’s jump back to present day again, as I’d mentioned earlier. I suddenly have all of the time in the world throughout the weekend to play video games. It’d be easy to consider it a prime-time to jump into a 20 or 40 hour RPG experience. The reality however, is that this idea is a false-hood. It really pains me to say that.
You know what I want to do most when I have lots of time and nothing to do? Here are a few examples:
- Get caught up on stuff I put off all week.
- Spend time with friends & family that I otherwise am not able to see.
- Mentally unwind.
I think that last one is the big factor here. RPGs are mentally taxing games. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? A game being taxing when it is supposed to be a form of escapism? I’ll be the first to admit, reading that sounds incredibly pretentious, and yet I can’t help but feel there’s a strong semblance of truth to it.
Easy example: Pillars of Eternity is a beautifully written game that has entire religions, races, wars, continents, and cultures that I enjoy reading about. Just last night I tweeted Obsidian directly that I found their Grieving Mother companion to be a fascinating character study, and I’m excited to see how she interacts with the protagonist going forward.
The issue, however, is that after two or three hours of playing Pillars I find myself mentally drained. There’s a lot of reading context clues, understanding narrative direction, and decision making to interpret, digest, and then act upon. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun, but I just find myself needing breaks where I turn off the game and do something more... easily accessible, for awhile.
Maybe RPGs aren’t necessarily the problem. Maybe it’s more of an issue with growing up and accepting the various time constraints and responsibilities that weigh upon us as a result. Maybe Final Fantasy VII not giving me direct context in regards to “what do I do next” when I feel stuck isn’t an issue, and instead it’s just my hatred of wasting time as an adult. I can easily see both sides of that argument, but as I get older I’m finding RPGs ever-so-prevalent “go find the next means of moving the story forward on your own” element extremely aggravating.
RPGs are without a doubt my favorite game genre. I absolutely love well constructed worlds with interesting characters and sub-narratives, but man is it becoming harder and harder to justify sitting down and jumping into one instead of more efficiently playing something simpler in scope, or even worse, getting stuff done in the real world.
You’re reading TAY, Kotaku’s community-run blog. TAY is written by and for Kotaku readers like you. We write about games, art, culture and everything in between. Want to write with us? Check out our tutorial here and join in.
RerTV is a small-time YouTuber and Streamer who enjoys writing #FeelsGoodMan posts about gaming. He strives each day to spread awareness of the positivity gaming can bring to ourselves and society, and hopes you’ll join the conversation. Find him on Twitter: @RerTV.