A friend of mine got to a boss she couldn’t beat and quit playing the game. Another friend of mine had a single bad experience at a restaurant and hasn’t been back since. Another friend of mine, a highly competitive gamer, had a frustrating match in a game and stopped playing it entirely. Yet another friend saw an episode of a show that she’d been following for thirty episodes, hated the episode, and never went back.
I’ve done a lot of these things myself. It’s hard not to; why waste time on second chances? There are so many options out there — for everything — that it seems like there’s no reason to hang around if something frustrates or offends you. Flush it and move on, there’s always more where it came from. There are other games, other restaurants, other shows. It feels like a defense mechanism against the deluge of content to be ready and willing to shut down and give up on something at the first sign of trouble. We’ve all become highly sensitive to anything that provides a poor experience, so we can cut it out and move on, and not be bothered by it. We can “buy time” to experience other things by removing anything that fails us.
I’ve had the opportunity to go back and try a variety of things over the last year, that I’d otherwise abandoned or moved on from or what have you. Every time I do, one of my friends invariably goes “you’re playing THAT again? WHY?”
It’s a hard question to answer. The simple answer is that I’m looking for something fun to play, and a lot of this old stuff doesn’t cost me any money, or relatively little. More complicated is that I often don’t remember why I stopped playing them– I very rarely go back to games or books that I’ve finished and play them again, but I don’t finish all that many games, especially since I play a lot of MMOs, which defy completion.
The more complicated answer is that I like to stick with my entertainment. I like games in a series, not one-shot, disposable titles. I like something I can get invested in, and both express myself through and make a part of myself. I’ve had this discussion with Kodra, but I often find board games, even the very high quality ones, a little too shallow and a little too ephemeral to really get into. There’s little to no self-expression in them, and no sense of long-term importance. I’m not unraveling a story that will stick with me, nor am I exploring a world that will inspire me. The majority of the board game experiences I’ve had have taken one of two forms. In one case, a bunch of friends and I sit down at a game none of us have ever played, learn the rules, then play together. These are the better experiences, but they tend to take hours. An hour or two or more to learn the rules and set up the game, and another two to three to actually play. In another case, I and others are playing a game that one or more people absolutely love, and have a bunch of experience with and are really excited to play with other people. I have yet to have an experience with a game like this that isn’t miserable; the games are dominated by the players who already know everything about it and I’m basically filling a chair so that they can play.
These experiences have deeply informed how I introduce people to games that I like, and most of the time I don’t do it. I’d rather someone ask me about a game that I’m playing and love, at which point I can teach it to them, than try to push that game on someone. The only games I’ll openly suggest that I and others play are ones that I’m passingly familiar with, just barely enough to teach, and am still learning how to play. Even these are hit or miss.
It’s a big part of why I play minis games, and why I’m generally very selective about the minis games I play. The game pieces I use have stories, each one the result of one or many games, and these stories start to inform how the mini looks and feels. It’s a personal touch, and I feel like each addition to the collection is another potential set of stories. I run a lot of tabletop games, but I haven’t played in one in years; minis fill the kind of personalized game experience for me that someone’s character does in a tabletop game.
It’s also why I actively seek out entertainment media that I can stick with. I’ve found it’s hard to have an experience that’s deeply changing or otherwise significant without some amount of friction and investment. I’ve worked on intuiting the difference between something that’s interesting but difficult and something that’s simply unappealing; usually if it’s the former, it speaks more to something about myself than something about whatever I’m watching. I’m really interested in entertainment that forces me to self-evaluate.
Case in point: Tales of Zestiria. In a lot of ways, it’s a fairly dark game, but it’s presented in a very upbeat, very cheerful way. I can feel myself reacting with annoyance– at the overly-chipper characters and what feels like a mood that doesn’t take things seriously. It would have been easy for me to check out already, citing tonal issues and childishness as reasons. The argument for quitting is easy, even as I write this it jumps to my lips. Instead, I’ve kept playing.
I have a hard time explaining why, just like I have a hard time answering “why” when someone asks me why I’ve jumped back into some old game that we quit in disgust. I think that’s what I find compelling, and ultimately rewarding. Tales of Zestiria has started speaking directly to my cynicism. X-Wing has proven shockingly deeper than my initial play (and dismissal) of it, years ago, and I’m fascinated to explore it more. Guild Wars 2 is a game that, years on, I finally understand, and it’s a very different kind of MMO than others out there. Each of those games have forced me to look at myself rather than the game to really appreciate them, and I have similar experiences with various shows.
It’s something I’m continuing to work on, to fight that urge to drop something at the first bad experience and keep on exploring. I’ve very rarely been disappointed, when I manage to shed my defensiveness and ego and let myself enjoy things for what they are, it’s just hard to do. I’ve gotten good at a lot of games that I never would have thought I’d enjoy, and found a few favorite shows that I would otherwise have never looked twice at.
I just wish I had some way of sharing that experience with other people, but like pushing a new game that you’ve come to love on someone that’s never tried it, it’s too easy to just dominate the experience and make it unfun for them.