What’s Satisfying?

Yesterday’s post sparked a few really interesting conversations for me, including a recurring one that drives home an interesting point and meshes well with a lot of the business-side stuff I’ve been a part of lately. How much is your gaming time worth? What is a gaming session look like for you, and what makes a gaming session feel satisfying?

What’s Satisfying?

there’s not a lot more satisfying than watermelon

I know the answers for myself, I’ve talked about them a bit here and elsewhere, but for me personally it boils down to a couple of things: I want to experience something new or make visible strides towards mastery of something I’ve learned, and I want to spend social time with my friends. These two things are the prime motivators for me in games, above basically everything else. Essentially, I want to hang out, I want to see something new, or I want to be challenged. If none of these things are happening, I tend to feel unsatisfied by my gaming time. In an absolutely perfect situation, I get to do all three.

The absolute pinnacle of gaming for me is playing a game with my friends where we’re all playing new content none of us have seen before. I sit, sometimes for days or weeks, before going into a dungeon in an MMO just to play it with my friends (I tend to be a little ahead of the curve). I put Borderlands 1/2 and games like Divinity: Original Sin (a game I love even if I’ve never gotten really far in it) incredibly high on my favored gaming memories, and lately some of the most fun I’ve had has been exploring zones with Kodra and Ashgar in Guild Wars 2 and playing N++ with Kodra and another local friend. It’s absolutely what drives me, and I quietly do some frankly nonsense things just to try to make those experiences possible, like levelling alts just to kill time and spending hours researching upcoming games for possible good co-op experiences.

I’ve talked before about the idea of playing a game “to turn your brain off” as a strong motivator, which is a concept I understand though it doesn’t apply to me. It’s why I don’t like a lot of really popular games; the thing they’re delivering on doesn’t satisfy me, doesn’t make me feel like I’m spending my time well. At the other end of the spectrum, I have good friends who want nothing more than that zen, almost meditative state and value the ability to split attention, whether that means watching a TV show in the background (or foreground) or simply having the freedom to relax. It’s a thing I understand and look for in co-op experiences, that familiarity and relaxing atmosphere, because while it’s not for me, it’s important for other people. You’ll also note I’ve avoided using the word “mindless” to describe this kind of play, because I think it’s both pejorative and incorrect. I’ve watched and listened to my friends playing games in this way and it’s a very mindful approach, borne of thoughtfulness of those around them not playing or a self-awareness that the relaxed state they can achieve is healthy and valuable.

Some friends I have intensely value any gaming experience that they can get up and walk away from at any given time, guiltlessly vanishing at a moment’s notice. Multiplayer games in general tend to be a turn-off, and even playing socially on voice while playing something is something of a stretch, simply because it doesn’t allow the freedom necessary to really enjoy it. I have a bit of this myself, and almost always spend a little bit of time each week playing games entirely on my own without anyone else around. For me, a lot of this time is me ‘scouting’ games to play with the group, or indulging in something I know no one else wants to hear about.

Still others game entirely for the story– if a game lacks a good story they’re already checked out, and virtually nothing else matters. For yet others, it’s about art, seeing something gorgeous or a visual masterpiece is everything. I have a friend who plays slews of frankly horrible games just because of the textures or art style, and even if the game itself is barely functional he can use it as a vehicle to see new, exciting art. He’ll even comment that the game is buggy or pointless or mechanically unsound, but return to playing just to see more art. It really puts the idea of enjoyment of games in perspective for me– he’s even commented that he’s pretty sure X game is going to be garbage but it has a cool art style so he’s buying it.

I totally understand this, I’ve played games I don’t much enjoy simply because they fill whatever particular satisfaction hole I have that needs filling. Some of my favorite games are objectively terrible games but they fill a niche that is hard to fill elsewhere.

Thinking about games from the perspective of “what will I enjoy” or “what makes me feel satisfied” has really helped me figure out both what games I like and what games I might like, but has also made me a lot better at figuring out what games other people might like and why. We don’t have a great set of widely-accepted language tools for discussing this sort of thing, so it’s a lot harder than it seems. We kind of get stuck in a “I like this game” vs “I don’t like this game” qualitative mindset without always delving much deeper. It seeps back into the development side too, where “like Game X, but with Y and Z” tends to dominate the conversation.

What makes a game session satisfying for you? How does your time feel valued by the game you’re playing?

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