March 24, 2018 | by Ryan
The Joy of Playing Catch-Up

2017 was a knock-down, drag-out, bloodied-fisted brawl of games. Every month, and almost every week, something new, exciting, and potentially revolutionary released with scarce breathing room. The dual January releases of Resident Evil 7 and Yakuza 0 would set the tone for the entire year: if you wanted what 2017 had to offer, you would need to make sacrifices. Whether clogging your schedule with playtime, or carefully selecting which releases made it to your hands, there was no reasonable method to play all, or even most of last year’s buzzed-about games without risking significant burnout.

At some point, the fun stopped. Maybe when I was beating my head against Sonic Mania, or trudging through Thimbleweed Park (admittedly, both games for which I’m not the target audience), but something inside me eventually flipped. My internalized, self-imposed obligation to play as many games as possible turned on me, and my desire for new experiences withered away. I made it through Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for game of the year, and then everything shut down. Like a car dealership gorilla taking collateral damage from a knife fight, the gaming portion of my brain leaked out and sputtered towards a slow, undignified collapse. I spent the transitory months between 2017 and 2018 running a miserable, addictive loop in Heroes of the Storm, unable to muster the energy for much else.

I didn’t get tired of this nearly as fast as I should have.

This fatigue is far from unheard of, especially amongst those involved with games coverage. In a news cycle which demands the hottest, most instant takes possible on all forms of media, it’s too easy for both media folk and players alike to burn rubber on jumping out ahead of spoilers, or to have their voices heard before anyone else. The immediacy of a platform such as Twitter, and the short relevancy of opinions in a system of continual creation and consumption provides a unique, capricious environment in which impressions can cease to be relevant mere days, or even hours after their establishment.

In this ouroboros of opinion, little space remains for legitimate digestion. By forcing ourselves to experience games at an accelerated pace simply for the purpose of playing them, genuine enjoyment soon gives way to prolonged constraint, and those titles which might provide legitimate satisfaction are waylaid for the sake of the broadest experience and the most relevant releases. Those who might not try a game otherwise are lured into an experience by the implicit demands of a social machine constantly in motion: play this game now, because it won’t matter in two months.

To a certain degree, this is the here-and-now ethos which dictates all media consumption. This is only exacerbated by the instantaneous nature of modern communication, in which all ideas are equally accessible and spread, virus-like, from person to person; screen to screen. Even regular players have the privilege of making their thoughts heard: play the newest game, beat it quick, have the sizzling Twitter take, and get ready to do it all over again within a month, or even a week. We exist in a sphere in which all thoughts can be made immediately, unbelievably public, and massive stock can be put into even the smallest idea. Whether consciously or not, our engagement and approval perpetuates this cycle of exhaustion, which is ultimately unavoidable in today’s digital landscape.

There’s nothing obliging you to play these games. I promise.

The question becomes, then, how to avoid this eventual release weariness in an industry which, by its very nature, exhausts those who attempt to stay current. While some might offer differing answers, the solution, in my mind, is simple. It doesn’t involve scheduling play times, or taking off work, or multitasking, or any other hyper-efficient solution to knock out a game prior to the release of the next big title. Some might find this answer unreasonable, or bold, or even impossible, but it couldn’t be simpler. When presented with a cycle so exhausting, so massive, and so immutable, there’s really only one answer: remove yourself from the cycle.

2018 presents a unique opportunity in comparison to 2017. This year, like every other, I have about twelve or so releases I look forward to across the calendar. The difference in 2018 is that about eleven of these games are ports, remasters, or remakes. Yume Nikki, Shadow of the Colossus, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Dark Souls, SMT: Strange Journey Redux, and more; all of which have been out for years. There are precious few instances in which major releases consist of already existing games, but 2018 seems content to trot out no end of reissues. Combine with a release schedule that seems sparse thanks to 2017’s excess, and you get a chunk of months tailor-made for going back and picking up the titles of yesteryear.

The game which finally pulled me out of my early year funk was Dragon Quest Builders, which released on Switch this March. While I missed it on release in 2016, there’s a real serenity to playing a game such as Dragon Quest Builders at my own pace, free of the fear I might miss some arbitrary window, or not know what people are talking about when Game of the Year buzz kicks up. The real sense of accomplishment here comes from within, not without: I play this game for my own satisfaction, and not for engagement with a larger audience or external opinions. My thoughts, feelings, and enjoyment of Dragon Quest Builders are entirely my own, and this introspective thrill is something players of all walks should come to rediscover.

This game is very nearly saving my life.

That’s why, then, 2018 should be the year we all find the joy in playing catch-up. To find the titles which we’ve always meant to play, and to play them. To spend our time with the games we truly wish to experience, instead of the ones dictated for us by an industry which never takes a breath. While some might find this easier than others, there’s no shame in removing oneself from the release machine for a time. Instead of spending $60 on Monster Hunter World, a game which I potentially might not enjoy, I’ve resolved myself to play Bayonetta instead, an experience which I’ve waited years to dive into. It might seem like common sense, but for a world in which an obligation to the newest game is so ingrained, it’s easy to forget.

The titles of today will still be here tomorrow, but the ones of yesterday have waited long enough. For those who came away from 2017 exhausted, for those who have waited years to play a game, for those seeking introspective bliss…this one goes out to you. Make this the year you try the game you’ve always wanted to, to savor your experiences, or hell, to catch up on everything that came out in 2017. After such relentless releases, 2018 is giving us a rare opportunity to catch our breath – and we should be sure to catch it. In the words of Persona 5: take your time. I know I will.

Ryan

Editor, writer, and a non-stop consumer of games, movies, and music. Also the resident Texan, a general mischief maker, and a lover of all things atrocious.

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