It’s Sunday afternoon, I have no pending deadlines, the weekend chores are done and my partner has offered to cook dinner. I have hours ahead of me I want to dedicate to playing a game. I go to pick one and… can’t. A paralysis of choice. I have too much to play and if I’m not decisive, I’ll fritter away the next three hours, playing nothing, with only a vague recollection of internet memes to remember the day by.
In 2004 American psychologist Barry Schwartz published The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less wherein he argued that an abundance of choice was making individuals anxious, particularly when shopping. However I’m not worried about making a poor purchase, instead I need to validate the purchases I’ve already made. According to Schwartz’s theory, I’m anxious about the missed opportunity I might have by playing the wrong game. When my steam library sits at 499 games, and God knows how many hundreds of those are unplayed, that anxiety is amplified to paralysing levels. When did it get like this?
Most recently I played Dropsy, an indie point and click adventure that wasn’t quite the LSD simulator I imagined it might be from the rainbow coloured title. Before that I played a few engrossing hours of Alien: Isolation and I should really get back to that. There’s another four games from the bundle I bought those two from that I should try too. The choices I face aren’t just to do with what game, but what system. On the iPad I need to get back to Oceanhorn. On the 3DS I should really play Fire Emblem: Awakening. Even with Steam the games installed on my laptop are different to my desktop machine. On the Wii U, I need to get back to Xenosaga Chronicles X, which I’ve barely played since the new year, not because I don’t want to but because something doesn’t feel right.
Choice isn’t the only thing paralysing me, another is the environment. I need to set the mood. Pulling up my GOG Galaxy library, I decided that right now wasn’t the appropraite time to start Planescape Torment, that is to be saved for a rainy day. It also doesn’t feel like the right occasion to play through the second chapter of Kentucky Route Zero. I played the first chapter in the dark of my parents’ sitting room on Christmas Eve while Mum was watching reality TV around the corner. It’s as if I need to recreate that setting to sit down for chapter 2. In fact, the perfect summer’s day that only a nerd like me would prefer to spend inside feels like a day I should playing a simple fun game like Super Tennis, but that would involve setting up the SNES, which involves going behind the TV, which begins to feel like work.
Being a contributor to a gaming blog doesn’t help the situation either. Now I feel obligated to play games, it’s my responsibility write about my experience. Then I’ll play a short amount, like with Alien: Isolation, and feel this is insufficient to have a valid opinion on it. And then when distracted by a different title, my absence from the site becomes protracted and I feel guilty about that. Is it my job to help Pietriot readers make gaming decisions? It was never meant to be that but somehow my brain lumped this and other assumptions on top of me to add to the paralysis. I owe it to the readers, to the other pietriots, to play games. And I’ve been bad, and not playing many games, I feel guilty and that somehow makes it all the more paralysing.
Finally there’s my partner. She studies way too hard all week and I really, really should be spending this free time with her. I think our corporate overlords even declared today a special day for romance. This sense of obligation makes me all the more resistant. As I type now, she’s cooking that dinner I mentioned earlier and this entry has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m going to finish this entry, enjoy a meal, proof read, and publish it. After that I’ll try again to play a game. Let me know in the comments what I should play and if this has ever happened to you.
8 thoughts on “Gaming Paralysis”
Delete your useless Steam library, burn your computer, and remember why you played games in the first place. Not because you had to, but because you wanted to. Because they are the pinnacle of human expression and interaction and we’re witnessing a young industry of unprecedented creativity blossom in front of our very eyes.
This is a good piece and I know a lot of people are going to relate, but for me it’s just the complete opposite. I can’t put down CodeName STEAM, Xenoblade Chronicles X and Splatoon and I just wish I had more time to 100% everything. I just got the final secret character in CodeName STEAM after 50 hours and it was such a good moment. I’ve just finished Paper Jam and loved it. I still do random speedruns of Super Metroid and Zero Mission because they are fun and challenging. I still try new weapons in Splatoon. I feel excitement over choice and not anxiety, because these are videogames not food and they are not going to rot. Maybe you have to differentiate games from other things, because so much stuff in modern life IS boring and mundane. I see videogames as the solution to that, and not the cause. They exist so you can feel a certain way and engage a certain part of your brain, not so you can achieve or prove something. I think you have to place more value on the game itself, Xenoblade Chronicles X for example is ridiculously good. Like, really, really good. The soundtrack, the graphics, the scenario, the variety and the detail. The world is magnificent and I never expected to be playing something like this.
In terms of blogging, I feel the same way right now but for a different reason. I feel like nobody wants to hear about gameplay in this socially imbalanced climate of complaints and indecision, so I’ve just been happily chipping away alone. I had a great time with Paper Jam but feel like everybody already has formed an opinion of that game, whether they’ve played it or not. It’s pointless to write about because someone will come in and say Paper Mario 2 was better. “It should be like this”. “Should have been this”. I just don’t fucking care. We’re a blog that makes no money so I don’t get where the obligation comes from. I wish I felt that, but the only place I want to be right now is the Miiverse. Also, you can still write about Aliens as long as you label it “Impressions” and say how much you played like I did with Tri Force Heroes and the Yo-Kai Watch demo. That can still be interesting because first impressions are an important part of a game. As long as you’re honest with how much you’ve played unlike Gamespot with Yoshi’s Woolly World.
I get that. I fully believe what you say abut video games not being a waste of time. As I shared this to my Facebook profile I wrote; “playing video games isn’t a waste of an afternoon. Not playing video games, because you’ve fretted over what to play all afternoon, is.”
Steam sales and humble bundles have had a strange effect on my gaming, and produced a lot of this over abundance problem. When I bought my 3DS I made a conscious decision to not buy a new game off the shop until I was done with the previous one. Fire Emblem Awakening, Kid Icarus and Luigi’s Mansion are the only times I’ve broken that pledge but as a result I feel I’ve played a huge amount of really fulfilling time with all my other 3DS games. All of them, and I can’t say that about Steam or my Wii library (going through that the other day, so many unplayed) So many I’m conflating or multiplying the paradox of choice with this hoarding and impulse game buying.
As for the blogging comments. I really don’t know where this sense of obligation comes from. Maybe if any of our readers (or contributors, Deg) have more knowledge of psychology than my surface level pop psychology they would try to diagnose it. But it’s a general avoidance and anxiety thing going on. I’m proud that we’re non commercial and actively avoid making money, even if we should’ve put ads on that Hot Wheels video. I’ll at least get through chapter 2 of Alien before I post impressions. It’s very atmospheric and I’ve taken a bunch of screenshots.
Also everyone, I’m playing Kentucky Route Zero after all that.
Gotta agree with Grubdog here. Step away from that giant steam library. Paralysis of choice is a pretty real thing from what I’ve experienced, so get rid of some of those choices. Or at least act like they don’t exist, and limit your choice to a select few. I’ve been buying very few games lately (mainly out of necessity because I’m poor), and it has only improved both my outlook on gaming and my enjoyment with my time spent gaming. Now I only ever play what I want to, and if I’m having a hard time deciding what to play, that just means I’m not really in the mood anyway, so I just go do something else. Playing this way, I get so many hours of enjoyment out of just a handful of games, and in turn, those games become something really special to me, similar to how things were when I was younger (though not exactly the same. Achieving that child-like sense of wonder may not be possible with this boring old adult brain. But it’s good enough). I’ve put god knows how many hours into smash bros and tropical freeze (which I haven’t even done everything in yet), and things really couldn’t be better.
I won’t lie, though. I do get over-excited about “new” stuff. Sometimes it’s difficult to not feel like, “If only THIS game existed… THEN I would be happy forever!” But being in a position where I cannot just buy every new game that comes out, just for the sake of chasing that “new” feeling, is probably one of the best things to happen to my gaming habits in a long time.
Also, to Grubdog. You are 100% correct. Nobody wants to talk about gameplay. Go to neogaf, and you’ll see countless topics about all kinds of crap, each with hundreds of pages. But make a thread that tries to have an intelligent discourse about the finer points of gameplay, and it gets to 3 pages, and then gets buried because nobody cares.
However, you’re doing good work here, so don’t fret about it. Keep chipping away, as you said.
The more one has to do, the less will one has to give attention to any of them.
I often find that the solution isn’t to reduce the choices… but to understand why they’re there.
Understanding and focusing priorities, rather than remove them.
Reducing choices helps – a lot. However, you then lose the original advantage(s) wanted from having more. (Ex: You play more games to understand the what’s so wonderful about these games, and so you’re not biased by ignorance. But find it’s more trouble than it’s worth after having too much on your plate, so you reduce… But now you are back to being susceptible to the ignorance you feared)
… Rather than see it as a case of losing advantages and gaining disadvantages, focus on why those things are advantages and disadvantages, and search to resolve those on an individual and personal level.
“I really should play __________(1), but I don’t have time for it. But I really should. But I’m playing __________(2) now. So I shouldn’t.” VS “I’m really itching for a strategy game! I heard __________(1) was a good one. Maybe I’ll check it out. __________(2) will have to wait. It’s not going anywhere. Just have to make sure I do complete it someday or (insert person’s name) will never let me hear the end of it!”
As for responsibilities to the site:
We all love pietriots for its passionate (and ridiculous) honesty.
Lies are forced for time. Honesty goes at its own pace.
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Grubdog is right, as usual. Drop all the gaming-related stuff that was sold to you through some carefully studied psychological pattern. Just go with the handful of games you would play if money or time never factored in. You’ll probably be surprised just go few choices you end up with.
Acquiring a promotion for anything doesn’t suggest you have to buy them.
Fuckoff Mike Baird