2018 - the year the grind lost its appeal.
I’ve learned a lot of things this year. I’ve learned that I quite like Synthwave and Progressive Metal. I’ve learned that a colleague of mine becomes (even) more entertaining with each subsequent glass of wine, and that several of the people I feel closest to have, like me, been in therapy for various reasons. I’ve learned that I like green tea, prefer a kindle to a paperback while on holiday, and that there is such a thing as too many donuts. I’ve learned that vegan soap and shampoo are far better for my complexion and hair than I ever would have imagined, and that I can actually live without my chocolate Labrador who passed away in May, taking a piece of my heart with him. I’ve learned that growing a long beard looks surprisingly OK on me, and that a flooded house can be the source of far more stress than I ever could have anticipated.
I’ve learned something about my gaming habits too, though – and unsurprisingly, seeing as this is my gaming blog, it’s this that I plan on concentrating on for the next couple of minutes. What I’ve learned is this:
Value your time. Treat it with respect.
For me, this means “stop playing games if you aren’t having fun anymore.”
As is so often the case in my gaming life, this realisation was rammed home when I walked away from Destiny 2 earlier in the year. I wrote a lengthy post back in June in which I summed up my concerns about Bungie’s plans to make Destiny 2 a considerably greater timesink than it was at the time – and it turned out to be prophetic. At the time of that article I was pretty much playing Destiny exclusively, only occasionally side-lining it for a few days to blast through a little indie game. The launch of Forsaken made it worse, until one night at about 10:30pm after losing my third consecutive game of Gambit to earn my Powerful Engram, I had an epiphany. I’d had no fun earning that engram; and the content of it hadn’t actually benefitted my progression in any way as the shotgun that had dropped was higher than my current light level, but lower than the item in the slot to which it belonged. In short, I’d wasted my time - and I wouldn't get another chance to earn another until the following week.
I took a moment to have a think about how much of the content in Destiny 2 I was actually actively enjoying. The strikes were fun – but by this point I’d run them all dozens of times. The Crucible was a massively hit and miss affair, as I’m not the greatest player but not the worst – but every match would put me up against either a stacked clan team, or a group containing one or two insanely talented individuals. Gambit was a game mode that I loved to begin with but had come to loathe due to the cluelessness of random teams, and a bizarre mechanic that seemed to actually punish the winning team. I still enjoyed the raids, but found all of them much less fun than either King’s Fall or Wrath of the Machine from the original game. And once I’d weighed all this up, it was pretty clear to me. I was playing Destiny 2 because I felt like I should. The grind had its claws into me, even though I was no longer enjoying it. In order to progress, I was being forced to engage with content that I wasn’t enjoying – and the RNG nature of the loot that would be earned through this engagement detracted from my enjoyment even further. And that was it. With that realisation, I was able to walk away. I did so with my head held high. That was back in October or November, I'd guess. I've missed the social aspect to Destiny, but I haven't missed the game itself at all.
Looking across social media, it's pretty clear that I'm not the only person who's taking issue with the grind that some games now inflict. What does surprise me though, is how many people seem to tolerate it in spite of failing to find any joy in it. The latest expansion to Destiny (the first I've not bought in the history of the franchise) requires a level of grind that was previously unprecedented - and comments along the lines of "I'm not looking forward to that" or "That doesn't sound like much fun" are becoming more and more common in clan chatrooms. And yet, those people posting those comments are carrying on with the grind anyway. It's a mindset I'm finding increasingly difficult to understand.
As regular readers of this site will know, the other game I've spent a lot of time with this year is Sea of Thieves. It's also a game of grind - the path to Pirate Legend and beyond is incredibly long, taking me roughly 8 months to accomplish. But, the grind is presented in a very different way - because it doesn't particularly force you to engage in anything that you don't like (unless you don't like the game itself, in which case why are you still playing it?!?). The three different trading companies put different spins on the core experience, and all of them have to be levelled up to reach Pirate Legend - but all three involve playing the core game. If you enjoy the core game, everything you're doing is of value and no route to progression is closed off. The game doesn't give you x number of opportunities each week to progress, it's down to how much you play and nothing else. It just feels like a more sensible and mature method to adopt - allow players to progress by making all activities worthwhile. Don't limit their time, or force them down a certain path - as all you'll breed is resentment.
Is there a point to all this? I think there is. It think it's just to remind people that just because you bought a game, it doesn't mean you need to play it forever. If you're not enjoying it, it's OK to admit it and walk away. It's OK to play other things. There are a million other games out there - and lots of them are really, REALLY, good. A game shouldn't feel like a job. A game shouldn't demand that you plot parts of your life around it. Unless that's something you genuinely enjoy - and if that's you, fair play to you. This post isn't intended to criticise anyone still playing Destiny 2 in any way, shape, or form. But if you're finding yourself sometimes switching off the console and wondering what you spent your time doing, I guess this is my way of saying you're not alone - and walking away is a valid option.
Going forward into 2019, my plan is to just remain aware of this. With each game I play, I'll ask myself a really easy question: Am I having fun? And if the answer is no, I'll walk away. Maybe it's something you should try for yourself?
See you in the new year.