I think we've all reached that moment at one point or another where we have to ask ourselves one simple question when engaging with this art form, "Am I having fun?" It seems like such an odd thing to ask considering that's one of the core reasons most of us play #VideoGames to begin with.
Though it's something we're quick to forget when we dedicate a large portion of our free time to one game or experience where fun may rarely enter into the equation. We stop playing for enjoyment and play out of habit, but what causes it and how can we rediscover our love of gaming?
How Does Gaming Become Routine?
There are numerous reasons we become enamored with games when we don't intend to. These can largely be broken down into two categories: game design and biological reactions.
Games are designed to be somewhat addictive, for example if a raid resets on Thursday you can be sure there's a guild prepped to raid on Friday night. It's not the only example, look at how multiplayer is used as a hook for franchises like Titanfall and Star Wars: Battlefront, both shipping with no campaign mode—mistakes that have or will be rectified for future sequels.
This next part gets a little technical, but I'll try to keep it as simple as possible. Gaming results in increased dopamine production, the chemical most commonly associated with pleasure.
Recent research highlighted that the effect of dopamine depends on the mesolimbic pathway it operates in, for example the nucleus accumbent is crucial in registering motivation. It tells the brain something is happening, whether we're eating Christmas chocolate or reacting to a tough loss in-game. This extra shot of dopamine gives us the motivation to push forward—the reason you never want to end on a loss or the reason you grab another handful of chocolate.
Recognizing when you're being driven by dopamine can help you snap out of some unhealthy gaming routines. For example, I play a ton of ranked League of Legends, which comes with wondrous euphoria and extreme disappointment based on any particular evening. Playing to reclaim lost points rather than because I'm having fun is a key indicator that it's time to take a break.
Knowing when to take a step back is important when realizing you've fallen into this loop, which brings me back to my initial question, "Am I having fun?"
If The Answer Is 'No', Then Break The Routine
You've realized you're not having fun and just like early 2000s Linkin Park, you need to break the habit. So just how do you go about rekindling your love for video games?
There are quite a few ways to go about it, perhaps the most drastic is pretending it's the day after thanksgiving and going cold turkey. They say absence only makes the heart grow fonder, so when you return you'll probably remember why you loved the game to begin with. Some games are continually evolving, so when you dive back in there'll be new things to learn—the recent 7.00 update to Dota 2 completely reinvented the game.
Alternatively try something different. I stated earlier that I'm a hugely competitive League player. It takes up a large portion of the time I spend gaming, but the runner up is 15-year old MMO RuneScape, my antithesis to League of Legends. Regardless of how badly I perform on League, the experience counter only ever climbs upward in RuneScape.
You don't always have to look outside of your favorite game to find that—though like many I'm partial to Steam sales—simply playing the game a different way can snap you out of your rut. Whether you play a different game mode, try a new character class or level up that profession you've been putting off.
One thing I think is pretty important is knowing when to give up. Now hear me out before you grab the pitch forks: Certain things simply aren't worth your time. As much as I praise The Witcher 3, the question marks littering the map of Skellige are mostly smugglers caches, resulting in a monotonous game loop:
- Step one: sail to smugglers cache
- Step two: kill surrounding monsters
- Step three: loot the cache
- Step four (optional): when inventory is full sale to a vendor to sell items
- Repeat as necessary
I said repeat as necessary, but if you want to clear the map you'll probably repeat that loop around 40 times with 15 trips to the vendor—dull, right? Now I normally enjoy exploring the question markers, since you never really know what you'll stumble into; a side quest, a hunter contract, some abandoned treasure or a monster so overpowered you barely scratch it. Caches remove that mystery since they're the only thing found in deep water and only serve to pad out what is otherwise a stellar experience.
For a little context, if you clear every objective on the map before you reach Skellige, you open one smugglers cache. Ultimately I removed it from my to-do list, I mean, I wasn't enjoying it, so why do it?
Admittedly it went against every completionist fiber in my body, but it only detracted from the experience and turned something I loved into a chore. If gaming is about fun, then I want real fun. What about you?
Do you ever find you stop having fun with a game? How do you cope?
(Sources: Dopamine and Gaming)