Putting off starting a new game

I have a soft spot for JRPGs, but I have a hard time getting started playing a new one. I lay out a few reasons why that is

My memory is a little fuzzy, but I think the first JRPG that I played was Final Fantasy IV. 1. I immediately liked the format, the style, the gameplay, the whole works, and it hooked me on JRPGs. I never went crazy-deep into the genre, though, because it turns out that I like lots of other genres, too. But I kept coming back to JRPGs because they would let me play them at my own pace. They would let me have fun pretty much immediately instead of having to spend hours and hours 'getting good'2 before I could really enjoy them.

But then something curious happened: I graduated college.

Okay, so it's not that weird, but once I graduated college my life... pretty much stayed the same. I still had two jobs I was working to try and make ends meet (I traded college classes for a part-time job in my field, while still working in another part time job not in my field because it turns out that I like to buy things like food once in a while). But I spent nearly every hour that I wasn't either at work or at other work playing video games. I'd stay up late to play them. I'd play them instead of doing chores around the house. I'd play them to the exclusion of everything else. It's possible that I had an addiction, but I think it was more a case of me being socially awkward, not having much money, and being bored a lot.

Cutting out a lot of details, we can fast forward a little bit and I wrote an article for another blog a long time ago where I started to realize that games were getting longer and longer. Not fake-longer like when magazine reviews said that Secret of Mana was a 70-hour game, but I finished the whole thing in less than 20 the first time through, but really getting longer. JRPGs were starting to creep up and suddenly games were taking 30 or more hours to complete, and that's even before you take into account any optional content. Main quest: 30 hours. Or maybe 40. Or 50. Or even longer.

When I was a kid I used to look at those time-to-complete estimates in whatever magazine I was reading that week and I knew that they were all baloney, but they were a pretty good indicator of how much content I could reasonably epect to get out of the thing. Since I didn't have a lot of money to get games, it was important that I economized my purchases as wisely as I could. I would get my one new game that month or so and I'd have to make it last. I had nothing but time. But as I got older I started to have other things to do. I had a job that I had to show up to once in a while so they would keep giving me money. I had to do my own laundry, cook my own food, clean my own house, and so on. Suddenly, all that free time I had when I was growing up evaporated3. I still found time to play games, though. But my backlog started to grow, mostly because of a little-known game called World of Warcraft came out the same year I graduated.

I had played a couple of other MMORPGs before getting into WOW, but the one I really got into was Final Fantaxy XI. I liked it a lot, but it took a huge time commitment to do anything in that game. It was designed to be played in groups, so you had to get a group together to do anything. That took time. Then you went out to find a place to hunt enemies, and that took time. Then you sent your tank to go find an enemy, that took time. Then the tank would lure the enemy back to your camp where your group would slaughter it, get the experience points, and you would start the process again. Over and over again for the entire night. If you were lucky you might gain a level after a few nights of doing this. Or you could spend downtime crafting things and trying to sell them to other players. Which took time. The whole game was a giant time sink where you couldn't do anything on your own, really (even the crafting required you to go out into the game and kill things to gather the raw materials that you needed). It also didn't help that, in my case, the group of friends that I had all had 'regular' jobs with 'standard' hours and I was working part time at a job with odd hours where I couldn't join up with them very often, so they were adventuring without me and I was perpetually catching up. But then WOW came on to the scene.

WOW was a game changer. You could actually do things solo if you wanted. There was content that you had to group up for, sure, but you could actually do something if you had time to play but your regular group didn't. Crafting was a lot easier (you didn't have a chance to fail and lose all your expensive materials like you did in Final Fantasy XI), leveling your character up was faster and more exciting. It felt like fun instead of FFXI that often felt like a job. My friends and I all switched, and even though I still worked odd hours and couldn't play with them very often, I could do my own thing at my own pace during the times when they weren't around.

I kept that up for a while, but after several months I realized something. I had still been buying all these other games like I had been before getting into MMORPGs, but I wasn't playing them. Where I used to buy a game, play it through until the end (or I got bored of it and moved on), and the repeat the process on the next one. I wasn't doing that, and I decided to drop the MMORPG habit4 and get back into playing some of these games that have been backlogged.

I started playing games that I had neglected for so long and I started to notice a few things. I noticed that games were taking longer and longer for me to complete. Not in the "I'll-check-the-in-game-clock-and-see-that-I've-been-playing-for-40-hours" way, but in the way where I would play a game that took 30 or so hours to complete, but it would take me a month or more to play through it. This crystalized for me when I played through Tales of Vesperia. I would come home from work and play it every night. Well... not every night. I had intended to play it every night, but it ended up being every few nights, and some longer stretches on the weekends. Once I started getting toward the end of the game, I started feeling like it was never going to end. I had been playing this game exclusively for something like six weeks. In those six weeks, I had clocked somewhere around 55 hours of gameplay, which works out to less than two hours a day.

For a long time I had been used to playing video games at minimum two hours a night (usually a lot more) every night. And every day. And every moment I wasn't doing something else. I had changed how I spent my free time so subtly over the preceeding few years that I didn't even realize that I had done it. I knew that games were taking me longer to play through, and I just chalked that up to games being longer in general. I hadn't realized that, while I was still using most of my free time to play games and it still felt like my habits hadn't changed, less free time and longer games meant that I was probably never going to catch up with my backlog.

Once I realized that I sat down and tried to figure out how much time I could reasonably devote to playing video games in a week. That number changes a lot, but as of this writing (February 2020), that number hovers around six hours a week5. I do my research before starting a new game that I bought because it looked interesting. I check websites that tell me how long I can reasonably expect a playthrough to take and then I divide it by six.

That 50 hour will take me over eight weeks to get through. That 60 hour game, around 10.

I look at those numbers and I have to decide if it's worth it to dedicate my limited resource of time to playing the same game every night for the next two to three months. It's a commitment. It's supposed to be something I do to have fun and unwind, and it is fun when I'm in the moment and playing through the thing (usually), but getting started is harder and harder.

While was noodling this around in my head, I came up with another realization: maybe my limited free time isn't the main reason that I'm averse to starting a new bazillion-hour epic game. That's part of it, sure, but maybe I was closer to the mark the first time. Maybe games just have too much stuff crammed into them.

When I had all the time in the world to play games I could play through something like Secret of Mana in a few days. I could start over and do it again, partly because I didn't have any other games to play at the time, but partly because I could go through it again and see stuff that I might have missed or play something in a slightly different way to see how that worked. When the games get longer and longer, though, that becomes less feasible. But that's not the heart of the issue.

Now when I finish one of these long RPGs, I don't generally go back and play them again. If it took me 40 hours and six weeks to play through it the first time, do I really want to start over again right away and spend another six weeks or more playing the game that I just finished to look for the things I missed or to do the side quests I skipped over? Unless the game is transcendingly good, the answer is usually "No."

And I think that the answer might very well have been the same if this was the case when I was a kid, too. Even if I had six hours a day to dedicate to playing something, it would still take me almost 9 days to finish that game with a 50-hour playtime. That's more than a full-time job. But that's not the heart of the issue.

I hate that now when I finish a game I will most likely never play it again because it will take too long. There was a time where I could rattle off the plot of Secret of Mana or guide someone through some parts they were having trouble with over the phone because I got good enough that I could play through the thing over a long weekend, so I did that a lot. But that's not the heart of the issue.

I hate it that I can't bring myself to start up another game right away after finishing one6. But I scour my backlog and all I can see is huge time commitments. I see that if I want to play Tales of Berseria that I'm going to be playing that game for the next two months, at minimum (assuming I like it enough to see it through to the end). But that's not the heart of the issue, either.

When I was playing through Star Ocean: The Last Hope the game was broken up into, for lack of a better term, dungeons. These 'dungeons' were usually the insides of space ships or in caves, but the areas that they were in were usually hard to reach. It might take 20 or 30 minutes to get to the dungeon from the nearest town because you had to engage in battle with enemies along the way. Once you made it to the dungeon you could usually save your game outside before heading in. There were two kinds of save points in this game: one where you would have all of your life points and magic points restored, and one where you didn't. The save points outside the dungeons were usually the kind that healed you up before you went in.

Inside the dungeons is another story. The insides of the dungeons were huge and sprawling, and usually crawling with enemies that you had to engage in battle with (you could just avoid battles, but battling enemies is how you get stronger in the game, so you usually want to defeat enough enemies so that you were strong enough to take down the boss monster at the end of the dungeon). There was usually one save point somewhere in the dungeon, which seemed to be about at the 'halfway' point, and it wasn't the kind of save point that would heal your wounds. It just let you save your game and that was it. Usually you would have to slowly battle your way through the dungeon to get to this save point and it might take three or four hours just to do that. If you were defeated by an enemy because you weren't prepared by bringing enough healing medicine with you, or just bad luck, then you get booted to your last save point and you might have lost three hours' worth of work. If you realize that you're not quite prepared to fight the boss monster because you used up all of your healing medicine due to the aforementioned bad luck, then your only options are to try the boss battle anyway and hope that luck is on your side for once, or slowly work your way back to the entrance of the dungeon (the enemies might kill you on the way out since you're in a weakened state), make the slog all the way back to the nearest town, stock up on healing medicine and maybe new equipment if it's available, and then start the whole process over again. A single session of this game might take three or four hours or more. That's the heart of the issue.

I can find time to play games, even now. It's just not in the big chunks it was in when I was younger (Heck, even when I was younger, those chunks weren't that big all the time. If it was daytime and Summer, I was typically outside. The rest of the time I did most of my game playing at night instead of doing my homework). I just look at these games and dread that the thing is going to demand that I give it a minimum of three hours every time I sit down. What if I'm on call and I get called into work an hour after I get started playing for the day and there's no save point in sight? What if my phone rings and I have to conduct Adult Business™ but I'm right in the middle of an hour-long cutscene that I triggered after two hours of gameplay and I can't pause?

I had this epiphany when I played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I had avoided it because of all the reasons I've outlined here, but once I started playing it and found that I could suspend it at any time and I could save it at any time and that the hundred-something dungeons were all bite-sized, then I played it in the smaller chunks between other things I had to do. Since I could play it in the small chunks I needed to cram it into the gaps in my schedule I never dreaded turning it back on for a session because I knew that I wasn't committed to spending the next three hours doing it if something came up. Consequently, I clocked in well over a hundred hours, sandwiched in between the other things I had to do over the next few months. At no point did it ever feel like work. I didn't do all the content and side quests, but I don't dread going back and picking it back up again sometime in the Myesterious Future⁜ and maybe even purchasing and playing through the DLC (which I almost never do).

I'm not sure where that leaves my backlog. Maybe if I ever get another job where I'm not on call 24/7/365 I can carve out bigger chunks to do things like play video games, but until that happens I have to continue doing my research and focusing on games that I can actually finish with the constraints that I have on myself. I've long said that I'm preparing this backlog of games so I'll have something to do when I retire, so I'm not going to worry too much about it until then.


  1. Which I thought was Final Fantasy II at the time because of localization shenanigans that we won't get into here
  2. Though, to be fair, once you play a JRPG for a bunch of hours, you end up getting good anyway, but I find that it's more fun to get there than mindlessly grinding.
  3. This was your typical, "Holy crap, I'm in the Real World™ now and I have to take care of everything myself" story.
  4. Not permanently, but we can talk about that in another article
  5. I can sometimes squeeze more hours in if I can't cut the grass because it got rained out or was too sick to go to work or if I decide that I don't really need to sleep anyway that night for some reason*
    • Which I always regret the next morning
  6. 'Right away' in this context means a few days or a week after, depending on how much post-game stuff I decide to do (if there is any)

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