The Overwhelmed Video Gamer

Okay, okay.  So we all know how incredibly excited I am for The Elder Scrolls: Skryim to come out.  I literally cried a little when I watched those developer gameplay videos.  So yes, I am ecstatic for Skryim.

However.

You know what?  I’m also a little afraid.  Aside from the obvious ‘My social life is going down the drain for a month or so after Skyrim drops’, there’s another issue here.  Sometimes, I feel like an overwhelmed video gamer.

Oblivion's Open World

Over the river, through the woods... Damn, must've taken a wrong turn somewhere.

What exactly is an overwhelmed video gamer?  Well, since we’re talking Elder Scrolls, let’s take Oblivion, for example.  Oblivion, I’m sure, is a great game.  I own it, in fact.  I just never played very much of it.  Sometimes, when I’m playing a game with a massively open world, I get overwhelmed with the amount of sidequests and optional content there is available.  I get distracted.  I get overencumbered faster than you can accuse my character of stealing.  I feel… almost lost.  Directionless.  With no major push towards the main quest, I can look at the game as a whole and go, “Wow, I can’t see actually finishing this”.  So I don’t.  With Oblivion, you don’t necessarily have to immediately begin doing the main quest.  In fact, it’s very open ended.  Bethesda is adamant about not forcing you into doing the main quest.  But to me, in a way, that can be harder to deal with.

Okay, sooooo... where to next... ?

Bethesda is known for making their games open ended.  In Fallout 3, once you escape Vault 101, you don’t have to follow the main mission you were given.  In fact, you could walk out into that deserted wasteland and immediately being exploring the opposite direction of where you’re vaguely pointed to check out in the main quest.  And this would be perfectly acceptable, welcomed, in fact, by Bethesda.  But to me, a “I’ve gotta finish every single side quest” type of gamer, this is actually overwhelming.  I think it’s easier for me to be pushed in some way towards a main goal, and then side quests and additional content seems more manageable.  In Fallout 3, I can get easily distracted by a new quest that pops up.  Continually starting a new quest and finishing (maybe) 1 in 5 can be frustrating.

On the flip side, I feel that a game like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2 balances the amount of drive you’re given towards your main goal in the game and still gives you freedom to go where you want, to complete optional side quests.  Despite the epic proportions of those games, I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of possibilities of where to go next, or of how many side quests I was receiving.

The Elder Scrolls Skyrim Logo

This logo strikes both awe and fear in my heart.

I’m like this in real life as well.  I have a tendency to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed by the whole thing, rather than take it and break it down into manageable chunks.  It can be enough to turn me off from large projects.  I would never make a good project manager.  A college report, for example, could be incredibly stressful for me, because all I could think was, “I need to write HOW many pages?!”.  (By the way, let it be known that I am not currently in college; the example is simply that – an example.)

With Bethesda stating that Skyrim will be loaded with additional content, packed into approximately the same size map as Oblivion, I’m scared of getting that overwhelmed, disoriented feeling.  I don’t want to end up frustrated with how many open quests I’ve started and how few I’ve completed.  Hopefully I can push through and keep playing, because Skyrim is definitely going to be incredible.

Anyone else ever feel like this?

-Kat

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Comments

Posted On
Sep 27, 2011
Posted By
CalamityBird

Oh lordy, all the time! And I AM a college student right now (better late than never!) – looking at all the papers I have to write and all the chapters I have to read just this quarter, part of me is giggling like a schoolgirl for Skyrim and part of me just wants to go crawl under my bed. :/

I have *one* hope, and that is the fact that Oblivion didn’t seem to hook me on the story the way that other RPGs do. I loved it more like a sandbox game. I was still a total completionist, doing every quest I could find and finishing all the expansion content – but I wasn’t particularly invested in my character or the story, so it was a bit easier to play at a slower pace. If it takes 6 months, it takes 6 months, yk?

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Posted On
Sep 28, 2011
Posted By
Dorag

I thought this was an article of Skyrim because of the title but the content is all about the writer….. >.<

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Posted On
Sep 28, 2011
Posted By
poppatron

i have to be honest with you, if you didnt get into oblivion, i doubt your experience with skyrim will be massively different im afraid. theres even more to do! when i started playing oblivion, the moment i got outdoors i was filled with complete wonder, compelled to see what was in every nook and cranny in the 360 degree horizon! thats what got me 100% through every side quest and mission in the game.
my only worry at this point is “did i perhaps spend to much time enjoying cyrodil for me to feel that wonder and excitement again”. i loved fallout 3 and another example is gta san andreas (by far my favorite in the series) and spent so much time lost in their worlds that when their relative sequels came out, and my excitement was at boiling point. i was massively let down. i know some will argue both gta iv and new vegas where slightly inferior and had plenty of their own problems, but i think maybe their biggest one would of been just how awesome the earlier ones had been, and how much time id already spent playing them, lots!
as far as flaws go, theres much worse! im still getting skyrim day 1, im just trying to play lots of other genres until them, and lets face it, octobers a good month to do that! other then dark souls (demonsouls was soooo good!) we’re fairly spoilt for choice. its a good year to be a gamer guys, yay! thank you games industry for taking care of us!

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Posted On
Sep 28, 2011
Posted By
a gamer

dude please….dont post these articles buz because MIGHT read them(so no more sandbox titles from themo)
some gamers dont know what they want.. i understand your concern
but you have to understand that you dont have to do ANTHING to enjoy a bethesda game
its a game with ALMOST unlimited content but that doesnt mean that you cant make a story in your mind and follow particular sidequests

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
Gai

Wow, id actually never thought of it like that – maybe im just a noob rpg player lol, though ive been playing for years. I think when i play skyrim, ill just play the game kind of like how life is – if i run into a new town, ill stay for a maybe 3 or 4 days, like a drifter lol; instead of bing-questing, and doing a bunch of quests – running all over the globe just to finish one of them. I’ll just tackle whats infront of me as it comes – kind of how i live my life lol. Almost makes the whole thing a non-problem.

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
KatTiki

You know, I was going to defend my position (and I do stand behind my post because it’s my opinion), but I’m so intrigued by your suggestion to make up my own story for my character and go with it rather than wait for a story to be forced upon my character, that instead, I applaud you. I think doing this will actually help me push through.

-Kat

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Posted On
Sep 28, 2011
Posted By
KimB

Funny thing is I had a similar feeling the first time I played Oblivion or fallout. I feel like finishing EVERYTHING and explore EVERYTHING and try goet EVERY sidequest. It just ends up with me having a billion sidequests and no motivation to do them at all.

While I’ve gotten a little bit better at that I try to go for the main quest mainly, while if i find any sidequests I’ll do them. And then just on my second playthrough I’ll explore much more and do more sidequests because then I’ll have more of a feeling of how the map is. Because damn, sometimes I just get lost in a game even if the map is staring in my face.

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Posted On
Sep 28, 2011
Posted By
Mark

I, too, am a hopeless completionist. I, too, got overwhelmed with Oblivion and it’s huge, open world and lack of push towards finishing the main quest.

And it looks like Skyrim will be no different in terms of openness and whether or not the main quest needs to be completed. But I pre-ordered it on Steam anyway. I’m definitely looking forward to playing the day it’s released, but with a good dose of trepidation…

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
KatTiki

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still planning on pre-ordering and getting it the day it comes out. That goes without saying. I will still probably weep over the amazing graphics and epic swelling music & sound effects. I just hope I can force myself to stay focused enough not to get that overwhelmed feeling and wind up giving up.

-Kat

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Posted On
Sep 28, 2011
Posted By
wadoobie

Come to think of it I am not sure I ever actually beat Oblivion. I remember questing my ass off but don’t recall ever seeing a final cut scene…

I will have to rectify this with Skyrim.

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Posted On
Sep 28, 2011
Posted By
moonshine

The dragonshouts will push you toward the main quest in skyrim, apparently the shout are linked to dragons and dragons are linked to the main quest, so the best you will actually get rewarded for completing the game than with a piece of crap armor

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Posted On
Sep 28, 2011
Posted By
Lykos

I agree with the points of this article. I’m so damn excited anyway. I know what the writer means. But dude, I was like you. I was blown away by Oblivion but then was too overwhelmed and just left it on my shelf for months. But dude, getting back in it is the best thing you could do. I did that. I forced myself to do the main quest and since then I’ve poured hundreds of hours into it. Just take baby steps. Focus on the mainquest and try to complete that first. Then do guild/side quests afterwards.
You will have your mind blown. :) Do it before Skyrim hits shelves or you may never.

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
KatTiki

I really think breaking it down into manageable pieces would be helpful. “Kat, just focus on the main story right now.” Or, “Kat, just do this town’s quests for now.” Yes, I do talk myself occasionally while playing… isn’t that normal?

Because, honestly, I don’t think I did much more than close 1 Oblivion gate before Oblivion was back on my shelf. I’m also a big Scaredy-Kat, so that doesn’t help when you’re fighting demon-spawn.

-Kat

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
Dowiee

This is the kind of article that does my head in, overwhelming….really! How many games are there like elder scrolls, fallout series that offer such a unique game environment. This game is ‘free world rpg’ at it’s very best, you don’t want to do the main quest straight away, don’t…if you do…do then go on to do side quests, there is no ultimate ending so your not restricted to cramming it all in over a period of time…if you get ‘overwhelmed’ by this stick to games your brain can handle such as dragan age origin…they guide you through in a kind of step by step way!!! Don’t post these articles about yourself it’s pathetic, all it aims to do is get bsda to change their game into one that is not unique, creative or gives the player so much control…go dip you head face is acid n stop writing such rtarded articles you flop.

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
wadoobie

pssst. I think you meant to say “Dragon”. See…the O after the G and not an A. You’re welcome.

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
Mark

+1 to wadoobie 😉

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
KatTiki

I’m pretty sure you’re missing the point here. First of all, this is an opinion related blog. Also, it’s my blog, not yours. So telling me not to post my opinion on my own blog is like telling a novelist not to write their own novels. And I’m not at all saying I don’t appreciate what Bethesda has done in such a free world environment; I’m simply saying it can be overwhelming to certain people. I’m absolutely not advocating that Bethesda change their formula; in no way do I suggest that. In fact, I don’t want them to. If all games were the same, that would suck. Let me reiterate: opinion. This. Is. Mine. You clearly have your own. That’s great. I welcome opposing viewpoints. However, I would recommend running off to your own free world and learning proper grammar and spelling before you try insulting someone. There are restrictions on the English language. 😉

-Kat

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
ahoodedfigure

I don’t share your feelings on this at all, but I can empathize when it comes to other experiences. When it comes to games I just sort of dive in and see what happens; I’m not afraid of being bored if I don’t stumble across what the game designers intended. I wonder if it’s how we’ve trained ourselves to play games over time, and how that influences how we tackle a new experience that influences how we feel when we first play something.

See, I tend to feel overwhelmed when I’m told exactly what to do, but that the directions seem convoluted. I wonder if that’s analogous. Been playing a game that’s fairly linear, but it’ll throw new moves or things to do at me too quickly or with not enough detail. If I was just asked to explore things and figure it out on my own, I’d be fine, but it already gives me the answers, tells me how to play, and then all my exploration skills have to be ignored while I piece together the directions that flashed on the screen for a few seconds.

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
wadoobie

So you’re saying that you feel video games like Oblivion to be a breath of fresh air, while games like Catherine would strike you as overwhelming with the “Here’s 15 new moves to try out! What do you mean you don’t remember the last 15 moves?”

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
ahoodedfigure

I’m not familiar with Catherine’s tutorial style, but I’ve been playing Getting Up, an old XBox game, which does encourage some exploration, but will often through counter-intuitive moves at me in dialog boxes, and expect me to remember these things for the rest of the game. If the system was logical and straightforward, I’d be able to internalize these things through practice and being thrown into situations where it expects me to use them often enough that I’ll remember (and it’ll remind me if I forget).

I like to break stuff, and I like to explore, and I know I’ll get taken care of in a game like Morrowind because they make that sort of game for people who like to just go make their own story, as it were. (Although… I did manage to ruin a game once by selling a thing to someone I shouldn’t have).

I’ll characterize it this way, and people can feel free to disagree: playing a game is developing a conversation of sorts between yourself and the person who designed the game. When I feel overwhelmed, it’s because I’m expected to follow what the designer wants me to do. Sort of like following etiquette and manners at a luncheon. While the other form of overwhelmed-ness is the designer walking up to you, shaking your hand, sitting down, and expecting you to be the one to talk to him or her. The only way you learn more about what they’re thinking is by provoking different reactions through what you say. So instead of worrying about following etiquette, you’re more worried about what’s expected of you, regardless of the etiquette you happen to follow.

I don’t think there’s a wrong way to play a game, but some games are geared more toward one approach than another, assuming they’re done well.

When the character in the top hat in the screencap above is looking out over this wilderness, I think “let’s see what’s going on in that town.” It’s up to the game to reward me for that choice, but if it doesn’t I don’t worry about it. Eventually the game will prove itself to me by how it reacts to my choices.

When Getting Up piles on the instructions, I sit there wondering just how much of this stuff will actually matter, and when I will be able to reach the essence of what it is to play this game. Simpler games make this a lot easier on you by pretty much laying things out right away and letting you deal with the consequences of your actions. I still enjoy Getting Up when it calms down and lets me experience the game world, but I’m still worried that eventually it’ll expect a certain approach that’s informed by the mechanics it gave me, and I won’t be able to perform.

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
wadoobie

Catherine was very much “Here are 4 or 5 videos that show you these super cool new moves” “now here’s 4 or 5 new videos that show you new moves”. I was left frequently thinking “Wait, more? What were the last ones? Shit, just climb, CLIMB!” However there were times that this litany of moves were required to complete a level and I wound up stuck for hours.

I like your analogy to playing a game being a conversation with the developer. However I’m inclined to feel that more often than not these are either one sided conversations or they are conversations between me and 20 different people and my ADD kicks in and suddenly I’m not sure what’s going on I just know I’m stealing every spoon I can to build a spoon cave.

I’ve always been more of the mind that it’s like reading a novel. They can either tell you a very specific story or they can give you a choose your own adventure. There are always a set number of out comes. You can’t change the inevitable outcomes however you can change which ones you see and how you go about getting there.

However the conversation approach does help foster a more heartwarming closeness with the developers and writers. This makes me smile a little.

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Posted On
Sep 30, 2011
Posted By
ahoodedfigure

I guess if you get hung up on the particulars of the term, “conversation” doesn’t seem right, but let me develop it a bit more. When we talk to the designer, it’s obviously not direct, but we ARE conversing with the designer (and team)’s virtual extension of themselves. I believe that we, at least figuratively, put a bit of ourselves into things we create, especially when we go about it intelligently, anticipating problems, providing for proactive solutions, and so on.

So while it’s not literally a back-and-forth conversation with another human being, you are interacting with a virtual self of sorts, that’s a combination of all the rules and ideas they assembled into a self-governing machine. While the designers may never know about the decisions you made, if they anticipate them and make an engine that embraces them rather than spits them out and says “error,” you feel like you have exchanged information, just like you feel in a conversation. You feel taken care of when you see inside jokes, or when you do things out of order and are not only rewarded for completing everything, but the game says “we saw what you did.” The machine may not literally be aware, but it feels aware, and our game experiences are all about that space between us and the machine that’s created as we play.

Same with books, in my opinion. The writer creates a world you interact with. You bring your own flaws and experiences in, and you merge their world and your mind, creating something that may not be what the writer envisioned, but if you through your interaction feel like they recognize what you might bring to the table, or if they stimulate thoughts you hadn’t had before, something has still been interchanged there.

Movies are like that too, I’d say. The ones I enjoy the most let me explore ideas in a bunch of different ways, sometimes changing every time I view them. The experience itself is the same for everyone in a way, noisy theaters aside, but because each person brings their changing selves to the table every time, things are bound to be different than they were before.

And then when we talk about our experiences afterward, we affect the perception of that film/game/book in others’ minds, which will likely affect how they receive something. Since a lot of you are in marketing you know how prior expectations can affect how something is received. Over-hyping can create a backlash of negativity, underselling can sometimes bring a burst of “pleasant surprise” that gives something a boost.

I also see there being a set number of outcomes as removing the humanity from the equation a bit. Not only are there potential errors and mistakes involved in combining all the variables, but WE change over time, our moods change, and how we receive a situation we’re presented with can alter how we perceive things later. So while an ending in a game may be the same, the first time I play I won’t see the significance of someone throwing down a banner in the final shot, but the next time I play through I’ll remember that the person swore loyalty to the kingdom that banner represents, so when they throw it away, I realize, they’re saying the cost of the battle was too high. The scene didn’t change, but my reaction to it did, and thus this virtual middle ground between me and the game changes, too.

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Posted On
Sep 29, 2011
Posted By
KatTiki

I seriously love what you are bringing to the table in terms of discussion. I’m fascinated by your idea that games are like a conversation with the game developer, particularly because I see myself as an introvert, and I’m cringing at the thought of trying to come up with off-the-wall things to say to the developer/designer in your latter scenario.

What’s funny is that games like ICO or the Myst series, that drop you in with absolutely no direction, and little to no explanations, I have found that I love. Have you tried those? I’d love to get your opinion on them. I think it’s because there still is some semblance of ‘structure’, in that you do have to follow a set path or sequence in order to progress, that I don’t get overwhelmed by them. The puzzles can be frustrating, or sometimes (particularly with the Myst series), I realize I’m missing pressing some silly button, but I find the games incredible.

-Kat

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Posted On
Sep 30, 2011
Posted By
ahoodedfigure

I’m a bit of an introvert myself, and I cringe at the idea of following etiquette without getting a chance to memorize the rules and know WHY they exist. When typing the former example I got flashbacks of all the times this sort of thing has caused me problems :)

I’ve not played ICO, but I loved Myst. I can see the distinction you’re making between something like Myst and something like Fallout 3. In both games you aren’t told everything, and if I understand it right, F3 actually sort of gives you basic hints to get you moving, while Myst plonks you down in a weird island with a bunch of strange junk in it and you’re not told “you can click on stuff.”

In a way F3 does sort of what I talked about Getting Up doing for me, or Catherine doing for wadoobie, in that it provides you with perhaps not enough context for the things it DOES expect from you (eg find dad). Myst has no overt quest, at least to start, so you are thrown into a world with no expectations and can sort of create your relationship with the environment as you go.

What’s weird is that I’ve seen people react almost violently to Myst’s lack of handholding. One video I watched/suffered through had someone ranting about how Myst never tells you what to do, exactly; that you’re expected to fiddle with things until you figure them out. It was that video more than any other, even though I’ve been gaming a very long time, that showed me you just can’t please everyone, that some experiences are going to leave us cold (unless we change how we see them after some time has passed).

In games like Morrowind or Grand Theft Auto, I tend to ignore the main quests/missions completely and just explore the space provided. Only when I get bored doing that do I bother with the main quest. I wonder if a thought experiment is possible, where you try to tell yourself that the main part of the game, its main expectations, aren’t important at all, and that you’re just going to see what the world has to offer as if you were walking into the middle of it without any expectations, like in Myst. If you ever get a chance to try that out, I wonder if that’ll change how it feels at all.

You’re right, though, that both Myst and ICO do have less overall directions you can go, so maybe I’m not characterizing things right. Myst encourages exploration but doesn’t have tons of choices, and if you’re not playing Realmyst one could even count (with a calculator at least) how many possible screens there are, since you only get so many facings and things to click on. But some people are overwhelmed by Myst because the structure isn’t explicit.

Just like there’s a conversation between you and the game in a way, there’s also an ongoing conversation in the sense that game design evolves and builds off of other games that came before. If someone creates a unique experience, some people are going to reflexively dismiss it at pretentious or whatever just because it’s not building on mechanics or gameplay everyone already knows. Myst at the time was sort of weird, in that way, even though in many ways it’s straight out of those old text adventures (which I often find overwhelming).

Cool conversation, everybody :)

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