Letters from Tamriel, Part VII - The Gaming Dilemma

I am well and truly back in TESO, having logged in now basically every night for the last two to three weeks for varying durations of time. At the bare minimum I train my mount, update my crafting queues, collect the materials harvested by my NPC hirelings and then log off. If I have more time to spare I either resume questing or try to find some PvP in Cyrodiil. Questing is done either in Cyrodiil in the daily quest hubs, or in the quest hubs located in the PvE zones. Doing dailies is the most efficient way of earning experience for me, because I know the quests and locations by heart. The city of Bruma is a particularly bountiful source of Veteran points - the quests objectives are all close by and can be ground out in an hour or less for about 100,000 points of experience. It takes 1 million Veteran points to advance each rank, so a one hour session in Bruma earns me about a tenth of what I need to level up.

Yuri Hatakeyama back in her homeland, in the Redguard capital of Sentinel in the Alik'r Desert.

Ten hours for one rank, which means 60 more hours before I hit the level cap. I must be insane. The downside of doing dailies is that I am acutely aware that I am grinding, and I have to adjust my environment accordingly. I put on some music, or play a video in the background to try and mollify the nagging voice in my head saying that I AM WASTING MY LIFE. To what end? To get to the level cap of a game that is dying by inches around me. Albion Online is in alpha - I could be playing that instead. Or finishing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Or hitting the gym. Or studying Japanese. I'm thinking of starting a Japanese blog so I can practice my written kanji and kana. Games have a non-trivial cost associated with them. The 30 hours I sunk into Wasteland 2 represent six weeks of training three times a week, enough time to make palpable gains in weight reduction, muscle tone, improving resting heart rate and lowering blood pressure. 30 hours of Japanese study is 1/10th of the time required to pass the intermediate stage of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which estimates the time required at 300 hours. 30 hours is a DIY garage or shed, or the time required to completely repave the surrounds of your house, and perhaps build a balcony or an extension. 30 more hours spent with family or loved ones could be the difference between being at peace when someone passes, or harbouring regrets to your dying day.

Fortunately I'm older now and hopefully more mature, which means gaming comes last in the list of priorities. I don't game unless I've ticked off my must-do items - work, training, study, and relationships all come first before I can sit down and enter the virtual. Guilt-free play is the goal - being able to enjoy something unproductive and unrelated to work without feeling like you should have been doing something else. I feel that I achieve that most days now, but the wretched question that inevitably pops up is deciding in what kind of play I will indulge in. Is all play equal? I've already decided that these next two hours will be a write-off in terms of productivity. Since it's a write-off anyway, does it matter if you spend these two hours making the Sisyphusian climb to the level cap in a dying game, or use it to try out something new?

It comes down to fun then, perhaps the most amorphous and singularly useless term in the lexicon of gaming. Fun for some is a pejorative - Gevlon uses it to describes the aimlessness of "socials", and their failure to set concrete objectives and goals. For others, fun sometimes seem to represent a failure of language - when prompted as to why they do what they do in games some people's mouths gape open like fish out of water and they shrug helplessly, then meekly say, "Because it's fun?" And then there are others for which fun is a mantra, a self-explaining and self-contained word of POWER which requires no further unpacking or elaboration. You ask these types of people why they do what they do, and they look at you as if you were some kind of half-wit and reply, "Because it's fun (you bloody idiot)."

This party ain't no fun at all.

When you say something is fun I have no idea what you are talking about, unless I happen to find the same thing fun, too. I might have a general idea of what you mean, but there are times when I am completely baffled by what people consider "fun". I'm sure it applies the other way, too.

So I've decided that I will only spend time in TESO in activities which are "fun". But for someone like me, earning that little bit of experience towards the level cap can be "fun" - it tells me that within the context of the game I have achieved something, even if it is unproductive by the standards of the world outside the virtual. In other words I take time off from work in order to play in order to work in play because I find it "fun". Circles within circles, metas within metas. The Russian doll, the recurring image in a hall of mirrors, the self-referential observing eye that springs from the universe and becomes aware of its own existence.

"What the hell do you mean you're not having fun?"

For me the answer to the gaming dilemma - the question of whether or not games are worth the opportunity cost they bear - has always been to share the experience with others. No time spent in the company of those you care about is wasted. But beyond this simple truth I must also admit to a certain kinship with the hundreds and thousands of strangers who play the same types of games that I do. We all like making sand castles and kicking them over, and in the process we weave narratives for ourselves portraying ourselves as heroes or villains in a way we could never do within the strictures of our real life personas. We can be cruel and vicious and petty - but we are all kindred souls, even if this fact is lost in the scramble for standing. We share a common vocabulary. It might be at each other's expense, but we understand each other's concept of "fun". 

Enough navel gazing - it's time to grind some more levels and perhaps try to find some PvP. I think I will try Albion Online when it comes out on alpha next week, because it sounds like "fun" to me. Open world PvP and full loot rules will ensure that this game will only appeal to a niche market. But I like these types of games - I like playing around in mock wars and being surrounded by folk who feel the same way. Perhaps now though, should I come across someone in this game there might be a short pause as I behold this stranger from the far corners of the Internet, and reflect on the fact that despite our differences, it is our shared conception of "fun" that has brought us together in this virtual space. I will look into the eyes of my enemy and contemplate the distant kinship which binds us together, before finally kicking them in the groin, stabbing them in the back and stealing their stuff.


  1. Bolt Gaming make video games. Specifically, we make video games that are exciting and different. Video games that encourage social play. Video games that push the limits of how people play games. Oh, and video games that are FUN.


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