Last time, I wrote about the recently released souped-up Xbox One X, which is of course a game console. Since that post was pretty heavily gear-centric, I wanted to follow up with a bit of “process” to round it out. Process is the other side of the coin for a thinking consumer. It should start before we even buy something, with a question of whether owning the product will result in a net benefit to some area of our lives. Onwards from that initial implementation of process, it defines how we use the product, and a little bit of how it uses us. Surprised by that last part? You shouldn’t be. What we own and use affects our habits, and habits are a major part of existence on earth. So we need to think about these things – the alternative is to be, in a very real sense, a mindless consumer.
Back to that game console. Video games sure do take up a large space in the modern life. As such, they’ve expanded in many ways, as has the ways we experience them. They’re now extremely complex, insanely expensive to make, and more beautiful and lifelike than ever. It’s easy to get sucked into them, and developers know this: see the rise of the term “games as services” over the past few years. These are games which are supported more actively by developers after launch, often with new content to freshen things and keep players invested. Naturally this model existed long ago with games like World of Warcraft, but the success of games like Destiny, which took that element of in-world refreshes, along with the shared-world aspect of connectedness with other players, has resulted in plenty of developers and publishers looking to claw out a piece of that realm as well.
Destiny is my personal game-as-service, something that I like to go back to regularly. It’s almost as if, alongside the activity that is playing a video game, there is a parallel activity that is playing Destiny, concurrent rather than subservient to the former. It’s existed in the world of sports for a long time, in the form of favorite teams. You grow attached to a team, and when you watch their games, you’re not just watching sports. You’re watching the Cubs. As such, I believe there is a higher risk of becoming rather obsessed with the favorite activity. It’s another term that’s used within the games industry, “games as lifestyle.” Okay, there’s a can of worms. Does your lifestyle consist solely of not just playing games (we’d call you a gamer, or more specifically maybe a hardcore gamer), but playing one game? That sounds a little troublesome.
On the one hand, there’s nothing innately wrong with a degree of exclusivity in the games you play. If you find that one game that fits like a glove, then you enjoy the reward cycles within that game all the more. That’s great – and that’s me with Destiny 2 nowadays. On the other hand, though, it does narrow the amount of experiences I have with video games, which means narrowing the viewpoints I experience in video games down to those of the Destiny developers, Bungie, and the way they want to represent only this one game, Destiny. I generally recommend diversity in the types and genres of media we consume. If you meet someone, for instance, who reads a lot of books in diverse genres and on diverse subjects, they’re probably going to be more well-rounded than those who read an equal amount of books, but only mysteries, or only Stephen King. It’s never a good idea to pigeonhole ourselves. It’s probably worthwhile for me, in this case, to climb out of the familiar groove of Destiny now and then.
This, then, is the first point of Process in this post: make sure you keep your experiences diverse. There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but the mind thrives on variety.
Another facet of games-as-service is the meta-narrative. It’s the conversation around the game, and it can be a rewarding thing to invest yourself in. Destiny, as the primary example here, has an active community that includes several excellent podcasts. By picking apart the game detail by detail, fans can learn a lot that isn’t part of the primary activity (running around and shooting things). This helps players get better at the game, and usually increases the level of enjoyment they get out of it as well. When you boil it down, it results in self-improvement, which is always valuable and, I would argue, improves other areas of life. That is the best thing you can hope to get out of video games as a whole, or games-as-services in particular. It’s one thing to enjoy an activity, but it’s more worthwhile if it positively affects the rest of the time in some measurable way.
Self-improvement, in this case, means observing and evaluating the decisions made in the heat of the moment. Looking for lessons to learn from the past, and implementing them to improve the future. This can be as simple as listening to the excellent meta-narrative that is available, or can be as complex as recording and rewatching your own gameplay, testing theories in game, and developing personal rituals around managing stress or focus. If you’re going to spend a considerable amount of time at a single activity, especially one as focused as playing a single game, this should at some level be a part of your experience. It’s easy to develop bad habits in games, like running into the middle of the fight and dying (something I still find myself doing when I’m not actively thinking of how to be better), so we need to develop good habits to counteract those.
Good habits start with analyzing your weak points. As a broader benefit, my weak points are often those which create the most frustration and stress within the frenetic atmosphere of a player-versus-player match, so when I counteract those it’s good for my general health and well-being. It teaches restraint, resistance to flying off the handle, awareness of my reactions. Those are important life skills, not just useful video game skills.
I’m hoping that it becomes clear in this post that we are affected by those things which we spend time doing, or, to bring it back to what I said at the beginning, the things we use also use us. The second and most important point of Process here is that everything is connected, and we should be using the things we do for relaxation to better us in small ways. All the small things add up to the big things.
Image credit: Bungie