I've been thinking a lot about why it is that I love both 2008's Bully and 2010's Persona 3 Portable, which I've recently started playing on my Vita. Both games are set in high schools, and while I'm on the record as wanting more High School games, that's only part of the reason I like them as much as I do.
What I really love about both games is that they make me keep to a schedule.
In life, I love having unscheduled time. I'm never that productive with it, but it's nice (and increasingly rare) when I'll have a stretch of time where I'm not supposed to be actively doing something on a deadline. While I love a good open-ended game as much as the next guy, they can sometimes stress me out. There's too much to do!
In Rockstar's Bully, players control Jimmy Hopkins, a student at Bullworth Academy. Among all of the open-world shenanigans typical of a Rockstar game, the school schedule is one of the most distinctive features of Bully. There's a clock in the corner of the screen, and everything I do is part of a regular schedule.
I remember the first time I played Bully, I was working on my first album. It required a lot of writing, and a lot of scheduling. And for whatever reason, Bully fit in with my creative process perfectly. I'd play through the morning in Hopkins' day, attend a class, and then take a break to work on a recording. It provided a lovely rhythm—even the open-world quests that Jimmy is assigned wind up having to fit into his daily routine. And that routine is comforting and relaxing to me.
Wouldn't it be nice to just live in a dorm, go to school, and occasionally fight giant demons? Yeah, it would.
I feel the same way about Persona 3 Portable, which is much more regimented in its schedule than Bully, and actually more compulsive because of it. Every day there are classes to attend, friends to hang out with, and activities to undertake. It's all about choices, though—will I train in Tartarus tonight? Or will I head out with Akihiko and take Koro for a walk?
The constant scheduling of P3P is a relief, not a burden. I remember back when Leigh Alexander wrote about "Nice Guys, Stressed Ladies, and the Curious Ways they Play Video Games", she interviewed a friend who played FarmVille for the comfort of the routine.