It's 4am. I'm lying down in bed, barely holding up my 3DS.
By that point, I've been playing Fire Emblem: Awakening all night—long enough that I wouldn't blame anyone for wondering if I'm sharp enough to keep pretending I'm still a competent tactician. But, I don't care. The game has me wired; it's that good. And yet it's one of those situations where I know that if I put it down, I'd fall asleep just fine.
I don't really have the intention of doing that though. Instead I opt to visit the game's barracks—where you can eavesdrop on your army. The top screen shows you who is in the barracks. The bottom screen typically shows you idle small-talk from a random character.
Most of the time, I don't even notice the bottom screen. That night, I do.
"What are you still doing up, Alois?"
...woah, what? Why did that character say to me? I wasn't shocked at the time, not exactly, but the fact it seems to know I'm playing at an odd hour definitely made me self-conscious. Enough that I do actually go to sleep right then and there, though the next day, just the same, I find myself playing Fire Emblem well into the night.
And again, I notice that the characters respond to that.
"Hello, Alois. I was just preparing for a graceful night's sleep."
Okay, fine. Sleep. And then the next morning:
"Good morning, Alois."
Definitely responding in relation to time, right? Just to check, I changed the 3DS's clock and kept going in and out of the barracks. Sure enough, different quips about how late it was every time:
"Alois, I'm glad you're on patrol, but go ahead and rest."
"Alois, it's late. No more snacking until tomorrow."
"Alois, it's getting late. Are you patrolling the camp?"
Geez, mom. I mean, err, Nintendo.
Of course, this isn't so out of character for Nintendo—they produce games that happily remind you to take breaks every so often. I've also seen reminders on games that require motion controls, like on the Kinect. In fact, the first time I seriously played a game on the Kinect, it told me to take a break and I ignored it and kept playing for hours.
The next day? I was a little sore. Guess I should have listened, but most of the time I see the reminders to be healthy and conscientious as annoyances. The type of stuff that a parent would chide you about before you scream at them and tell them to get out of your room, GOD.
Now, I'm an adult. I can make choices for myself. Sometimes, they're not the best ones—see the aforementioned tendency to game well into the night. And yet there is something about this industry—the way we tout the addictiveness of a game as a feature, as a virtue, as something good... that stuff makes me profoundly uncomfortable.
It makes me uncomfortable and I can't help but wonder if developers shouldn't be more conscientious about what they make. Now, I'm not saying I like being told what to do, or that I can't be trusted to make my own choices.
But you gotta wonder just how much responsibility a developer that explicitly intends to make games with "addicting gameplay" should take in ensuring or at least reminding players to be responsible, no?
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