If you write about games professionally for a while, and get suckered into writing game reviews freelance, a couple things happen. First, you play way too many games. Second, you play all those games very quickly. The latter has led me to take on some habits that I find troublesome.
I usually try to avoid wallowing in video game marketing materials largely for the same reasons Kirk lays out in his discussion of the controversy over The Witcher 3’s graphics—thankfully, looking at trailers and screenshots more than once is not really part of my job so I can get away with it. So when I started up The Witcher 3 on PC with ultra settings I was smitten. For the first 20 hours or so I rarely used fast travel and when I would trek across the countryside I did so at my horse Roach’s slowest possible pace. When taking a boat to Fyke Isle I’d keep my thumb off the A button. The landscape in White Orchard and Velen I found wonderfully alien—just alien enough—and I loved soaking it all in. Best wilderness ever.
Now I’m 55 hours or so in. When I’m on foot I sprint. When I’m on horseback I’ve abandoned the trot for a run, though I still don’t usually go all out. I can’t help myself, because this is always what happens to me on long games. The longer it goes, the less patient I behave. It was heartbreaking for me this weekend when I quested through the Skellige Isles, which are truly spectacular. I did a little bit of slow hiking in some spots, but most often I would move from place to place as quickly as I could.
This is, I think, partially an insidious bit of game critic conditioning. I’m not playing The Witcher 3 for review, but even so after a few days I start to feel a nonexistent deadline looming. When I play games for “fun” I rarely do so for more than a few days—either I finish in a short time frame or I forget the game exists and move on to something else. And when I’ve had to write a review I’ve almost never had more than a week from when I received the game to when I had to publish something. I’ve been playing The Witcher 3 retail code from GOG since last Monday, and so around Friday I started to quicken my pace.
But as I said, I think my impatience is only partially about my career. I liken the way I play games to the way we watch TV shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime—we might start slow, but once it gets its hooks in us we plow forward until it’s over. I have a compulsive personality in other ways that play into that mindset, as well. I’m a compulsive eater, for example, and since I work from home that means I don’t keep food in my apartment because I would just munch all day on whatever I have around.
Once I became absorbed in The Witcher 3’s main plot, I started sprinting more and more and now, even with a ways to go, I’ve irrevocably shifted into fast-and-furious mode. Unfortunately for me, that meant I spent nearly all of my weekend alone in my apartment playing this game, and I’m still not done yet. Hopefully I’m close, or else I’m going to lose tonight and the next couple days to it as well. This is a key reason why I’ve often harped on game length. It interferes with my life! It’s not CD Projekt’s fault I am what I am, though.
A more relevant, and maybe more universal, drawback is that the faster I play, the less I’m absorbing from the experience in the long haul. When I binge watch a show, once it’s done my mind mostly will just recall the broad strokes, whereas watching week to week helps me keep track of particulars, and with games it’s been similar for me. In the past when I’ve accelerated my pace of play the parts I tend to remember most clearly are all closer to the beginning.
I may have to accept all this as a fact of life, or else perhaps I can condition myself out of this way of operating, since I don’t write reviews anymore. But in the meantime I have an ulterior motive for writing this little essay: I want to apologize to my friends and my mother for not speaking to them over the last week. Sorry, everyone!
Phil Owen is an LA-based freelance journalist. Most of his #content can be found on twitter at @philrowen