My Neuroses in Games

Big Announcement Edit:

You can now access the Backlogkiller blog directly from the domain name Thanks to Gary Butterfield and Kole Ross for the unexpected gift and helping to get rid of this blogspot business in the domain name. I hope you all continue to enjoy it, and let's see if we can't finish all these games. (By the way, I've cheated and added a few more. Oops!)

If you would like to contact me, you can always leave a comment or you can now send me an e-mail at Thanks to everyone reading!

Now, on to the original posting...

This used to be a bigger problem, but it still bothers me: I get pretty anxious and overwhelmed while playing games when faced with too much to do or places to explore that are seemingly interminable. Now, I don’t get into heavy breathing or panic or anything serious, but I do tend to kind of just give up and say in my head “Well I don’t want to deal with all this right now!”  Depending on my mood, I may power through it or turn it off and come back later. I think it may be because I used to be a bit OCD when I was sick and needed to finish everything, but it may also have to do with my imagination and how much more I think may occur than is truly possible.

For example, the main camp of Psychonauts is made up of several areas that are loaded separately (i.e. Kid’s Cabins, Main Lodge, Meeting Area, etc.), but you are not told how many there are and they appear to be extremely large when just entering them. On top of all this, there are the inventoried lists of things contained in these areas such as how many Psi Cards, Psi Markers, or Scavenger Hunt Items (discussed next update) there are to collect. What really puts the nail in the coffin for me is that you can’t attain all of these items until you have leveled up or gotten upgrades that I assume will come much later in the game. A typical scene is me entering a new area and then looking at the screen without moving for a few seconds, imagining it going on for miles and miles, and then trying to determine how many nooks and crannies I’ll have to thoroughly explore before I will be able to move on. Extrapolating how much time this will take just folds in on itself and ends with me going “Oh, crap. This is just too much to worry about.”

 I simply cannot stand to have something facing me that I can’t solve at that moment or does not at least seem to have a determined destination or goal. If a task does not indicate you cannot complete it then, I don’t like it.

Case in point: in the first level of Psychonauts (Oleander’s war-themed obstacle course), the game introduces the concept of mental cobwebs. These are dusty places of the mind not often accessed that block areas of the level and can also be collected to make other items. The problem is you do not possess the vacuum item required to collect them at this point. I’m already tuned out a little bit because it’s TOLD ME “Yeah, these are here, but you’re going to be forced to come back and do this.” Hate it. Even after getting out, I found out I have to level up to rank 20 AND collect 200 arrowheads to buy the thing? Oof, tough pill for me to swallow.

I like to round out things in chunks and 100% everything I can before I move on to feel truly comfortable. As you can imagine, games like Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto, and many others must be a nightmare for me. While this is true, I am usually able to keep going and finish. (Typically not 100%) What makes the capital ‘B’ But is that I never feel completely immersed in the game because I am always worrying about what needs to be done. I am always looking at it from the “meta” (ugh) perspective of playing a program of event sequences and progress levels rather than a fully realized world.

Now, this isn’t just what happens while I am playing games. It also occurs when reading books, watching movies, or even listening to comedy. I am always trying to separate the context of the materials with what is trying to be accomplished in a larger sense. I know your douche detectors are going off like car alarms, but it really explains why I am into what I like. Sadly, I have a very difficult time losing myself in a world that is being created because I am trying to attribute something greater to what’s being presented, deservingly or not, and breaking everything down to event markers. Not only does this limit my fun in many cases, but also causes me to make insane connections and reach for conclusions that I look at later and think “Boy, that’s crazy/overwrought.”

On one hand, I want to play these games and get sucked into them. I REALLY wanted to get into Skyrim, but I just kept having terrible thoughts like “I don’t want to take another quest because I’ve seen this cave 20 times already” or “Well, maybe I can do this randomly generated quest first so it will be grayed out next time I talk to this NPC”. It’s nuts. On the other hand, I would like to be challenged by what I am doing. I’m uncomfortable with being a passive consumer that is not putting anything back into what I am playing or watching. In my opinion, good art/games/whatever should require some input of the consumer to meet the creator halfway to have the best effects.

Planescape: Torment touched on some of my anxieties by presenting huge non-linear areas with dozens of NPCs to speak with, but I had the advantage of playing it in the past and knowing its limitations.  What it did do extremely well was force me to meet the content provided by requiring me to read text and use my imagination to determine what was going on. It also had many larger themes waiting to be explored and were framed nicely by major events in the game such as the reuniting of the past selves and the commentary on tropes. This isn’t even going into the role playing decisions you can make.

So, how do I backpedal from this uppity hipster douche Helldump? Maybe I can’t. I really like games and I think everybody has their own opinions and things they like, but, personally, I am afraid I have gone too deep into the mire of complex and weirdo games because of my previous depression that I can’t enjoy other simple things. I would love to play a game where I’m thinking “Yeah, I’ll hit this guy with a sword then go look in this cave”, but I always just get bored thinking “That’s it?” I guess I’ll slink back to my cynicism, hardcore dungeon crawls with number crunching, and strategy games with inscrutable UIs, but I know  I’m missing out on tons of other things. I would love to enjoy a game that puts itself out there earnestly and does not pretend to be any more than it is.

This post is petty and whiny, and I have no doubt that many out there will disagree, but that's how it is for me. Maybe there is something to it, maybe not. Who cares?