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The Time Thief: A Game For All Seasons

This year has been unusual for me, gaming-wise, because I haven’t had That One Game. You know the one – the game that keeps you up at night while also managing to occupy your coffee breaks. The one that you can play while you’re listening to the new Flying Lotus album just as easily as you can play while Corrie’s on. It can take up all of your attention or the slightest part, filling whatever part of your mind you commit to it at any one time. I miss That Game.

Multiplayer games fill that spot for a lot of people. Heck, some people have had World of Warcraft as That One Game since it was released. Same goes for Team Fortress 2, same goes for Counterstrike, same goes for DOTA. That One Game is often something that you can play on your phone because it’s handy to take it everywhere with you, but it doesn’t have to be.

For huge swathes of the population, That One Game is something like Candy Crush Saga or Farmville, and for others it’s some iteration of The Sims. It might be Football Manager or it might be Madden. Call of Duty and Halo are all popular choices, as are Peggle, Tetris and Minecraft.

One thing that most (if not all) of the most common choices for That One Game have in common is that they’re endlessly replayable. Whether that’s because they involve interaction with other people, or because they’re designed to go on and on and on like a bunny with a battery up its bum, games without end can fill a life.

As anyone who reads my witterings regularly could probably guess, at various stages in my life That One Game has generally been a strategy game of one sort or another. UFO: Enemy Unknown and Civilization were early examples, but Quake was one of the few action games to worm its way into my life completely.

There’s always been a game to fill the gap. Crusader Kings II has been the one since its release but this year I’ve been too busy with other things to keep the fires burning, even though Paradox have continued to expand the game. I’ve always been a bit of a skimmer and collector of curios, and the combination of working as a games critic and indulging my natural tendencies has led me to play more games this year than ever before. I pick at them and move on. I graze.

It’s the same with films, although the fact that there’s an unchanging running time associated with that particular form makes the habit easier to indulge. I watch things for the sake of having watched them because somewhere along the line I absorbed the belief that to understand a medium, it’s important to drown in it. I gorge myself on films, games and books, not so much for enjoyment as for the sake of attempting to complete some arbitrary goal.

‘If I watch 300 films this year, I will appreciate the 300 films I watch next year all the more.’

I think there’s some truth in that, even though it’s mostly bunkum. I also feel more aware, as I get older and the list of things I haven’t experienced refuses to shrink, that I’m trying to fill a vessel that will eventually be broken. And I’m hoping there’ll be enough space to contain an ocean. It’s a pointless task, unless through some process of commingling, distillation or fermentation, the contents of the vessel become something else entirely.

Without That One Game, I’ve had more time to play lots of games. Input increases, output changes. But there isn’t a game from 2014 that I feel I could write ten or fifteen thousand words about tomorrow, or that I’m likely to be writing about this time next year.

I don’t think that’s a reflection of the year’s releases – Endless Legend comes to mind immediately as a game I hope to have on my hard drive for many years to come – but a reflection of changing habits. Perhaps it’s partly to do with the quantity of games available but it’s more likely related to do with a desire to know a little about a lot rather than a lot about a little.

Whatever the reasons, the current state of affairs is a bit grim. I miss having That One Game to turn to when I’m at a loose end and I miss the satisfaction and comfort that comes with extensive knowledge of a single THING. As I’ve been writing this, I scanned through my list of currently installed Steam games and wondered what the contenders are and which one was most likely to steal time over the holidays.

It came down to three options – Football Manager (ALWAYS), The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and Pinball Arcade. Back in the same old ruts I’ve been grinding away at for years. I need something new to occupy That Spot.

What are your contenders?

This article was first published as part of the RPS Supporter Program.

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