Kenholic Monthly #10: Video Game Selection Theory

[Yes, this is a monthly feature now]

Most gamers I know have a backlog of games they'd like to play, but for whatever reason just don't have the time or energy to plow through them all. I'm the same, but I tend to have streaks of downtime where I can keep myself interested long enough to finish a few in succession. I feel like my time is precious, so I have a particular system I use for choosing what games I want to play that tries to maximize both fun and efficiency, and I will try my best to codify it today.

First off, let's talk about the game selection library. At any given time, I probably have 20+ PS3 games that I've not even opened, or a dozen steam games, and maybe half of that for either Xbox or Wii. I generally stock up these libraries during major sales events like Black Friday or random buy-one-get-one-X-off deals, so depending on the time of year, they might not be the freshest of the fresh. I'm not too concerned with day one releases because very rarely can I consider the "newest game" to be vastly superior to a "recent game", but there are a few exceptions.

Gigantic franchises like Final Fantasy, Zelda will always get me to play very soon after release even if I hate them because the internet blog hype machine and my fond memories of past franchise entries will be too much for me overcome. The occasional fighting game itch - most recently Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Mortal Kombat, Super SF IV - and the occasional sports franchise itch will also drive me to a day one purchase. However, the itch type games feature shorter sessions (even though they add up over a period of time), so I can weave them into any schedule, and I normally don't even count them as games played. All-in-all, I'll have a good sized library ranging from older games like Deus Ex on PC to newer ones like Uncharted 3 on PS3.

So whenever I get in the mood to play through my backlog of games, I like to use a shotgun approach and play both a PS3 and PC game at the same time - that way I can alternate between them if I get stuck / frustrated / or break monotony. Imagine that, playing a video game to relieve stress from playing another video game. Seriously though, sometimes you can only grind XP or farm adamantoises for so long before you need to do something else. Anyways, I also don't play two PS3 games at the same time because I'm too lazy to swap discs. For reals. Also, I usually only sub the PS3 game component with an Xbox game and the PC game with a Wii game, but I don't think I've ever done a Xbox / Wii combo (that would be too painful). Why is this important? Because it leads up to the actual criteria for choosing what to play.

Given that I like to play two games at once, one of the factors I use is genre differentiation. For example, since I want to play a PC game along side Final Fantasy XIII-2, I'll probably choose an FPS or puzzle game or maybe a platformer to contrast this RPG. I'll probably avoid other RPGs or adventure games just to avoid the possibly having two long grinders at once. This way I can also avoid pitting my expectations of two similar games against each other in a way that my bias my view of either one. Complicated, yes. But so is the weird way that I tend judge these things.

The next two factors then are expected time and tier differentiation. If I'm playing a longer game like Dragon Age on PC (50+ hours), I'll probably pick a shorter game on PS3. Even though I say I'm playing two games at once, one game is my primary and the other is my secondary, and I'll naturally stick to one game for a longer sessions at a time. At the same time, these shorter games will usually be of lesser expected quality, since I don't want to playing two AAA+ rated games simultaneously - as I like to soak things in for these better games. This also works in reverse as I'll mentioned later. But first ...

Finding expected quality of video games are easy; there is a multitude of rating sites and metacritic.com to put them together for me. My eyes are usually drawn to the gamespot.com review though, since years of my final thoughts and experiences with games just tend to correlate highly with the rating system they have. Finding completion times is a little bit harder, but I find that rpgamer is reliable for RPGs since these are more variable depending on play-style, and for everything else I have howlongtobeat.com. My completion times are usually average - 1 hour on the main+sidequests category (kind of strange, since it's the same for 50 hour games as it is for 3 hour games) with the exception of Dragon Age. I was ten hours behind the average completionist time because I played the game on the hardest difficulty - which was really damn hard, and using the worse class combo to do so to boot, thief/assassin - out of some weird superiority complex at the time, but that's an old story.

So now that I've covered criteria for choosing how to compliment games in a two game system, the question remains: how do I select the primary game to play? I kind of don't. I almost always pick two. But what if there's a game I really want to play? Well my system actually works both ways most of the time, so I can find some way to make it work.

Say I want to play a shorter, lower tier game, then I'll actually choose a longer, higher tier game of another genre, but I'll choose one I'm not as interested in so that I can focus on the shorter game. In this case, I usually run through several shorter games before I finish the longer one. For example, I played through the entire Half Life 2 series while making my way through Oblivion IV. In fact, I consider it a tactic I use to shoot my way (literally?) through many shorter, more desirable titles. I think I must have finished at last six or seven other games while getting through Fallout 3. mwhahaha.

So next time you need to work through a backlog of games, consider the kenholic method of doing it.