Saturday, 30 September 2017 10:31

Lifestyle Driven Play

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My drug dealer, “Dub,” runs an independent cafe in the Dallas metroplex.

He makes awesome stuffed pretzels and, of course, drugs — but, keep in mind, my drug is black pu-erh tea, so he's not actually as sketchy as I've made him sound. His shop's a quiet place, and even when it's busy, he gets a lot of down time. He walks around, chats a bit with everyone, and then settles down behind the counter, where he keeps his unoptimized, but still respectable, PC. He plays turn-based strategy — usually single player, usually cheap or free.

I'm always asking him if he's played this or that, or if he's heard about the latest rad DLC. Most of our common ground, however, consists of old military strategy classics. We reminisce about Romance of the Three Kingdoms and argue over whether he should take a risk on Shadowrun (turn based, yes, but not historical) when it's only five dollars. “But that's five one-dollar games I know I like,” he says.

“Come on,” I shoot back, “how many times can you win and lose the Civil War before you get bored?”

“Joke's on you. I'll let you know if I ever play one all the way through.”

I don't think of myself as a ravenous completionist. Yes, I beat what I like [EN: This], and I chase as many achievements as I possibly can — some would say obsessively — but I know two guys who played Binding of Isaac to 1000%, and I'm just not that crazy. I know what the far end of that spectrum looks like, so I know I'm only middling-high on it. My man, Dub, though? He's pretty chill about his progression, even for a guy who runs a tea shop. He likes a turn based, slow, pause-able pace, and he doesn't much care where he is in the race. The important thing for him is whether he's having fun in a particular moment while he's there — whether his little cubby behind his store counter is a pleasant and relaxing, but still adequately challenging, space.

Is Dub this kind of gamer because of his lifestyle as a small business owner? Maybe we'd all have different tastes if we did something else for a living. Or, then again, maybe not. Maybe a Dub who won the lottery would still like short play sessions of strategy best, and I'd have to explain it some other way.

Perhaps fallaciously, our lifestyles that frame our games lead us to justify our tastes differently.

Yes, if I grew up in a musical household, I might suck less at rhythm games, but I might also still suck at them and explain my ineptitude as being sick of rhythm already. If I had less free time in elementary school, I might not have latched onto the cutthroat economics of Runescape, but Eve Online could have hooked me years later instead. What about my competitive nature in MOBAs? My fondness for CCGs? I can look at my life experiences and justify every facet of how I play, but if I imagine a version of myself that never enjoyed League of Legends or Shadowverse, I can easily find reasons to justify that other set of tastes [EN: See zodiacs and horoscopes].

I've always liked this story about two brothers whose father was an alcoholic. One brother becomes a police officer, and one night he arrests the other brother for drunk driving. They sit across the table from each other, and the first brother asks, “I don't even drink because Father was a drunk. So why did you turn out like this?” And the second brother says, “Because Father was a drunk.” The explanation works either way.

In truth, it's impossible to measure what influence our experiences and lifestyles have on our gameplay. That's why it's also impossible to say what kind of gamer somebody is based on what they do outside games — or what kind of people play your game, if you're a publisher or a developer. The best advice, therefore, is also the simplest: when you make a game, just make a good game. Make your good game. People who share your idea of a good game will like it, and you'll connect with individuals with backgrounds and lifestyles you never thought you would, and with whom you never before realized you've so much in common.

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Kelsey Erwin

Kelsey seeks out RPGs with the narrative clout of Greek tragedy and strategy sims more punishing than QWOP. Their favorite part about being a gender neutral PC gamer and reviewer is that it's probably the only thing no one else on the site will put in a biography. Super saiyan special snowflake originality! Kelsey always keeps a pot of hot tea close at hand, and the sign of a truly great game is when it can monopolize Kelsey's attention so completely that the tea grows cold. While a dedicated believer in the PC Master Race, Kelsey also still spends time with their old favorite console, a cinderblock size Playstation 2.