Lunchtime Discussion: Hooked?

What is it that'll keep you coming back to a game?

Today’s discussion comes from the mind of that genius Watchful. I know, I know you had a post from Lorcan yesterday and it’s starting to feel like I don’t love you, but Watchful’s post on those games that just won’t let you leave was to good not put out. It’s not because I’m lazy and in my pyjamas, I swear.

Ever had a game you just can’t stop playing? I have had a few of them over the years.  The first was Elite, which was a fairly constant part of my gaming hobby across eight years and four platforms raising countless commanders to elite status.  Having whole galaxies to explore and flying around in a 3D environment while having choice in how you went about earning money to buy those military lasers for your Cobra, was so different to its initial contemporaries like Chuckie Egg and Daley Thompson’s Decathalon.  Games changed a huge amount over the years I played Elite regularly but there was something about the search for more lucrative trade routes and the choices of fighting or trading and abiding by or breaking the law that kept me going back again and again.

What eventually replaced Elite as the game I was most likely to be found playing an unhealthy number of hours of was Sid Meier’s Civilisation.  The compulsive just-one-more-turn nature of this turn-based strategy game lead to many sessions that ran late into the night, or early into the morning.  Unfortunately it coincided with my time at university and many was the night that I would be playing Civilisation instead of studying, completing coursework or revising.  One year I even came close to failing because my Civ to study ratio was heavily skewed in favour of the game.  That served as a bit of a wake-up call.  Though the release of Civ IV would see me becoming Civ-obsessed for a while again, for a while even going so far as to take a laptop down the pub and playing local multi-player games in the beer garden.

I had thought such OCD gaming was in my past, or at least postponed until the forthcoming release of Civ V, but another game has got its hooks lodged deeply into my flesh recently, Dragon Age: Origins.  Since getting the game for Xmas the disc has rarely been out of my PS3.  In just three months I have racked up close to 300 hours in the game, far surpassing the totals for my previous most-played PS3 games, Warhawk (60hrs), Resistance 2 (80hrs) and Burnout Paradise (180hrs).  I have long since Platinumed Dragon Age and reached 100% completion within the game but I still keep playing it.  I am on my fourth full play through now, featuring Pixie the Dalish and her faithful warhound Barkspawn (yes, the dog’s name is borrowed from Penny Arcade).  The differences, major, minor or subtle, in the game that depend upon your characters race, class, background and previous actions combine to keep the main story fresh enough for me.  Though one constant is that all my characters seem to end up romancing Leliana.  Make of that what you will.

There is a common thread to those games which is at the core of the reason I have kept playing them.  They are all good examples of games where a key activity is managing numbers.  Whether those numbers are the buying and selling prices of different commodities, balancing wealth, production and research or levelling up, equipping and ‘programming’ tactics for you and your companions.  Sure, the games have other strengths and aspects to them other than managing numbers which all add up to making them great games, but at the most basic level for me it is all about the numbers.  Spending my time writing software for a living you would think I would prefer to escape numbers in my gaming!

So what about you?  Is there, or has there been, a game that you have developed a somewhat obsessive attachment to?  What do you think it was about that game that made it so compelling?

I am also asking the TSA community for help in breaking my Dragon Age addiction.  I have many games sat on my shelf unplayed, among them are Dead Space, Batman:AA and the God of War Collection.  I need to put Dragon Age aside for a while, so which of those three should I play through before I let the DA disc near my PS3 again?

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