Published on August 9th, 2013 | by David Chandler5
Summer Winds and Comfort Zones
They’re called the doldrums — an unexpected and often fatal lack of wind to propel a ship toward its destination. For many sailors crossing the Atlantic in the 18th century, a lack of wind brought with it thirst, starvation, and often madness. Coleridge wrote about them in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, his epic poem about describing the experience of the damned crew with verse as stagnant as the stale air that surrounds them: “ Day after day, day after day, / We stuck, no breath no motion; / As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean.” The lack of momentum threatens the sanity and safety of the sailors, and, as often was the story with their real-life counterparts, they succumb to nature’s cruelty.
If gamers have any type of proximate “problem” to this climatological phenomenon, it would be the (much less dangerous) summer release schedule. Sure, we might see an occasional title trickle through the hot months of the odd year, but overall, late May to late September provides as close to a drought as we ever see until the torrential flood of fall titles. Or, in Coleridge terms “Games, games everywhere but not a one to play.” This summer seems particularly barren to me due to the lack of full releases that fit within my personal interests, excepting The Last of Us.
It’s curious, then, that I tend to enjoy games during the summer more than any other season. Though I’m hardly less busy during the warmer months, I find myself appreciating the time I spend gaming more than I do those rushed play sessions when I’m tearing through each new release. The greatest boon summer offers me, however, is an excuse to play games I had no prior interest in whatsoever, and the results are always worthwhile.
While I’m not usually one to dismiss a game simply because of its genre, certain types just don’t appeal to me at all. I’ve never been able to get into current gen JRPGs because most are too flashy, angsty, and grossly overwritten for me to enjoy. I’m also terrible at racing games, so any sexy car-porn Gran Turismo title is just going to zoom past me. I’m worse at any NCAA or NFL game than I am at regular football (despite my devotion to the SEC), and while I think Call of Duty is an impressive franchise in terms of mechanics and production value, I don’t care about neither the multiplayer nor whatever its passing off as a story enough to get into the series. When I’m looking for a game to occupy my time in the summer, however, I find that taking a chance on such franchises and genres I normally leave for more interested players much more appealing.
Last summer, for instance, my boredom led me to pick up a copy of Spec Ops: The Line. Discussions and reviews piqued my interest enough, and my dislike for military shooters lost out to my curiosity. Expecting a semi-predictable hyper-masculine war shooter, I was taken aback when failed attempts at verisimilitude dissolved into a surrealist, apocalyptic existential hell. The initial distaste for simple shooting mechanics melted away quickly as I found one of the most subversive and fascinating games buried under the shifting sands of a digital Dubai. For me, Spec Ops provided that shot in the arm my gaming habit needed, something that deconstructed a genre for which I had no particular fondness, and because I was stuck in the summer doldrums, I took a chance on something I may have simply passed by.
This summer has been no exception to my ‘try something different’ policy. I never expected to enjoy Sleeping Dogs as much as I did, but I found it far more engrossing than the last few times I played Grand Theft Auto: IV. My time with Vanquish showed me that my distaste for flashy, loud spectacle shooters can be overcome by wildly clever mechanics. Hell, I even played the puerile Saints Row the Third, even though excessive juvenile humor really annoys me. As it turns out, playing as overweight man in a bathrobe and curlers who smacks police with a giant dildo bat is the perfect way to wind down after the intense emotional trauma of The Last of Us. It’s hard to undergo an existential crisis when you’re shooting up a pool party while Kanye’s “Power” blares out of your television’s speakers.
Of course, there are those moments when your boredom gamble doesn’t pay off quite like you thought it would. Last month, I picked up Injustice: Gods Among Us, even though I’m ungodly terrible at fighting games. While I enjoy the story and the central concept (I mean, a DC superhero fighting game is just perfection on paper), my lack of skill turns every high-level bout into an exercise in restraint. As much as I love watching Harley Quinn kick Shazam through a Metropolis skyscraper, I cannot find enough I like about the game to keep it around.
Still, in playing the game, I gained some insight into what it takes to become a seasoned player of fighter games. To become even ‘decent’ at Injustice or others like it requires hours of practice, expert timing, and reflexes that any professional athlete would envy. In other words, the game wants far more from me than I will ever be willing to give it. Nevertheless, this latest experience with the genre changed how I enjoyed EVO 2013 as I understood, at least on a basic level, some of the strategies the players used. I may have failed miserably at becoming a superhero fighter, but I still found something to take away.
The final months before the fall releases hit are usually the most boring as the doldrums are at their most cruel. To get through them, sometimes we need more than replays and backlogs. In those moments, take a chance on something outside of your comfort zone. You may find something you like about those games and genres you usually avoid–even if it is just a reminder of why you don’t play them in the first place. Besides, what are your other options? Going outside? Not in this heat…