The One Game Challenge

No Pile

The halcyon days of my youth contained few games. Oh, they contained plenty of gaming, but not so many games. I, like many people, could only score one or two games a year, and maybe a third if I spent my summer lawn mowing money on a game instead of some other tawdry bauble.

Naturally, I wore these few games out. I would ride each game like a rented mule. I managed to squeeze every last juicy morsel, each easter egg and shiny sparkle in the corner out of every game in my collection.

And then I'd do it again.

My old carts attest to this: every save slot filled with a 100% clear game. Or, if a game lacked save slots, then I would have been happy to invite you over and show how I can clear the game in one sitting without even using a continue. Even the old PC adventure games on which I was weaned saw many, many (did I mention many?) runs, to the point where I could solve the once-impenetrable puzzles in a laughably short time.

Money was tight. Time was plentiful.

Nowadays the shoe is on the other foot. Maybe I don't have as much spare cash laying around as I'd like, but compared to my eight-year-old self I am Bill Gates. Time, on the other hand, is a very precious commodity. What little is left after work, house maintenance, family time, and occasional social calls is a tiny fraction of my former self's idle hours. Thanks to more available funds and the ludicrous discounting strategy of digital game purveyors, particularly Steam, I have an embarrassing surfeit of games at my disposal. The problem is now that I sit down to play a game and experience analysis paralysis. Badly.

I can boot up Steam and see something north of 200 games at first glance, and that's just the unplayed stuff. I have wasted as much as a half hour of maybe an hour's free time simply deciding what to sample. I imagine I am not the only one who has experienced this particular mental quandary.

The other problem this creates is a very low buy-in on those games that I do manage to start up. Let's face it, every game has a few sections that take a bit more persistence to conquer than others. So when I realize that I probably played less than $5 for this game and that there are hundreds of other games accessible in under a minute, I don't have a lot of incentive to push through the boring bits. Not only does it take me a long time to decide what to play, I have the equivalent attention span of a smartphone-wielding Bieber fan. Contrast this to my youthful self (he says with a small amount of pathos), where I played games through to completion (and even more completion) because if I wanted to play a game, it was the only choice I had.

Admittedly, we aren't breaking any new ground at this point. However, this weekend I had a breakthrough. I managed to play a game … [pause for dramatic effect] … all the way through to the end. I know, right? Please, hold your applause; there will be time for that at the end of the show. What's more, this was a game that I had previously abandoned partway through for something shinier, despite the fact that I was enjoying myself at the time.

How did I accomplish this amazing feat? I developed a plan. Now I present it to you in the form of a challenge. If you're like me (and I know from several threads that a great many of you are), I encourage you to try this at least for a week or two and see how far you get. I call it:

The One Game Challenge.

The One Game Challenge is quite simple at its heart. All you have to do is put yourself back in your eight-year-old shoes, to fool yourself into thinking you only own one game. This is easier than it sounds. For Steam gamers, it's just a matter of choosing your target game and uninstalling every other game in your library.

That's right. Every one of them. C'mon, you can re-download them in no time at all. What do you think this is, 1992? It ain't CompuServe, bucko.

Once you've done that, move every game aside from your target game into a collapsible folder. If you want, have fun with it and call the folder "TOTALLY NO GAMES IN THIS FOLDER AT ALL" or "Pandora's Folder" or something. Then, make sure (if you haven't already) that Steam launches directly into the Library pane*. No need to be tempted by all those tantalizing sales on those shiny new games on the front page. You wouldn't play them for three years anyway, right? C'mon, check your library right now. How many games did you buy on sale three years ago that you still haven't played?

It's okay. I know it's a big number. You can share here. It's a safe place.

That's it. You now only "own" one game. In the mood to play something else? Too bad! You only own one game! So play it. To the end, even! Or at least until you hit a legitimate extraction point where it is no longer fun. I think you will find that it is much, much easier to focus on the game at hand, as opposed to being distracted like a caffeinated hummingbird on Twitter.

When you beat your game, put it into a new folder. Title this folder "I am so awesome, and here's why" or "BOOM! Winning" or "Look ma, I finished something! And you said I'd never amount to anything." Proudly display it at the top of your Steam library to remind you of your success. Then install a new game. JUST ONE. No cheating. We're all on the honor system here.

Console gamers, you may have it even easier. Especially if you have physical games. Pick the one you want to keep, and throw the others in a box. Keep it somewhere difficult to access quickly, like at work or in the yard where your neighbor's underfed dog with the overbite sleeps. Digital games can be handled the same way as the PC gamers: delete, delete, delete. Congratulations, you are once again a poor child on a tiny allowance! Enjoy your game.

The whole exercise exists to keep other games out of sight, out of mind, and to make it more difficult to just boot them up and play them if you get distracted or bored with what you're currently playing. I know this sounds a bit silly, and maybe it is, but it worked for me, and it makes logical sense from the little I know of human psychology.

As to my success this weekend: Without any other options, I managed to push through the rut of Gemini Rue and see the ending. Turns out, it was totally worth it! It wound up being a complex and existentialist narrative that went places I never expected, and the last couple hours (the ones on the other side of the hump) had me on the edge of my seat. I call that a win.

*Settings/Preferences, Interface tab, "Favorite Window" setting

Comments

From the guy who has - without exaggeration - 20 games installed on his laptop at the moment (including 5 MMOs) - I accept your challenge!

Sure, I have other games installed, but two of them are Paradox games. I can't really be expected to "complete" either of those, so I might as well allow them to continue sucking my brain.

I love this challenge, because this is mostly how I play:) I complete (i.e. 100% achievement) almost every game I play.

From the outside, I can see that I might be seen as a bit crazy about completion, but I like it because it gives me a clear goal and once I pass it I completely move on to the next game - and can sell/uninstall the game I just completed. I am very guilty of having a large pile though (probably 30 unplayed on steam and another 20ish unplayed on xbox).

Such a true point about having more money than time to play! I have, however, given in to the pile and don't really stress about it anymore. I rarely spend more than 20$ on a game, 80% of the time buy new, and having the large pile makes it easy to wait on sales of new releases.

Interesting challenge. I'm doing ok so far on only playing games I've pledged in the pile thread, but if I start getting in trouble I may need to try this.

What's funny is I don't feel like I had that much trouble picking up games as a kid. I used my Atari well into Tweens and bought a lot of the $5 bargain computer games. And of course there was piracy, something I'm not proud of.

I love this idea. I've been trying to figure out lately how to deal with my own Pile Paralysis. With limited time, you want MAXIMUM fun, so I find myself playing 5 minutes of this, 10 minutes of that, and soon my hour or two is done and I've made no progress on anything.

Bonus suggestion: rack up some low hanging fruit by choosing short games first. Get around to Limbo, Braid, Mark of the Ninja. Then turn on the Witchers and the Skyrims of the world.

The problem I often face is the unending games: MMOs, DOTA2, LOL. Perhaps set yourself a finite goal and then put it away for a while? Hit level 30 in an MMO, win 10 matches in DOTA2?

There is actually a lot of psychology research in this field (choice, not games, dumbass!)

http://www.columbia.edu/~ss957/artic...

This is a link to a short research paper on just that. The basic gist of it:

These experiments, which were conducted in both field and laboratory settings, show that people are more likely to purchase gourmet jams or chocolates or to undertake optional class essay assignments when offered a limited array of 6 choices rather than a more extensive array of 24 or 30 choices. Moreover, participants actually reported greater subsequent satisfaction with their selections and wrote better essays when their original set of options had been limited.

Just swap out jams and chocolates with games. Although one could argue that some games 'are the jam, yo!'

I have been doing this as well. I cheat a bit because I allow about 3 games, but I have completely refused to buy anything new or delve into the backlog beyond what I am currently playing. Strangely, part of the joy of gaming was about scarceness when you're younger. This has helped me reclaim some of that feeling. Good post.

I do something similar. I always have Battlefield 3 in rotation for the nights when I hook up with friends to play, but then I have one game that I'm playing solo. I don't buy/borrow another game until that one's done, no matter how much I like or dislike it. (See: Tomb Raider. Meh.)

Accepted. "The Last Story" on the Wii comes first.

Ooh, good choice.

nel e nel, thanks for that link. I'd heard something like that before but couldn't actually dig up the research.

I undertook something similar to the One Game Challenge last year, but instead of hiding my pile, I sold it and the console it rode in on. (I'd sell my Steam pile if I could. Instead, I uninstalled Steam.) I reduced my 80+ game pile by a factor of ten and pledged to not buy a game unless I was going to play it right then. It's amazing how much more enjoyable gaming has become with a significantly smaller collection and how much more pleasurable it is to purchase something when you're buying it to play it now rather than at some hypothetical point in the future when you have time for all those $5 indie bundles.

Well, I am sort of in an Upstairs/Downstairs situation.

Upstairs (in my office) I play Torchlight II on the PC.

Downstairs (in the Parlour) I play COD Black OPS II or LEGO City Undercover. I am terrible. I still haven't finished the single player on Black OPS (original).

I've been doing something similar for a few months now, and I've finished more games during that time than I had in the previous few years. I focus on one game per platform until it's done. I've got a 360 in the living room, a PS3 in a guest bedroom, and gaming PC in my office. My wife and son could tie up any two of those places on some evenings, so I go with whatever's not in use. I'm having fun & could keep it up for the next couple of years without spending another dime on a new game. But the Steam Sale is out there, in the darkness, just waiting to perform its Walder Frey impersonation on my wallet.

nel e nel wrote:

There is actually a lot of psychology research in this field (choice, not games, dumbass!)

http://www.columbia.edu/~ss957/artic...

This is a link to a short research paper on just that. '

Sounds like Barry Schwartz's "Paradox of Choice" TED Talk.

Anyway, there's also been a lot of psych research on games, for what it's worth. I think Jane McGonigal said that game system design is basically applied positive psych.

Hangdog wrote:

The problem I often face is the unending games: MMOs, DOTA2, LOL. Perhaps set yourself a finite goal and then put it away for a while? Hit level 30 in an MMO, win 10 matches in DOTA2?

That's my problem as well. League of Legends takes massive amount of times, is very involving, and I keep coming back to it (even more since the ARAM mode).

In a way, there is no doubt it fits the description of the One Game Challenge. I know most of what there is to know in it, and I improve myself everyday.

What is crazy though is to compare the amount of time I got and still get from it, compared to the money I actually spent there (around 15-20 euros).

I've tried and failed this sort of thing. New computer builds are always a great time to nuke my installed games, but it only takes a few months to go back to the insanity.

*sigh*

I'll try it again. Try. I swear, it'll work this time.

So basically what you're saying is that I should install every game except Guild Wars 2?? Yeah, not helping.
Great article, Min, it definitely struck a chord!!!

I appreciate this article, but man you guys, of all the First World Problems this is up there as the most First Worldish.

I play games the way I read books: one at a time, until it's done (or I've had enough). For the last several years I've pretty consistently bought about 6 new games per year, and maybe dozen used/sale games. I budget frugally. It takes me about a month of evenings to finish a moderate-sized narrative game (20-30 hours). I still feel like my 12-year-old self, except I have the means to indulge in one new experience each month, rather than say quarter. I also think most games are stupid, so that significantly cuts down the number of games I'd be interested in anyway.

On the other hand, I buy books the way you guys buy games, so...

nel e nel wrote:

There is actually a lot of psychology research in this field (choice, not games, dumbass!)

http://www.columbia.edu/~ss957/artic...

This is a link to a short research paper on just that. The basic gist of it:

These experiments, which were conducted in both field and laboratory settings, show that people are more likely to purchase gourmet jams or chocolates or to undertake optional class essay assignments when offered a limited array of 6 choices rather than a more extensive array of 24 or 30 choices. Moreover, participants actually reported greater subsequent satisfaction with their selections and wrote better essays when their original set of options had been limited.

Just swap out jams and chocolates with games. Although one could argue that some games 'are the jam, yo!'

You went there.

I already pretty much do the One Game challenge with a few modifications (iPad games live alongside the current game I'm focusing on since I usually only play them a few minutes at a time; if I'm playing a console game and the console is unavailable I'll play something else).

It's a pretty good system, but it also results in boredom and frustration when I'm playing a game I'm just not that into any more and feel obligated to push through anyway.

Gnoupi wrote:
Hangdog wrote:

The problem I often face is the unending games: MMOs, DOTA2, LOL. Perhaps set yourself a finite goal and then put it away for a while? Hit level 30 in an MMO, win 10 matches in DOTA2?

That's my problem as well. League of Legends takes massive amount of times, is very involving, and I keep coming back to it (even more since the ARAM mode).

In a way, there is no doubt it fits the description of the One Game Challenge. I know most of what there is to know in it, and I improve myself everyday.

What is crazy though is to compare the amount of time I got and still get from it, compared to the money I actually spent there (around 15-20 euros).

Hah, I've been doing the One Game Challenge for a couple of years now with a few moments spent on distractions in between. I've probably spent 10x as much money on League as Gnoupi has, but I've also been playing daily for several years now and have well past 1000 hours invested. I'll still buy other games out of some sense of obligation, but I don't actually play them.

Gravey wrote:

I appreciate this article, but man you guys, of all the First World Problems this is up there as the most First Worldish.

Fun fact: I actually had a self-deprecating #firstworldproblems hash in the article at one point, but someone (*coughcough* editor) thought it would be better to take it out.

You're all mad! Mad I tells ya!

*goes back to metaphorically swimming through a scrooge-McDuck money vault sized pile of unfinished games*

Minarchist wrote:
Gravey wrote:

I appreciate this article, but man you guys, of all the First World Problems this is up there as the most First Worldish.

Fun fact: I actually had a self-deprecating #firstworldproblems hash in the article at one point, but someone (*coughcough* editor) thought it would be better to take it out. ;)

I thought it was so obvious as to not need saying. Apparently some one disagreed.

wordsmythe wrote:
Minarchist wrote:
Gravey wrote:

I appreciate this article, but man you guys, of all the First World Problems this is up there as the most First Worldish.

Fun fact: I actually had a self-deprecating #firstworldproblems hash in the article at one point, but someone (*coughcough* editor) thought it would be better to take it out. ;)

I thought it was so obvious as to not need saying. Apparently some one disagreed.

Video game website editor removed my ironic hashtag #smh #firstworldproblem

You forgot #fml

wordsmythe wrote:
nel e nel wrote:

There is actually a lot of psychology research in this field (choice, not games, dumbass!)

http://www.columbia.edu/~ss957/artic...

This is a link to a short research paper on just that. '

Sounds like Barry Schwartz's "Paradox of Choice" TED Talk.

Yep, pretty much the same field of psychology research. He also wrote a book with the same title.

I actually got turned on to this particular research example from a recent visit to the 'new' Bodies exhibit in Times Square. (the 'old' exhibit is under repairs from Hurricane Sandy). The opening video that is screened before entering the exhibit is all about how technology has freed up our time to pursue more activities, but that the burden of this extra time is the stress of having too many things to choose from, and constantly feeling like you are missing out on something else going on, and how this translates into physiological problems brought on by the stress (hypertension, etc etc).

I've been doing something like this with the Steam Favorites list, selecting 2 or 3 games at a time. It really helps in focusing with what little free time I have.

I have accomplished something similar during the end of last year and most of this one; I have simply ignored what I have not declared on my pile save to try something out as a palate cleanser (mostly demos). It has served me well as I have cleared over 10 games in this year alone.

I've thought about doing just as you have done, but it seems to be working fine on self-discipline alone.

Oh, I like this idea. I've come down with a case of gaming ADHD since I beat Bioshock Infinite and it's driving me nuts.