Another unexpected 40 hours lost into the time black hole known as Europa Universalis IV, my Game of the Year 2013, has me thinking about the games I’ve spent the longest with in my 30-year gaming career. Well, it has me thinking about that and also how to get the French to end their alliance with the Ottomans so I can attack one of them without the other sending 100,000 troops right up my … but, that’s not the topic here.
This new bout of EUIV gaming, a workweek of time that just seemed to vanish, now brings my total hours spent playing Paradox Interactive’s masterpiece up to nearly 250 total hours — almost ten and a half full days — which means I’ve spent almost 3% of the entire year of 2013 playing Europa Universalis IV.
Wait a minute, that can’t be right, can it? And if you take into account that the game has only been out since mid-August, which is about 150 days ago, 3600 hours, then let’s see — what percent of 3600 is 250?
Oh my God! I’m wasting my entire life with this game.
Which, again, is not a thought I’ve never had before. Catastrophic irresponsibility and family neglect aside (both of which, apparently, I’m getting pretty good at), I don’t think there are many self-identified gamers out there who haven’t had games crop up from time to time that simply take over your life. Here, then, are a few of mine.
World of Warcraft – Ah, where else could I possibly start but with the game that I played for something like 6 years. It’s impossible to know just how much time I put into that game, except to say that it’s a lot in the way that ordinary humans think about time, and also that it’s not all that much when compared to those who became truly obsessed by the game. If I had to guess, it’d be in the 400 hour range, which is probably the amount of time a lot of people sunk into just one character. I mean, at least I spread that time out across dozens of different characters.
My favorite part of WoW was always the part that most people just powered through to get to the “real game”. I loved the progression, the advancement from level 1 through to whatever the cap of the most recent expansion might be. I’ve probably spent as much time in Stranglethorn Vale or The Barrens as a lot of other players end up spending in raiding, simply by virtue of the fact that I have levelled through the early twenties and thirties countless times.
The game now in its old age, has become, as many successful MMOs do, both bloated and directionless. It doesn’t make sense anymore, as the progression of your character drives you through content and areas long-since resolved canonically. With multiple expansions under its belt, you can sense reset after reset happening, and the game has essentially exhausted its well of characters. But at its height, at its zenith, as The Burning Crusade became Wrath of the Lich King, WoW was as strong an MMO — and in many was as strong a video game — as any that had come before.
Such MMO. Very levels. wow.
Subspace/Continuum – This game was my first real online addiction. I learned about the game from working the computer department at a local Sears when I was in college. Those facts should give you a solid idea of how far in the past we’re talking about here. 1) I was going to college. 2) There was a computer department at a Sears. So: not recently.
A co-worker had managed to set up one of the machines to play this online game that he’d discovered, and while customers wandered through the store busily not buying computers — because, ya know, they were at Sears — he would play this game. It was a top-down, arcade-ish kind of game where you used a keyboard to pilot a spacecraft on a two-dimensional plane, collecting power-ups and fighting dozens of other players in these weird, bounded, maze-like, space-zones.
While my co-worker was shortly thereafter fired from Sears, I had found my new must-play game.
The allure of SubSpace, published by Virgin Interactive, is hard to quantify and explain. It was this wonderfully versatile game where all kinds of different playstyles and rulesets existed depending on whose server you played on. On one server you might find yourself on a giant, complicated map in a free-for-all against hundreds, cornering off some sliver of the arena and claiming it as your own, loudly daring any to come and challenge your dominion. Or you might find yourself on the next server playing an almost soccer-like game with teams, or a space version of capture the flag.
This was another game I played over years. Arguably I spent as much time playing this game as I did getting a college degree, at least in terms of how long the game stayed in the rotation. To this day I can’t really fully explain the obsession, except that it was one of my first major experiences with a strong online game and community. That first time can be a powerful experience.
Deus Ex – At this point I have played and completed the original Deus Ex at least a half dozen times. As a purely single-player game, I have without doubt played this longer than any other, though unlike other entries on this list, Deus Ex isn’t one where I become obsessed for a continuous stretch. Rather, this is the game I can return to after a long absence any time and still feel satisfied.
It’s not even that I would argue that Deus Ex were the greatest single-player game made, in the event that I were to hand out such an accolade. But from the perspective of narrative matched to gameplay, it just trips all the right triggers for me. An action, stealth, first-person-shooter RPG, there are few games truly like the original.
The narrative is of course schlocky nonsense, and the characters are paper thin. But despite its flaws, the game is infinitely memorable to me. I don’t just remember the ruined Statue of Liberty, or Hong Kong, or UNATCO HQ, or the VersaLife office, or Area 51, I remember how those levels felt, the impression they put on my experience. Each was unique, distinguishable from one another, and full of personality. The encounters were tense, and yet you felt your character gaining strength as his cyber implants upgraded.
Just talking about it makes me think I need to carve out another twenty hours for yet another playthrough.
Counter-Strike – This list would be woefully incomplete without a grudging nod to Counter-Strike.
Of all the games on this list, this is the one I hope never sees new life on my hard drive. I’m not sure why I have this lingering hostility to a game I dropped hundreds of hours into, except that by the time I finally put it away for good, I had long-since stopped enjoying the experience.
One AWP too many. One round of de_dust too many. One bouncy grenade too many. One bomb-that-blows-just-a-moment-before-I-have-it-defused too many. One unloading of a clip into an enemy — only to be headshot by one countering attack too many. One wall-hacker too many. I couldn’t say which of these things finally broke the camel’s back, but once I was able to quit, I never really looked back.
Though when I think back on my favorite gaming memories of all time, I have to admit that one of them is being the last player on your team and succeeding in getting the round victory. Knowing that by the end, everyone on the server is watching the high-noon stand-off is a special kind of video-game power Trip. Taking that moment and owning it is one of the few sensations in gaming that has truly made me feel, if only briefly, like a bad ass.
Civilization V – To be fair, I could really pick any Civilization and put it on this list (except maybe III), and in fact it’s such a given that Civ belongs on this kind of list that I almost forgot to put it on. The idea of Civilization being the quintessential one-more-turn game is so prevalent that it’s a cliche. Still, a quick look at my Steam profile reveals more than 200 hours given up to the latest incarnation of the classic series, which is probably par for the course with my level of commitment to a Civilization game.
After all these years, the fundamental conceit of the game holds up every bit as well as it did when Sid Meier released the original through MicroProse. Take a single city and from it, over the course of millennia, "build an empire to stand the test of time." Whether that means squashing your enemies under the boot of domination, building a spaceship to carry us to new worlds, or getting others to recognize you as a leader of all humankind and setting the stage for utopia and world peace, the game offers up an addicting brew of tech-trees, turn-based combat, city-building and exploration. There is no turn in a game of hundreds of such turns where there isn’t something interesting to do or plan for.
Halfway through any given game, I already know what I want to do differently in my next game. The system doesn’t just beg you to stick around until you get that next tech or you finally break through the walls of an enemy city. It begs you to come back for an entirely new run with a new civ, a new strategy, a new ruler and a new experience.
It defines addicting.
All told, I may not have hit 10,000 hours in any one game, but I may have sunk close to that number when you bring together my primary targets. I really have no regrets on it either, because each of these games ultimately gave me an unreasonable amount of fun. Yes. even Counter-Strike. Sometimes.
What are a few of your games that you’ve completely lost yourself, and perhaps weeks, to?