Anatomy of an All-Nighter

Lionel Richie - All Night Long

That time you stayed up all night playing a game — the all-nighter — it's a common practice among gamers of all stripes. Observed from the outside, all-nighters can look ugly, often tendered as Exhibit A by the plaintiff in Responsibilities v. Gamer. Conversely, in discussions about what makes a game great, they are often cited to illustrate how compelling, immersive, engaging and other buzzwords a game can be.

For many in the GWJ community whose circumstances lean towards the "-woodge" side of the acronym, the all-nighter is one of the few viable ways to find time for gaming that don't involve incurring some form of injury or disease — that is, until I can convince my employer that sitting at my PC with a controller and headset yelling "BAM! EAT IT!" is work-related.

Despite the all-nighter being a go-to gaming gambit, the critics have a point. All-nighters are mentally and physically gruelling. We can often push a session too far, such that we are severely debuffed upon return to the mundane, non-gaming aspects of our lives. Like democracy, the all-nighter isn't perfect, but often it is merely the least worst option for squeezing in some gaming time. At least it appears that way when we start out.

Relax, folks. I'm not here to judge you, wring my hands or pose rhetorical questions. This is a safe space. I just want to float a theory: Every all-nighter, regardless of the game or the player, is fundamentally the same. They all contain the same basic stages. (My research is based on extensive field testing, but a singularly small sample group, so consider this a form of peer review.)

Here are the 5 stages of the all-nighter. Each stage is named after a soldier ability in XCOM, because that's the kind of flair that gets you noticed.

1. Bring Em On

The night is young, everything is possible. The fridge is full, pizza is on the way. Excitement crackles in the air — and not just because you can turn your sound system up.

Often this stage coincides with the joy of starting a new game, or a new campaign; the prompt for the all-nighter in the first place.

You have a deep appreciation for every aspect of the game you are playing. The publisher's splash screen makes you fist-pump. You are super-excited about camera effects, about how the water looks. Simply being in the gameworld gives you a "shopping-bag-in-American-Beauty" moment.

During this phase, you take a "stop and smell the flowers" approach to your game: you don't mind downloading the system update, grinding, scanning planets, redoing a dungeon, or actually picking flowers. You read every book, talk to every townsperson, watch every cutscene, pursue every trophy. You feel a profound gratitude towards the wonderful game designers, who included so much wonderful STUFF for you to DO. You tip the pizza delivery person $20.

Testimonial: "Sure, I'll try the Fight Night Champion campaign on Legacy Mode. First, I have to get the colour of my shorts just right. Then perhaps I should do all 27 of the tutorials. Wow, look at those punching bag physics."

2. In the Zone

This is the sweet spot. You've been gaming a few hours, and it's awesome. Normally about now you'd be thinking about bed, but not tonight. You're in for the long haul and loving every minute of it. This is what gaming used to be like, in the good old days, when you were actually 6 and had no consoles. Time for another beer/soda/bag of chips.

You have pushed past tutorials, training missions and early levels. You feel a warm inner glow emanating from your core. It's probably the food and beverages, but you tell yourself it's the beginnings of a sense of mastery of the game, that you've calculated the gradient of the learning curve and now you're doing ollies off of it.

Given your progress, you estimate that at this rate, there'll be no problem knocking off the rest before bed. Maybe you'll even have time to start another game. There's so much time left.

Testimonial: "I can see why people find [game] annoying, but once you push through the first 5 hours, it really opens up."

3. Will to Survive

This stage begins the moment you look up and notice the clock has skipped forward 2 hours when it only felt like 15 minutes.

It dawns on you that soon it literally will dawn on you. The formerly boundless horizons of time have contracted sharply into a specific point. There will be an end to this session and you must adjust your expectations, usually downwards. Gamewise, you've still got such a long way to go.

With clenched jaw, you decide: I'll just push on through this level, finish this questline, get to the next area. Your determination releases a hidden packet of energy from a gland somewhere. You inhale, and carry on.

Testimonial: "I defy thee, Giant Water Horse with Crab's Legs and Lightning Attack coming from Eyes. You will fall ere morn."

4. Overdrive

This is the strange witching hour when you and the Wall get acquainted.

Your body has commenced the boring part of metabolising all that alcohol, sugar, caffeine, corn dust and god knows what else. Mental acuity drops as your kidneys and liver divert power from your brain.

You hunch. You squint. You drool. Your hands feel like a packet of dutch almond fingers. A muscle twinges in the side of your neck. Errors creep into your play. Combos get sloppy. Things take inexplicably longer than usual. You walk into a room and forget why.

You're on autopilot, operating largely on muscle memory. In terms of game progress, you're shuffling along like Cliff Young.

Many players drop off at this stage, especially if playing a game with long loading screens. Most of us push through because we know that once we go to sleep, our precious gaming time will be over for the foreseeable.

During this stage I once got lost in a corridor in Skyrim for 45 minutes.

Testimonial: "I can't jump. Why can't I jump? I can't move either. Am I paralysed? How do I get rid of paralysis? I can't access my inventory. I need to consult a walkthrough. Nup, no answers. Geez, the stupid game's broken. I'm going to send an angry email to the publisher demanding an instant patch or a full refund! Oh ... my controller's run out of charge."

5. Mindfray

Your face hurts from snarling at the tweeting birds. A neighbour bustles and whistles: who the hell is ever that goddamn happy? Then the leafblower starts. The revving roar hits you behind your eyes. Now you know how Trotsky felt.

The screen blurs, coalesces. 9 times out of 10 it says "YOU ARE DEAD." The other time, it's just plain frozen up.

Every molecule in your body says one thing over and over: bed.

You stumble down the hallway. Your thumb feels like a remaindered peach, or your left hand has atrophied into the Wasdy Claw.

As you fall into the bed, you think "They were right. Everyone was right. Never again."

Testimonial: "Yay, games?"

Comments

Civ 5 has me in this zone, and I can't get out !
Funny thing, I'm not sure that I want to.....

Ah the good old days of eternal youth..... and no responsibilities. These days (post 40) the very early morning game session is the new all nighter.

Habitually gaming in the overnighting way straight through a scholarship in high school gave me a special power: Resilience. I can game all night and still turn in a passable performance the next day without sleeping. Comes in handy when you're cramming for a test or living in the frozen hell of medical residency.

Other people of the same gamer class pick this ability. It's not unusual for such a gamer to turn in 48 hours of nearly nonstop gaming before collapsing literally face down onto the keyboard.

Testimonial: That was aweso... *snore*!

Brownypoints wrote:

Ah the good old days of eternal youth..... and no responsibilities. These days (post 40) the very early morning game session is the new all nighter.

Yup, Most of my serious gaming time is 5am to 7am then dressed and off to work before wife or child have even woken up.

Thank you for ruining my morning. "All night long! (All night.)" Ugh. Super stuck in my head now.

Brownypoints wrote:

Ah the good old days of eternal youth..... and no responsibilities. These days (post 40) the very early morning game session is the new all nighter.

I switched to that mode once I got married.

garion333 wrote:

Thank you for ruining my morning. "All night long! (All night.)" Ugh. Super stuck in my head now. ;)

You're welcome.

I think I might be particularly proud of the cheesy album covers we've used for our articles over the years.

I don't think I've ever had an all-nighter gaming session with the exception of LAN parties. I always reach that stage where my brain is sluggish, vision is blurring, and I'm not comprehending the images on screen. Once I hit that stage I go to bed, because otherwise the game is no fun and I'm not really experiencing it.

Then again, I'm single, so while I may still work full time and all that, there's nothing to stop me from getting up Saturday morning and playing games until noon (which happens to be my favorite gaming time).

...your left hand has atrophied into the Wasdy Claw. ... "Yay, games?"

This is the part where the wife is like... "why are you doing that?"

I also used to love the 8 AM on a Saturday gaming sessions... but the wife actually wants me to spend time with her on weekends. (Weird right?)

This article is sorely lacking any reference to the term "poopsocking".

As I go into Friday night with the rare opportunity of an apartment to myself, this article speaks to me.

This will be my experience with Dark Souls 2... as was with the first... and with a few others since I became an "adult". My god, what am I going to do?

Great piece. I chuckled a good bit.

Never did an all nghter but the early stages sound so familiar that it's almost uncomfortable.

As a non-native speaker I have to ask though: what is the reference in the beginning related to the "-woodge"?

Grimmi Meloni wrote:

Never did an all nghter but the early stages sound so familiar that it's almost uncomfortable.

As a non-native speaker I have to ask though: what is the reference in the beginning related to the "-woodge"?

I had to stop to process that too. I believe it's referring to the "With Jobs" portion of "Gamers With Jobs" ie. WJ, pronounced "woodge."

I did this with Diablo 3 Thursday night. Put in nearly 12 hours. Some people that logged off at around midnight were back on at about 6am. And I was just... still going.

I was fine yesterday as it was my day off anyway so I just slept till noon.

It's hitting me today at work though.

Much tired. So regret. Wow.

Won't stop me from doing it again though.

I don't think I ever played more than 46 hours straight. That was back in my MUD days... wonderful article, very accurate

I blame this article for my all nighter last night playing Shadowrun: Dragonfall. I honestly can't remember the last time I pulled an all nighter. (pretty sure it was 2 years ago when my son was born)

Parents of young children get to experience one last Xcom phase - the part when the Chrysalid jumps you just when you think youre safe in the covers. Then your kids force you to follow them around like a mindless zombie.

Last all-nighter I pulled was playing rounds of hotseat Scorched Earth in college, a long, long time ago. Though I did come pretty close when CivII was released. Also a long time ago

I can't recall doing this since I was a teenager, at LAN parties -- and that was more than 15 years ago. No kids on the scene yet, but I really can't imagine wanting to be that zonked for a weekend, and absolutely couldn't go to work and be effective if I did.

I'm reminded of a less cheesy set of lyrics:

We used to say I could walk all night, and we could and we did
Down that gravel road, to that tiny town, and the door always opened
Now we say I could walk all night. It's not true;
We can't walk all night, no, because we don't want to
We want a bed and a blanket, some light breakfast, sometime tomorrow
As you fall into the bed, you think "They were right. Everyone was right. Never again."

The story of my life (and almost every night).

I had unninstalled games, very angry, and installed again the next day.

jdzappa wrote:

Parents of young children get to experience one last Xcom phase - the part when the Chrysalid jumps you just when you think youre safe in the covers. Then your kids force you to follow them around like a mindless zombie.

You are only safe from Chrysalids when there are no more Chrysalids.

Haven't done one of these in a while, since college days probably.

I much preferred the party all nighter in high school than the solo ones though. With my friends we had a mix of sports junkies, video game junkies, and poker junkies. So there was usually a 2am basketball game outside with poor lighting, mixed with someone losing the only $20 they had for gas for the month (late 90s, gas was cheap ;)) in the 4am poker game, and then back to a marathon N64 gaming session of Goldeneye or something, killing each other until the sun came up. Good times.

The first linked article led me to this gem:

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/special_place.preview.jpg)

Anyway, I can't do all nighters or even half nighters anymore. I just can't. I'll be such a jerk to everyone the next day it's just better for everyone if I continue to buy games, but not play them.

Last all-nighter I pulled was a few weeks ago. Had trouble getting to sleep, so I got out of bed and played Demon's Souls until 5:30 in the morning. That day sucked, but I don't know what else I was going to do.

Prior to that, I pulled one a few years ago, around the time I got my PS3... played CoD: Modern Warfare 2 until 5 then snoozed for an hour in a chair before heading to work.

Every time I do it, I realize I can't do it. Then I do it again anyway. I think I have a problem. Seriously, I do have a problem sleeping, and I need to do something about it.

One of my faves was during my Halo 2 addiction.
I borrowed a friend's XBOX, got hold of a spare 1 month free on Gold, and we had an online Halo 2 session with three XBOX on three TVs in my little flat.
The session lasted around 10 hours, and as I walked my friends down to the door afterwards, we were covering each other going around the corners.

Dear Lord, I completely forgot about Extra Life while reading this. I suppose I have done an all-nighter in recent years, and I'll be doing another one later this year.

Launch days for MMOs are like this for me.

ccesarano wrote:

Dear Lord, I completely forgot about Extra Life while reading this. I suppose I have done an all-nighter in recent years, and I'll be doing another one later this year.

lol yea I did 24 for BF4. Was a week after the launch but I was out of town and was off work so took advantage.

I don't think I've ever pulled an all-nighter. I just can't, especially now that I'm older and married. If I'm falling asleep in my chair, I'm not enjoying the game, so I just go to bed. No kids yet, but I love getting up early on the weekends and getting some game time in. My wife almost always stays up later and sleeps in more than me. She's fun trying to get up for work during the week.