Stress Free for You and Me

Halo: Reach

If you know me at all, you know I can be a pretty busy guy, even to the point where I seem to “fall off the grid” here and there.  I juggle a full time job, full time loads of upper-tier classes (even summer semester this year!), and a whole awesome menagerie of friends.  I also pass out a lot!  The number of hours I get to put into video games is reduced compared what I used to be able to pull off maybe a year or two ago, but even then, I think I might still play too much.

At any rate, here’s the story: it’s Wednesday, May 19th, 2010.  I worked a hard 9 hour shift that morning, and after a short nap I’ve batted down the hatches for several hours straight on homework and studying for upcoming exams in multiple courses.  On a whim, I decide to shut it all down and end the night with a few hours of games.  I turn on the TV and my 360 and I sit down, ready to roll.  I’ve been juggling several games at once lately, so I have a good selection to choose from for the night.  The top three: own the countryside in Red Dead Redemption, find some more clues for the case in Deadly Premonition, or jump into the very last opportunity to take up arms in the Halo: Reach beta, as the 19th would be the last day the beta would be active.  The deciding factors I use to choose what game I want to play vary here and there, but there’s an overriding, persistent factor that seems to take over lately: stress relief.

Granted, many people play video games to relieve stress; it’s a common factor for most of us, I would think.  There’s also favorite genres, gaming fads, or people who happen to be online that you can play a certain game with.  When I’m saying that ‘stress relief’ was a deciding factor that night in choosing a game, then, I mean that it was taking over lots of other factors I used to use to choose a game.  This is the busiest I’ve ever been in my life, and maybe I demand different things from my gaming time.  More relaxation, perhaps inherent in exploration, instead of running gunfights.

It definitely didn’t used to be this way.  I grew up in the golden years of PC gaming and I reveled in the competition.  I was involved in groups and clans for all sorts of games like Team Fortress Classic.  When my mom started looking down on me playing games, I joined a Tribes 2 clan based in Australia and New Zealand so clan matches would be in the early hours.  One match was at 5 AM MST on a Sunday.  I went to church right after!  I was on a 56k modem then, as well, so I resorted becoming an expert in staying indoors and using heavy explosives to defend because my ping indoors was around 1500ms instead of the 5 whole seconds I would get the moment I looked out a window.  I joined something called the “Base Defense Union”, a group specializing in base defense!  One can say I took the multiplayer competition very seriously, and I was definitely knee deep in it while I was in pubic school.

Now, when I get home from work or school or wherever I am, I usually just want something to not tax myself so hard.  The majority of the time I spend awake is already stressful, so I don’t tend to want to voluntarily add to that.  Complete stress relief became important to me in my play time. It even overrode a time-unique factor of an opportunity to play a game that wouldn’t be available again for a good amount of time, something I would not have passed up when I was younger.

I loved playing the Halo: Reach beta.  When the time came for Bungie to shut it all down, however, I didn’t jump at the chance for one last hurrah, keeping my “last played match” statistic resigned to several days ago.  Even in beta form, the toss-up of the Halo formula that I’ve enjoyed for around a decade was highly entertaining.  The decision Wednesday to not play it was definitely not some sort of message that I preferred the games I did end up playing over Halo: Reach or that the quality of the game was lacking and I didn’t care for it anymore.  It wasn’t even due to the lack of friends online that night: I turned off my 360’s notifications so I had stopped receiving notices of friends coming online, but when I checked, there were plenty of invites from people to play.

The beta’s sole objective was to sharpen the final game’s competitive multiplayer feature to a razor’s edge.  The thing for me about playing competitive games, whether over the Internet or against people on the same couch, is that it’s stressful.  When I’m playing Halo online, there is a group of other people out there in the world with a temporary maniacal urge to virtually murder me, over and over again.  I adopt a similar maniacal stance towards that group of people.  Every turn of a corner could provide a needed weapon or a man with a giant stick wanting to plant it into my skull.  Competitive multiplayer games for me are the most stressful gameplay experiences I can have.  It doesn’t really change with genre, and it really doesn’t change with increases in skill or explicit numeric levels that bestow weapons or maybe even stripes you can put on your sleeves to intimidate people around you and hopefully make them easier to kill.  It’s simply the beast of the game for me.

Instead, I rotated between two open-world games that night.  I started Red Dead Redemption and reveled in its gorgeous landscapes.  There are stressful activities available: harrowing gunfights, daring escapes from lawmen, and panicky reactions to groups of coyotes.  I took the opportunity, instead, to stroll along the countryside and just admire it.  I’d shoot and skin an animal here and there, or help out in a random light fight somewhere, but nothing I’d really term as stressful.

Deadly Premonition, on the other end of the budget spectrum, is a horror game.  Horror should be stressful!  I definitely don’t like being scared, and I don’t do well with scary games.  The mechanics of the game, however, are similar to Resident Evil 4 in that the player can defend themselves reasonably well.  I’m also completely thorough in exploring side quests in the whole town, traversing the main story slower than the Giant Bomb endurance run teams are, but I’m also in possession of powerful weapons in numbers well beyond their collection.  Despite the scary environment, combat is usually a breeze.  The goofy writing and characterization definitely helps the tension, as well.

Maybe it’s my transcendence from young wild-eyed gamer to grouchy old man, but this is how I play video games these days.  I can’t say I’m 100% behind it; I want to play loud skill-intensive games like Halo, Left 4 Dead Versus modes, and Battlefield 2.  My mind simply shuts those ideas down.  Maybe when I finish school or find a less stressful job, I can jump back into these games and return to my previous wild-eyed self.  For now, I’m content in keeping it easy.


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My name is Anthony Munar, a computer programmer in Utah. I also play a bunch of video games every now and then. I talk and think a lot about them, but I never really solidify those thoughts anywhere, and writing is something I like doing, so I thought I'd do it right here. I don't intend to be high-and-mighty authoritative about what I say and I don't really have any sort of standing in the games industry. This is just for me to muse about games when I want to.

Naming a blog these days was harder than I thought. In calculus, the inflection point on a curve is where its concavity changes between upwards and down. So, maybe, the inflection pixel is the pixel which represents something that turns my opinion around on a game, like the pixels representing a beam cannon firing in FreeSpace 2, the pixels representing a flying car wreck in Burnout, or the pixels representing my own sentry gun holding off an army in Team Fortress 2.

Using the word 'pixel' in naming something game-related seems clichéd, so sorry about that.


May 2010
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