When the Nintendo Switch first arrived, a co-worker stood at my desk raving about Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Joyfully they shared about the vistas, the combat, the story, and puzzles. I could not get my hands on a Switch to play it, so I lived vicariously through him. Each I got updates on his experience and journey. Selfishly I wanted to know if the end was a fitting conclusion to the exquisite beginning. The answer he gave baffled me. “I do not want to finish it,” he stated with a smile on his face. “I want to savor it.”
Hurry Up and Finish Already!
Two trends have drastically influenced how we play video games. First, backlogs are a large topic in the gamer community as video games come out faster than we can play. We grow a backlog of games that we would like to get to but struggle to find the time necessary. The pressure then is to get through a game and move on to the next as quickly as possible.
The essential structure of video games lend themselves spectacularly to this pressure. Virtually all video game’s foundations are reward systems. Games reward a player for each task they complete by getting a new item, ability, plot revelation, or the next level. Positive reinforcement for a player’s accomplishment. This encourages the players to finish the game and collect all the rewards. Modern games have added trophies to player profiles to further reward a player by showing off their accomplishments to others. The game pushes you forward. The backlog then moves you on to the next conquest. In tandem, these two factors act like a carrot and a whip to ingrain doing and accomplishment to players.
The second modern development in gaming is speedrunning. Players push to get through a game as fast as possible. Some games reward this with special end credits like Metroid. The motivation for players is financial by cultivating an audience on Twitch. Nothing draws views like impressive skills, an engaging personality and a world record celebration.
These trends fit perfectly with the modern fast food culture. Western society has developed into an instant gratification culture. We want everything right this instant. No waiting. Time is too valuable to wait. Even when stuck we have phones to keep us productive, entertained, connected and eliminate the waste of waiting.
Game structure, video game culture, value through accomplishment and speed, and even our instant gratification society was challenged when my friend noted that he wanted to slow down and savor the game.
Slow Food, Slow Games
When my friend declared his desire to savor the Zelda, it reminded me of the movement called Slow Food. It began as a push back against the fast food movement. By cooking food slowly, it brings out new and beautiful flavors. It keeps the good nutrients in the food and is healthier for the body. Beyond just cooking, slowing down to enjoy a meal with community has benefits. Doing so develops relationships and connections that help a person improve their mental state.
I slowly marinated the idea of slow gaming in my mind. Connections and parallels began to emerge. Could a slow game movement help us to appreciate the beauty around us, improve our mental state, and create better games? The answer slowly rose to the surface like the words in a magic eight ball, yes!
When games become hastily finished, we end up with many issues that gamers loathe. Companies add features that should have been included in the original game as DLC, like in Destiny. Other times we get yearly updates that fail to enhance game play or experience like Call of Duty and Madden. While Call of Duty and Madden have strong followings, both fail to achieve game of the year quality. If delays give us better games, we should celebrate them (as long as the game eventually releases) instead of bemoaning each delay.
Gamers, slow down. Resist rushing to the finish line. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the art and gaming experience. Unwittingly, I too have savored a few games and enjoyed doing so. I explored The Witness so that I could experience and see every nook and cranny of the game. Journey was a short game that I grieved when it ended. When I went slowly, the game’s beauty blew me away. Barriers and stresses in my mind melted away.
When developers create worthy creations that they love and gamers slow down to savor the game, something incredible happens. Take Skyrim for example. Bethesda created an incredible game that gamers adored, and quoted incessantly. The care was apparent and gamers developed a community that mods and adds their own insights and art. Mario Maker, Last of Us, LittleBigPlanet, and Minecraft are other great examples. Games created slowly, and savored by gamers, birth a beautiful creative relationship that takes gaming as an art and community to new heights.
I began playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild roughly one month ago. I have progressed a long way in the game. When I reach a snow-covered peak and gaze out into the distance, I catch a glimpse of Calamity Ganon. Zelda is waiting for me to rescue her, but she can wait another day. I first have to embrace the journey. I too want to savor every ounce of adventure that Hyrule has to offer. Even the pixelated dubious food I cooked myself.