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Looking back at the last ten months of a largely locked-down existence, one aspect of my gaming habits is incredibly clear. I've an evident fondness for playing through short video games. Not exclusively, to the detriment of exploring larger, longer titles - Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Persona 5 Royal are two of my favourites from 2020. But when it comes to finishing games, it's the shorter ones that I've had more success with, and that have often stood out as my very favourites.
And sure, that sounds logical enough: a short game is quicker to finish than a long one, you can fit more of them into your sporadic and brief windows of gaming (free) time. But there's more to it than that - I'm sure of it. Especially now, in a time in all our lives where routines have changed, if they exist at all; where work is bent out of shape, and relationships with friends and family altered.
It's easy to lose focus: on what needs doing professionally, on what needs your attention personally, and on your responsibilities beyond matters that directly affect you. It's why I write to-do lists, every day - for work, of course, but also 'play', for my free time. Errands, sure, but also: download this month's Games With Gold. That was yesterday's. For this weekend: sell some old toys. I need to, my loft is only so big. Every day at 1pm, not that I stick to it: go outside and have a walk. A walk, in this economy?
Small goals, each of them; within an everyday, a days-blurring forever state, that can cloud out clear, compartmentalised thought without regular management. The small ticks on the to-do list help - there's a lot of study and self-help essays and books out there on this very subject, on how aiming to achieve small goals can build into a more measured, manageable, rewarding lifestyle. But forget 'lifehacks' and the like: these are just pick-me-ups to promote a sense of progression, a pathway through the fog of an enveloping and bewildering feeling of WTF is going on.
A small game completed is an incredible pick-me-up. Your experience will differ of course but I always feel a surge of happiness when the end credits roll on a game, especially if it's one I've really enjoyed (when they roll on a game I've not liked so much, the feeling is more relief than anything else). And since lockdown was first imposed in early 2020, many of my absolute favourites have been games 'beatable' in a few sit downs, a handful of hours.
Okay, so I've also put more time into The Witcher 3 on Switch - old habits die hard. And seeing the credits on the main game and Hearts of Stone expansion in the last few months, sure, uplifting. But that's a game that never ends; and while I love spending time in its world, with characters who almost feel like friends these days - I'd never really call him a prick - it's the smaller experiences that have truly resonated, that have really give me that huge surge of satisfaction that can only come with the completion of a task, however minor it may be.
Which is to say: Hades was in my top three games of 2020 for a reason (and it was our overall game of the year here at GAMINGbible). When a run through Supergiant Games' extraordinarily brilliant roguelike can take you 45 minutes (or less, if you're either brilliant or get finished off before overcoming your titular father), it represents a mightily attractive post-work, pre-bedtime proposition. Can sit down and blast through its underworld mazes between the kids going to bed and that TV show I like coming on at 9pm. Also in my personal top 10 of 2020: If Found..., a captivating visual novel of tender emotions and should-be-outdated discrimination, and I Am Dead, a gorgeous meditation on what we leave behind set atop a compelling puzzle game.
If Found... takes around two hours to finish, as it's entirely linear; I Am Dead, around four and a half, depending on how sharp your grey matter is. A little longer is Röki, at 11 or 12 hours; but the Scandinavian fairytale point-and-clicker is so nicely paced that you can almost treat it like a book, and do an hour or so each night, on the Switch, before you turn off the light.
2020 also saw me playing, and loving, games that had come out the year before, but not on my platform of choice - namely Nintendo's handy hybrid. Telling Lies was as dramatic and as enthralling as a critically acclaimed Netflix series, and my five or so hours with it, unravelling its mysteries, were exceptional entertainment, capped by an ending that brought gratifying closure (I went back and played more, to see all of its endings). A Short Hike, uh, I loved every second of adamgryu's delightfully quiet adventure, and its two hours or so were exceptionally memorable. The climax, gliding back to where you began. So good, so enriching, such a pitch-perfect conclusion.
I could go on, rhapsodising about In Other Waters, or Wide Ocean Big Jacket, or Streets of Rage 4, or Coffee Talk. I could talk about how the first game I completed in 2021 was Turrican 2, an intense action-platformer from 1991 - re-issued in a new collection, just the other day - that can be finished in 90 minutes. (Old, arcade-style games are brilliant for quick-turnaround completions.) But I think my point is, hopefully, made here: that it's the smaller games, not the huge open worlds to get lost in, that have been a constant source of the most complete fulfilment through lockdown living.
That isn't to say that there aren't magically meditative qualities to Breath of the Wild (there are), or that I don't sometimes fire up GTA V just to walk to the beach (I do - which is silly, really, as I live right by the beach IRL). The Witcher 3 will always pull me back in, however many times I finish it. But achieving completion in shorter games gives me motivation to keep ticking off items in my work and life without a control pad in my hand. It's momentum, and even though each victory is small, it's been earned. And that, right now, is a vital driving force.
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Why Accurate Representation of Mental Health in Video Games Matters
There are various resources that can help provide mental health support, including MIND, Samaritans, Safe In Our World and CALM:
0300 123 3393
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