Last year, I encountered an urban legend of videogaming for the first time, the mythical Big November. November, people had told me for years, is the busiest time of the year for gaming, a time when every publisher scrambles to release something that you, or your children, then inevitably put on the Christmas wish lists to spend the cold months inside with. Finally, after years of hearing about Big November like Nessie from the depths, I experienced it. I experienced the start of gaming season in a year in which time is essentially meaningless. It led to me playing a lot of games in rapid succession, and I didn’t like it. Yet I often see it suggested that for many people, this is the done thing.
Because two new consoles released and those tend to sell better if you simultaneously offer people some games to play on them, I played a lot of games in the span of one week, and so did my colleagues. I saw talk about a game for less than a week before people moved on to the next one, and something that released two weeks ago impossibly felt like old news already. I saw people make lists of all the games coming out in the span of a week that they wanted to get their hands on. “Get that in before Cyberpunk” was a phrase I heard often.
Sure, this is a symptom of my job, but everyone knows there are more games released per month, any month, than you could feasibly play. Then there’s sales that constitute a regular temptation and the pile of shame that isn’t so much a pile of shame as it is a bit of a status symbol. But there is a weird paradox of gaming being a perfect example for the trappings of capitalism, telling you how you need the cool thing of the hour now, and many games taking quite a lot of focus and time. The excitement around new releases made me forget that most people don’t actually get all the stuff immediately, and that many of us just like to announce our intent of getting a game, you know, sometime.
I’ve asked people on social media how they schedule their gaming around their work and their commitments to family and friends, and it seems like most of us will do just about anything to squeeze in a little bit of gaming time. I found little evidence to support the pop-cultural portrayal of dudes who will just veg out in front of a screen for hours on end, mostly because many people have to fight to make time for a game at all. And fight they will. Parents of toddlers or small children will get up before dawn. Those fortunate enough to have their own office will shut the door for a couple of hours while their family sits down to watch a movie. For many, Animal Crossing has become the ultimate lunchtime game, just a quick gander around the village to see what’s in shops today.
Genre-wise, the ones that suffer the most from not having a lot of time are players who mainly enjoy RPGs, and I get it – having two hours in a sprawling game like Assassin’s Creed or Yakuza, both rife with distractions from their main plotline, feels like no time at all. On the other hand, these are games you get to enjoy for a long time. People who enjoy the satisfaction of finishing something, however, will actively shy away from such games, fearing they’ll never see the end of them. Some genres make for games that are easier to put down – multiple people told me they have an arcade game or a roguelike they just play for a bit until they die, and with that natural end point their gaming break comes to a close, too.
One Twitter user told me that what they play and whether they play at all is highly dependent on their mood, as committing to a game can be stressful. This is interesting, because while most people describe games as a relaxing, well-deserved part of their downtime, really getting into a game takes focus and a certain flow for some of us, something I for example can’t achieve within two hours. Relaxing itself can take a bit of time, just like falling asleep – in the back of your head you may still think about your schedule for the next day or a conversation you’ve just had or any number of things, before you can fully sink into your game.
Most people who answered my request for comment are married and have children. Their money doesn’t go to the latest and greatest, and they take their time to pick a game and give it their full attention. Most games they buy are on sale. Students, who generally have less disposable income for games, often mentioned Game Pass as their number one source for games. I had relatively few answers from what I consider gaming’s number one target group – working adults without children who sometimes spend a whole weekend playing. Those that fit the bill told me about turning games into a ritual, a fixed time during weekends to meet friends online they would’ve met outside otherwise. That’s heartening, because it means the increase in gaming time you read about so often these days isn’t necessarily just people sitting at home on their lonesome.
I’m not going to tell you we’re lucky to still have video games, and I’m not going to tell you that if you really wanted to get that new game and couldn’t because you had to put family expenses first, that’s just putting first what really matters, but personally I forgot about the advantages of taking your time to make sure you buy something you really like and want to spend a lot of time with. Games are not just there to be put into a backlog, for many people they are something they can hardly wait to get to. Sure, you support a game developer with your sale, and that’s important, too – but for people to put a lot of care into the selection of a small number of games across the year, and then to really give those their full attention is an equally important way to appreciate the craft of video games.