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It’s OK to Play One Game Forever

Video games are art. But they aren’t art like books; if you just read Harry Potter over and over, somebody might say “read another book.” And they’d be right. But here’s the thing about games these days: The content isn’t the content. The experience is the content.

You can play Dark Souls 10 times over, a different build each time—shield-only combat, fully naked—and have 10 distinct game experiences. You can play 600 hours of Overwatch—believe me, I have—and, thrown into the churn of random teammates, execute (or fail to execute) unique strategy each game. It’s like sucking on a big, color-changing jawbreaker for a couple of years. The jawbreaker is sweet, then sour, then floral or bitter, and every time you want to taste candy, you take it out of the jar and pop it in your mouth.

You can just play one game forever. Maybe no one’s told you that. You can play one game forever, and that doesn’t make you boring, uncultured, or less of a gamer—League of Legends, Candy Crush, The Witcher 3, whatever. It shouldn’t be controversial, the idea that you can enjoy one thing for as long as you’d like. It is. You will be told you’re wrong. Mostly, by other gamers. Gaming didn’t become a $100 billion industry off the easily satisfied.

Decades of targeted marketing and mutually reinforcing business interests interlock to keep gamers always wanting just a little more. To participate in the global moment of a new Halo launch, you might fancy that new Xbox. Your whole feed is the latest God of War teaser video; preordering the game, and telling your friends, signals your belonging. If you call yourself a Final Fantasy fan, how could you not buy the Final Fantasy VII remake? To be sure, plenty of this acquisitiveness comes from a love of gaming, not from unthinking avarice. But for a lot of modern game-players, FOMO is a constant companion. Wanting-a-little-more has translated into a social need, even an identity.

The games industry has mastered this moment in capitalism by insinuating that gamers’ status as community members is at least partly contingent on a regular stream of consumption. There is an undeniable link between the amount of games you have played and your gamer cachet, your relatability to your social ecosystem. I don’t say this to shame anybody. It’s praiseworthy to have played a lot of games, just like it’s praiseworthy to have read every Jane Austen novel or watched every Jodorowsky film. These are just the conditions under which the single-game devotee is dismissed.

Overwatch came out in 2016 and I have played it basically every day since. My two obsessions: video games and Overwatch. The game has changed, of course. There are new characters, maps, modes, costumes. The player base fluctuates. But it’s the same couple of gameplay loops: Defend the objective and do it with guns and lasers. Friends and acquaintances dropped off the game one by one after a couple months or a year. As they moved on—bored, jaded, or otherwise—they began to look at me askew. “Why would you play a dead game?” Well, I’d respond, a couple million people might disagree with that characterization. “Do people even play that anymore?” Yes. We’ve been through this. “Why don’t you play, like, the new Call of Duty? Or Valorant?” I do, sometimes, but for the most part, I like Overwatch.

It’s a little strange that social acceptance of the single-game devotee is lagging behind corporations’ acceptance of them. (Often, culture goes the other direction). Over the last couple of years, Activision-Blizzard, EA, Ubisoft, Riot Games, and any number of top game companies are designing their games to continually capture players’ interest past the accepted 20 to 60 hours of expected gameplay. This trend in game design is called “games a service.” Online competitive games like DoTA 2 and Fortnite are constantly refreshed with new characters, cosmetics, and modes, ensuring their enduring relevance in the news cycle and in players’ rat brains. Well, I’ll just log in to scan the new emotes.

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