I’m a goal-oriented person. Before a new year starts, I take a few hours to write out resolutions for every area of my life (like this promise to beat 52 games in 2023). I’ve made resolutions and failed enough times in the past that I now review those goals each week on a Monday to make sure I’m sticking to them, while every evening, I make a to-do list for the next day in the Notes app. When I complete them, I put little fire emoji next to them. But I can’t do this with multiplayer games.
I do this process less because I’m highly motivated and more because I’m pretty lazy and need concrete objectives to focus my energy in the right direction. Over the course of about eight years, I’ve refined these techniques to try to bring my daily routine into closer alignment with how my brain actually works. When I told a mentor in college that I made a to-do list during finals week because I had so much to do and that was the best way to make sure it all got done by the deadline, he asked, “If that works so well at finals, why don’t you do it the rest of the time?” I didn’t have a good answer, so I started doing it every day.
However, having all those goals in progress can make it hard to relax. I have various lists of movies I’m trying to work my way through, so it can be difficult to just throw something on. Similarly, I have a hard time getting into multiplayer games because I know that any time I spend with, say, Halo Infinite, is time that I can’t devote to completing one of those 52 games for 2023. You can put hundreds of hours into a multiplayer game and not finish anything and my goal-oriented brain has a hard time coping with that.
I bring up Halo Infinite because it’s a game that I really loved. When it launched in 2021, it was the most I had gotten into a multiplayer game in years. But if playing a game isn’t getting me closer to checking a goal off a list, I have a hard time sticking with it, and after a few months, I moved on. Letterboxd has become my favorite social media app for that reason. If I can log a film, I have evidence that I’m not wasting my life.
I think that’s part of the reason I’m having a really good time getting back into Fortnite. Epic’s battle royale is, first and foremost, a multiplayer game, that’s true. But the way that it implements quests allows me to trick my brain into feeling like I’m playing a single-player open-world game. Just one that includes enemies who are much smarter than AI. Before I start a new round, I highlight a new quest on the map, and then when I drop, I have something I’m trying to accomplish. It doesn’t matter much if I win or lose. If I can visit three named locations on the map and check that goal off my list, my time has been worthwhile. If I get killed early, I’m not mad because I didn’t win; I’m mad because I couldn’t accomplish my individual quest.
Maybe this is bad. When I look back on the way that we approached multiplayer games in the early ’00s, it seems more pure. I played Mario Kart: Double Dash and Worms 3D with my friends because it was fun. But the RPG-ification of multiplayer games in the late aughts and early ’10s has made it so that every game comes packaged with its own XP treadmill. Is that a positive cultural development? I don’t know, but it works better for the brain I have now.