For the last couple of weeks, my twitter feed has had a lot of chatter about Persona 4 Golden, enough so that I was thinking that I should maybe get a copy at some point. I don’t have a Vita yet, but I’m actually hearing enough buzz about that system that I’m not against getting one, it seems plausible that there will be enough games I’d be interested in playing on the system that it won’t just collect dust. So, if it’s a game I should play and that’s the best version, I guess that’s what I should do?
The thing is, though: I was really looking forward to playing Walking Dead on the iPad. And it’s a great game, no question, and once I got past the first episode, the iPad interface has been fine.
But something’s been missing in my experience with that game: Liesl isn’t involved in it. I’m used to playing narrative games on a TV with her watching; it’s not so much that we spend huge amounts of time talking about games, but her watching me play them creates a shared context, and sometimes she’ll comment on choices while I’m making them in the game. And it turns out that I can feel the lack of that shared context.
This is part of the reason why I avoid PC games. Not the only reason: I don’t have a Windows machine around, I managed to cleverly structure my gaming history in such a way as to avoid becoming really fluent with keyboard and mouse controls, and mice give me RSI (trackpads and typing are fine, fortunately). But even setting all of that aside: if I’m playing a game on a PC that’s at all demanding, then I can’t play it on our living room TV, and I probably can’t play it on our laptop: I’d have to shut myself away upstairs in our library to use the computer there. And I’m quite reluctant to commit to doing something that will require me to isolate myself from the family for tens of hours at a time like that.
Jordan wrote an article earlier this week entitled Most tech writers are single but most phone buyers aren’t, and I think this is another manifestation of that. Fellow game bloggers, I love all of you, I assure you; but most of you are noticeably younger than I am, and many (most?) of you are also noticeably singler than I am. Maybe I’m just projecting my own change in habits from playing games on a computer in my dorm room (or my basement growing up) to playing games in a shared space onto other people’s life experiences, but I don’t have space in the house that’s strictly my own, and playing games in a separate room would feel faintly hostile to me now. And that’s just for single-player games: spending regular time playing online games alone on a computer upstairs raises even more complications. (As would playing in the living room but roaming the wilds of Xbox Live, for that matter.)
Actually, now that I write this, I’m wondering what the boundaries are between game modes that feel isolating and ones that don’t? I’m happy to read a book by myself; and I’m also happy to be playing Super Hexagon or Letterpress on my iPad. And Liesl certainly plays quite a bit on her iPad as well—10000000 is a current fave—and that doesn’t feel isolating.
Looking at those examples, the time scale seems relevant: games where a play session takes a few minutes don’t have the potential to isolate in the same way that games that will take months to finish. (With books in the middle; and I wouldn’t feel so loathe to isolate myself on a computer to play a game if I could finish it over the course of two or three evenings spread across a week, instead of requiring a month or two to finish.) Also, books and iPads are devices that we can play on (practomimic on?) next to each other in bed, looking over at what the other is doing as we feel like we want contact.
Which raises the question: why do I feel that Walking Dead on the iPad is more isolating than I’d like? It’s relatively short, and it’s on a device I can play sitting/lying next to Liesl, so on those grounds it’s no more isolating than a book. But a big difference between that game and a book is the sound. Whenever I watch a video on a laptop or iPad in the living room, I’m always torn between having the sound on the external speakers (and bothering everybody) or plugging in earphones (and isolating myself). And that’s just with typical Youtube-length videos; with a game I’m playing for hours at a stretch, the problem gets a lot worse. And with a game like Walking Dead, I’m not willing to turn off the sound in the same way that I am with Super Hexagon.
I dunno. As I was typing this, I was thinking that I should have considered playing Walking Dead on the TV with Airplay; but games have to support that, and Walking Dead doesn’t. (And, returning to the Persona 4 question, I guess the Vita doesn’t have an HDMI out?) Hopefully Telltale will fix that if they come out with a sequel for the game; if not, maybe I’ll play it on the 360 instead. And maybe the right platform for Persona 4 for me (in a mythical world where I had 80 hours to play a JRPG!) would be the PS2 instead of the Vita.
This post has not been revised since publication.