The power of the passage of time always amazes me. Something that was so vivid and engaging one day may lose steam the next day simply because of a disconnect in engagement.
Let me quickly apologize (to the maybe 2 people who noticed) for the 5 month reprieve from writing this blog. I had a busy couple of months which ultimately shot my momentum out of the water and it was hard getting it going again. Now I am back… and with a somewhat fitting topic!
p = mv. Does anyone else think of that equation every time they hear the word “momentum” from some high school physics class? Anyways, I’d love to tie that in somehow but what I want to talk about has very little to do with mass, and velocity only in the figurative sense, so I will just kill that analogy now.
Momentum is a funny thing. You might be cruising through something one day, but you can’t get yourself to pick it up the next. Understanding how and when to keep certain tasks moving can be useful in staying productive and allowing the full grasp of enjoyment that comes from a completed task.
Through various video game incidents I have realized how much momentum truly hinders and alters motivations and how meaningful moments start to fade when the continuity of progression is slowed or blocked.
In fact, quite ironically, I wrote this intro paragraph a year ago and then lost momentum. Given my recent lack of attention to this blog, I thought this would be a neat article to try to get me back on track.
Popping into my head are quite a few RPGs where momentum was an issue for one reason or another. I have always been someone that really digs into a game when I start, so the ones I don’t finish always stick out to me.
Interruption 1 – The Life Changer
Sometimes we have interruptions in our lives that are simply unavoidable and set forward significant changes. One large interruption in my gaming life has been living across the ocean from my brother.
Tales of Destiny 2 and other interesting multiplayer RPGs were some of our favorite games growing up, but playing these games together just isn’t feasible (and hasn’t been feasible for 14 or so years now).
We took a stab at Tales of the Abyss when he was home for an extended period and tried getting through Valkyrie Profile 2 when I was visiting him (for a significantly less extended period… that one was doomed from the start but still made for a nice allnighter). Both of these games were left unfinished.
Interruption 2 – The External Wall
Sometimes, something happens that isn’t your fault, but just sours an experience.
Suikoden V and .hack Outbreak are two examples of the sales process just killing my gusto. I bought a used copy of Suikoden V a couple of years after its release, but the game crashed every time before the first save. With Outbreak, I just couldn’t find the game at the store the three or four times I looked for it, and ultimately lost interest.
Both of these cases had simple trip ups in a process that ultimately had the grander ramifications of me not playing the games at all.
Interruption 3 – The Mental Games
I am a fan of doing everything conceivable before completing a game. I did just that in Xenoblade Chronicles, Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy XII, before realizing that I had lost momentum in the narrative.
Take Xenoblade. I defeated the 4 extra uber bosses, finished nearly everyone’s skill trees and completed most of the quests from what I could tell, and then just stopped. I put the controller down, took out the game to play something else, and never really went back. I had fairly similar experiences with the Final Fantasy games, though I did ultimately complete them.
In these instances I think there was a bit of a cognitive dissonance between what I was looking for and how I was interacting with the games that hindered my experience. I let a desire for discovery suppress my interest in the narrative. Sadly, narrative often comes with more of a time sensitive component that relies on that interplay of climatic storytelling and the momentum created with eyes on the finish line.
Understanding and Rebuilding Momentum
Okay, now the stage is set for losing momentum, but what do we do to get it back? A lot of that depends on which of the three situations above you are dealing with.
With the life changer, there are rarely things we can do. There has to be a sense of acceptance and rearranging we consider with these interruptions. In these cases, something is changed forever, and you must move forward with that understanding.
Perhaps there are workarounds, like playing games with my brother online, or playing the games separately but still staying heavily connected by sharing experiences. In this way, we channel momentum through a new medium.
It’s hard to say if this will help re-live ye olden days, or be a cheap knockoff of what once was, but I would generally suggest trying it and reassessing as necessary. Momentum can be hard to build and easy to stop, so redirecting momentum can be less destructive than just letting it falter and fizzle.
The external wall situation is an interesting one. Negative experiences weigh heavily on our psyche and it can be hard to forgive and find goodness after that initial betrayal of services.
I tried that Suikoden game, it did not work for me and Konami took a mental hit in my book. Is that rational? Not even slightly. Most likely it was a previous user’s actions that left my game scratched, but there is often little rationality around situations where you feel sleighted.
My advice here is to fight back with rationality. We often highlight our negative experiences and mute our positive ones. My friend who got me into Suikoden absolutely loved the fifth installment, and I’m sure I would have greatly enjoyed it too, if I could have just pulled myself up after that experience. Be slower to judge, and quicker to empathize with the complexities that ended in the error that is staring you in the face.
The mental game obstruction is the most complex. It’s rarely obvious when you are prioritizing activities in a way that will lead to a loss of momentum and ultimately a less meaningful or enjoyable experience… if it were obvious you probably wouldn’t be doing it. You are maybe more likely to catch this situation in hindsight, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to preempt it.
I am actually going to cop out a little here, because now that I am thinking about it, I feel like this is a much larger discussion, only partially related to momentum, so I will try to pick this up in another piece at some point.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to analysis of historical data (I know my tendencies of balancing narrative and discovery), and keeping an eye on whether you are really getting what you set out to get with an experience (be that mental stimulation, a challenge, abnegation, or any other experience). It’s also important to consider that if an experience is not what you expected to get yourself into, then the momentum being lost may be a perfectly normal reaction to an unexpected or possibly uninspiring journey.
Be slower to judge, and quicker to empathize with the complexities that ended in the error that is staring you in the face.
The power of the passage of time always amazes me. Something that was so vivid and engaging one day may lose steam the next day simply because of a disconnect in engagement. It’s important to keep this in mind. Don’t lose sight of those things that you want to experience simply because time has killed your motivation. Also, question why you lost motivation to begin with and consider if you want to/how to bring that spark back.
So what do you think? Any games you wish you never put down? Let’s chat!
Until next time, Game on and Learn on!
Welcome back Dyl! I guess I was one of the two that noticed the hiatus =P Great to see you writing again =)
The game that this article most made me think of was Phoenix Wright. I got completely stuck on one of the levels and put the game down for just a few days… when I picked it back up again I was worse than stuck, the game is so massively reliant on memory that I had to start the level over, but then it was repetitive and less interesting again. I never finished it =(
So I think you missed a blocker: the internal wall, the game gets too hard and you just know there’s no point.
The DLC levels on New Super Mario Bros 2 on the 3DS were a bit like that for me too.
What do you think?
Hi Alex! Thanks for the comment… and thanks for remembering the blog *sniffle sniffle*.
That’s a really good thought. I was playing around with a similar idea, which I think I ultimately tried to assimilate into the Mental Game bit with the last paragraph on cognitive dissonance and understanding the experience you want. I tried to tie it all together with that one liner near the end about assessing why you stopped to begin with, and considering if that experience just isn’t the right experience for you.
I think the main reason I glossed over it a bit is because it is more intentional than the other. I guess the article was a little more geared towards the unintentional interruptions… the things that are slightly out of your hand. In that sense, the internal wall is different in that it requires some kind of personal decision to step away. In this case, the biggest understanding that we really need to worry about is if that is an informed decision or if there is a workaround we aren’t considering. We would generally make this kind of decision because it is, as you said, too hard, or I would assume other instances where the value tradeoff does not fit what we are looking for (say we want a really challenging experience, but we come to realize that the 100 level secret dungeon at the end of the game is the only thing that really provides that, and its going to be 30 hours slog of mediocre narrative to get there; Or play style things as well, like say you are a pure sniper at heart and only want to use Grit in Advance Wars, and being forced through a campaign of different styles is just tedious). So in making that decision, we want to know as many facts as we can… perhaps you get to choose your CO after chapter 10. We also want to consider workarounds… perhaps we can create our own challenge by running from battles and not leveling. So there is a lot going into it, but assuming it is an informed decision, then it isn’t necessarily something you want to build back momentum for necessarily.
I’m trying to think of good examples in my life with this. I actually had a similar experience with Phoenix Wright, but luckily was pretty close to the beginning of the 5th case, so I either just started it over and it wasn’t much of a hassle, or just felt like I hadn’t forgotten too much that it was a game killer. With Tales of the Abyss the actual interruption was caused by our separation, but once or twice when I tried to get back into it, I just totally didn’t remember the story and fell on that balance of “am I getting enough out of this to proceed?” My Harvest Moon horror story was pretty much in that vein as well (https://turnbasedliving.com/2013/02/16/momentary-lapse-of-concentration/), where I was just like this is very much not worth it.
Hm, I think what Alex is suggesting sounds more like the ‘external wall’ (hence ‘internal wall’) than the ‘mental game’ distinction, to me. While technically you as a player are making a choice to step away from the game, it can very much not feel that way if it’s the design of the game which pushes you away, even if it’s only temporary. And temporary turns into much longer term thanks to the loss of momentum.
The example given, and probably the most relate-able example in general, is a game ramping up in difficulty too fast. It’s one thing if you have some control over the difficulty (like Dyl said, by not powering up or choosing an explicit difficulty level) but in an example like Phoenix Wright, there’s no such player-control. The game has thrown you a wall, and, for whatever reason, you can’t get past it. Sure you can look outside the game for a solution via, for example, an online FAQ, but just the act of getting stuck can suck away momentum.
I’ll leave the gamer-side analysis and solutions to Dyl, but certainly from a design side this is always a concern. Professor Layton, a puzzle-based game series, comes to mind. These games make use of hints to combat this very issue. Sure it might be disappointing when you have to grab a hint to complete a puzzle, but it doesn’t suck away nearly as much momentum as just being stuck with no choice, or having to go outside the game for a solution. Basically, by giving the player a choice, the game attempts to not break the momentum by leaving it up to the player (turning what might be an ‘internal wall’ into a ‘mental game’ =) )
Just a small note on your comment, Dust. I think more social gaming is creating a somewhat interesting platform to bypass having to go to an outside source. It’s still not pretty necessarily, but finding a secret star in Mario because someone throws down a tip saying “did you check that back wall?”, or by following someone else’s ghost around creates a more cohesive experience than looking something up on some FAQ somewhere.
This actually harkens back to why I had “social” so high in pokemon when we did the MDA analysis for it, and how it has that community for unraveling secrets. That being said, it got popular in a time when the only real forum for that was the internet, and hasn’t evolved the method much to incorporate it within the game. I think little message in a bottle kind of things would be a glorious way to keep it’s hefty random secret component, and not have it be like “well, time to look this stupid thing up”
See the Dark Souls series and Journey for modern examples of exactly this integrated into the game. Amusingly, for this very reason I chose to play both Dark Souls 2 and Journey completely offline because I wanted to enjoy seeking out secrets myself and not have a million glowing messages telling me ‘CHECK THIS WALL’.