Fear of commitment in games: how to stop starting over, dating advice style

Tyler Wilde

I've never played a game of Civilization V from the Ancient Era to the Modern Era. I start out intending to, but then there are no fish or whales off the coast of my starting territory, and Gandhi builds the Great Wall before I can, and Dido founds a city near the inlet where I was planning to put a city, and it's the worst thing that has ever happened to me so I start over.

Here's another confession: after 40 hours of Skyrim, I haven't completed more than a few main storyline quests. Instead, I've created character after character, because I'm indecisive and terrified of commitment.

If you're a serial restarter too, let's work on it together with some help from one of the internet's most plentiful resources: banal relationship advice. By slightly reworking advice for the romantically cold-footed, I've developed a plan to help us stop starting over.

Get over the honeymoon phase

I love the initial exploration and discovery in Civ V, and designing RPG characters is my favorite part of playing RPGs, because I become obsessed with the idea of what's ahead of me; all the potential scenarios I can imagine.

And then it starts getting serious. Oh no. I'm doing more work but I'm getting fewer rewards, and shockingly, the game hasn't molded itself to my imagination's grand specifications. My glorious naval empire turns out to be a few coastal cities and some boats. My cunning thief is a mute skeleton murderer. My space pirate is mining space rocks. And none of those things ever want to cuddle anymore.

...Except my EVE Online character, maybe.

My fantasies gives way to actual game mechanics. It becomes a Serious Relationship, and it's harder, but ultimately more rewarding. That initial passion is nice, but it doesn't compare to the stories I get from a long-term relationship, when I actually start to care about a character's progression.

So don't be afraid to care. It leaves you open to be hurt—like, say, when an unmet civilization builds the Great Lighthouse first or when an actual pirate suicide ganks you—but that's OK. You can raze their cities and starbases later.

Stop dating playing as the same character

This may be my biggest problem: I almost always choose rogue, thief, or some analogue in RPGs, and I've built this concept map in my head of all the things they should be. No one game can deliver all those things, and my disappointment leads to futile re-rolling. As long as I don't get too far, I can't be disappointed, right?

There's an easy solution: don't keep playing the same character hoping they'll be a more perfect version of the last. When I try a warrior or mage class, I'm more willing to let the game inform what I can and can't do, because I haven't built such a rigid ideal. In Civilization, where I love seafaring nations, my longest and most interesting game was played as landlocked Germans.

Let your characters be imperfect. Let them be who they are, because they will never be exactly who you want them to be.

I've had more fun as Mr. Purrface than with any of my "serious" character builds.

Don't use rough patches as an excuse to flee

When I contracted vampirism in Skyrim, I almost rowed against the current back to a previous save, but I'm so glad I went down that river instead (if not very far). Building a narrative as I go is always more rewarding than trying to overlay my ideal story, and that's especially the case when things don't go according to plan. Tragic stories are inherently interesting, and failure isn't something to undo. Remind yourself of that.

Note: In actual human relationships, contracting diseases should be avoided. Other than that, this analogy is perfect.

See a therapist—you have unresolved issues from your childhood

OK, this analogy isn't perfect . I may have coasted through my psychology elective, if you must know.

The point is: serial restarters are missing out. The goal of these games is to start down a path and react to its twists—to let it challenge us—but instead we're caught in a loop, trying to find a perfect path where there is none. If you identify with this problem, pit the brunt of your willpower against it by vowing to keep playing regardless of the outcome, or use in-game mechanics—XCOM's Ironman mode, for instance—to force your own hand.

From now on, I'm going to be a one-character man. Well, probably not, but I'm going to try.

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