Making Time for Fun

"Fun isn’t the hard thing. The hard thing is remembering to have it." -- Bernie De Koven

I had barely scratched the surface of The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, the epic fantasy open-world game that features well over a hundred hours of action/magic/sword-fighting gameplay, when I decided to sit down and play Gwent, an optional card game within the game. The game crashed after my first win, and I haven’t been back since. I think I need a break from all the seriousness of gaming.

See, I don’t think I have had fun playing games lately, at least not the jovial free-spirited form of fun that I associate with child-like playfulness. The world of The Witcher is dark and rough. Geralt, who sounds like someone constantly waking up from a nap, lops off heads and runs quests for murderers and racists. It’s not exactly a light romp through magic-land.

Of course, this is no fault of the game. The Witcher never promised to be anything else but a very adult fantasy tale. Likewise, Arkham Knight coming just around the corner promises all sorts of gadgets with which to electrify, bludgeon, or otherwise incapacitate loads of burly dudes. I have grown accustomed to the violence of the games industry. It’s what we expect. We know Tomb Raider and Call of Duty are coming this year too and with them a big hefty serving of murder.

So brooding...

I am excited for these games, I really am, but I’m also tired. I can see the porous border where we as an industry lose people. The land where people stop caring and turn away from games entirely. I feel weighty fatigue, like I’m stumbling from sheer exhaustion too close to that strip of desert.

It’s not just the dark tone of so many games that tires me. The multiplayer games that I still enjoy deeply right now, Destiny and League of Legends, require significant mental commitment. The desire to improve and take on new challenges in these games is satisfying, especially when I see progress, but it is also taxing. When I play, I must commit. While compelling, these games lack the frivolity of joyful play.

There is a deep joy in play without obligation. As a kid, using your imagination, especially alone, was the ultimate expression of this free play. Reality was no limiting factor to the worlds in your mind. A simple stick could become a lightsaber, or a flying broomstick, or a wand, and then back to a piece of wood at your whim. When the time came to play something else, it was easy. Nothing was lost by moving between undirected whimsies.

These days, I feel the need to commit to play as something more than fun. Of course this is partly to shine light on the very real intersections between games and society. The Witcher can be a sweeping gorgeous experience and an opportunity to discuss race in games. As someone who cares deeply about social issues and a minority myself, I already feel the occasional acute guilt at backing away from sensitive issues in games. Rarely do I talk about race in games, not because I don’t think it important (it is), but because my passions often draw me elsewhere. I take critical play seriously, so it can feel like a betrayal to step away and enjoy something frivolously.

Sometimes you have to remind yourself to play without obligations. That to do so is healthy and human. I agree in this perspective with the guru of play Bernie De Koven in his discussion of fun:

Fun isn’t the hard thing. The hard thing is remembering to have it. Even when you spend your lifesavings on something that you think will be the most fun that you’ve ever had or will have, you forget… Or you start believing, maybe because someone told you, that you have to earn it, or deserve it, or get wise enough or enlightened enough or have sacrificed enough or been good enough.

There is a race among those who care passionately about games to find the ones that truly matter and share them with the world. It is an admirable goal, one I firmly support. There is great beauty and wonder and, yes, even horror to find in games that is important to share, discuss, and learn from. But sometimes we also need to play when it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s by plunging into a kids game or replaying something old but cherished. Or maybe it’s not playing anything designed at all, but instead picking up a stick and imagining.

There are great games on the horizon, dark gritty violent worlds, shooters, experimental narratives, adventure games, and everything in between. Take a little time out of your schedule to play something, just for fun, and you’ll be ready for them.






Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pay Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.