The curious case of the Xbox Series X

This has possibly been the weirdest Christmas ever. Here in the south-east of the UK, we were moved into tier 4 lockdown restrictions with only five days’ notice and this meant we were no longer allowed to see family and friends during the festive period.

There was a range of emotion as my other-half and I listened to the announcement. On one hand we were pleased that action was being taken to keep everyone safe; but on the other, we weren’t looking forward to dealing with the reaction of certain difficult family-members when we told them we were no longer coming to visit. And then there was the fact we’d have to tell my stepson Ethan that we now wouldn’t be able to see him at Christmas – the first time we’d been allowed to have him on the day for five years.

The small relief was that Pete and I had taken the decision to give him his present the night before. We knew Ethan wouldn’t get much time to use it the following weekend as we were due to spend Christmas and Boxing Day with family, so it had seemed fair to let him have it early. Although we now wouldn’t be able to have him stay with us for a few weeks thanks to the increased risk of COVID-19, at least he’d be able to get some enjoyment from his gift before we had to say goodbye.

You see, my stepson had been hinting that he wanted an Xbox Series X since the reveal of the consoles last summer. We told him that we’d give him money for Christmas to put towards the console but he’d need to take on the responsibility of saving up the rest himself. After keeping his birthday and pocket-money safe for six months, he talked about nothing else during the lead-up to the holidays and constantly nagged us for updates on whether we’d been able to get one whenever he heard news about limited stock.

We’d sat Ethan down after dinner on the evening before the tier 4 announcement and explained he could choose to have his gift early – but he needed to be aware that the offer came with several caveats. First, he must give us his payment towards the cost of the console before the end of the weekend. Second, he would need to spend ‘proper’ time with family-members over Christmas instead of talking at them constantly about his Xbox or whichever game he was playing (something he’s very prone to doing).

Finally, a new three-strike rule would be imposed regarding noise. He’d gradually been getting louder while playing online with friends in recent weeks and we found ourselves going up to his room to tell him to keep it down more frequently. If this happened too many times, the console would now be taken away for the rest of the day. (We were aware Ethan would agree to anything just to get his hands on the Xbox and had one of the most peaceful nights we’d had in ages.)

My stepson’s eyes lit up the moment the box was placed down on the table. The look on his face was one of genuine amazement: he couldn’t believe we’d managed to get our hands on a console and it was sitting there right in front of him. We had to urge him to actually touch it after he sat staring at it for a few minutes, and he snatched his hand away quickly because he was so nervous. He couldn’t even bring himself to open the box and eventually Pete had to do it for him.

Ethan spent that weekend playing the same games he would have done if he were still using his Xbox One and saw no major graphical improvements thanks to his old television. I struggled to wrap my brain around the extent of his excitement; I can’t bring myself to see the new consoles as anything other than just another piece of hardware nowadays and, if my current hardware can still run the titles I want to play, then owning the latest equipment doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

I understand my stepkid’s enthusiasm if there were more new releases for the Xbox Series and PlayStation 5, but currently most of them are either available on the older consoles too or are just remakes and remasters of existing games. The only upcoming titles Ethan has asked about were ones we told him he was too young to play. Personally, it’s only Horizon Forbidden West and Fable IV which have caught my attention so far – but with no release dates announced yet, who knows when we’ll get the chance to experience them.

Watching the kid’s reaction to his Christmas present that evening made me realise that I’ve not been excited about anything gaming-wise for a long time. This isn’t just to do with the lack of new titles, delays to games I was looking forward to or the now-common unrealistic level of hype. 2020 has been a tough year for everybody and we’re still feeling its effects going into 2021; months of lockdown and fear have brought on a lack of motivation and enthusiasm, and sometimes it takes all your effort just to stay on an even emotional keel.

I want to be that eager again though. To look forward to trying the bargains I managed to pick up during the latest Steam sale, to find a game I’m totally hooked on, to experience a story I can’t stop thinking about long after I’ve completed it. Perhaps finding Yakuza 0 after becoming curious about it during a stream last month by Nathan of Gaming Omnivore is the start; I’ve already completed over 25 hours at the time of writing and I’m having a lot of fun mashing buttons around the streets of Kamurocho so far.

I guess the only thing we can do is try to be more like my stepson was that night, to look for the joy in small events and then use those feelings to push us forward to more positive times. It’s difficult and we’re all struggling, but we will get there. I wish you all the best for 2021 and hope you find some brightness in the coming months.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)

Out of the dumpster fire: games and well-being

I noticed a few similar headlines appearing in my news feed one day towards the end of November. A new report had apparently found a surprising discovery: time spent playing video games is positively associated with wellbeing.

I scrolled past at first and wasn’t going to give them a second glance. Gaming bloggers have become so used to seeing newspapers publish articles about studies like this, where the author disputes the findings and then questions the value of gaming. But one title ended up catching my eye because it mentioned the way the data had been collected for this latest report from Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, entitled Video game play is positively correlated with well-being.

Previous studies have relied upon asking participants to estimate how much time they spend playing and this can obviously be unreliable. For the latest research however, industry data on actual play time was provided by Nintendo and Electronic Arts (EA) for Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville respectively. The companies then reached out to regular players to invite them to take part, and participants responded to a survey from the university.

I had the chance to see a session given by Professor Pete Etchells on the psychology of gaming addiction at the Rezzed event last year and remember him talking about data. Scientists are always playing catch-up because they don’t have any information on trends around what the nation is playing; and while the information held by publishers would be invaluable to researchers, they often don’t want to provide it in case the resulting investigations indicate that gaming is bad for us.

Perhaps times are changing then. The fact that big organisations like Nintendo and EA have willingly helped with the Oxford Internet Institute’s study could finally indicate acknowledgement of a need to understand more about our interactions with video games, and encourage other companies to be more open to providing useful data too. The findings here are valuable, not because of what they’ve shown in connection with well-being but because of the method used to arrive at their conclusion.

You see, it’s not really much of a surprise that video games can help improve our mental health. This is something we as gamers have been shouting about for years and we’ve all got our own story of how they’ve helped us through a tough time. We see them as something of worth rather than the ‘mindless entertainment’ view usually held by newspapers and non-gamers, and know that spending your weekend playing the latest release is just as worthwhile as watching a movie or reading a book.

The COVID-19 lockdown has highlighted the benefits of gaming with more people taking up the hobby since March. For some, it has been a way to fill the free hours brought on by being furloughed from work. For others, video games have provided a means to escape from everything going on in the world when a break is needed. And for a lot of us, playing online with friends and family has meant we’ve been able to feel as though they’re still spending time with those closest to us.

I asked my blogger-friends to tell me about their own experiences. Luke from Hundstrasse said that replaying two games he’d completed previously was comforting during the lockdown. Pix1001 from Shoot the Rookie said that although she felt her habits hadn’t changed, gaming has given her a certain sense of normalcy over the past several months. And Athena from AmbiGaming mentioned that watching streams has made her feel as though she’s playing with friends.

These aren’t the sort of stories frequently reported by the media though because they don’t bring in the clicks. Newspapers are usually more content to focus their content on loot boxes, and how they’re a form of gambling which is going to corrupt our children. Unscrupulous publishers who make money from unsuspecting parents when their unchecked kids make in-game purchases. And horrible games which contain too much violence and are surely going to lead to acts of aggression in real life.

But video games aren’t always the cause – playing could be more a symptom, and an interesting example was given by Professor Etchells during his talk. If your guardians had a more ‘relaxed’ parenting style, you may have been given access to titles that contained more violence as a child; but if you become aggressive later in life, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s those games that were the origin of that behaviour. It could instead have something to do with the way you were brought up.

This is something also picked up on in the latest study too. Director of Research and lead-author Professor Andrew Przybylski said of his team’s report: “Our findings show video games aren’t necessarily bad for your health; there are other psychological factors which have a significant effect on a persons’ well-being. In fact, play can be an activity that relates positively to people’s mental health – and regulating video games could withhold those benefits from players.”

To quote Professor Etchells’ talk: “I think video games do have an effect on us. Everything has an effect on us… but by focusing on video games, are we missing more important factors?”. The problem is the lack of available data, something mentioned by Professor Przybylski in his interview with The Guardian. He added: “You have really respected, important bodies, like the WHO and the NHS, allocating attention and resources to something that there’s literally no good data on… For them to turn around and be like, ‘Hey, this thing that 95% of teenagers do? Yeah, that’s addictive, no, we don’t have any data’ – that makes no sense.”

Maybe this latest study will change things and more companies like Nintendo and EA will be willing to share information for the benefit of further research. Perhaps then more news outlets will then start reporting on the positivity of video games and the findings of reports based on valuable data. As Professor Przybylski said: “This is about bringing games into the fold of psychology research that’s not a dumpster fire. This lets us explain and understand games as a leisure activity.”

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)

Competition and curses: a parents’ responsibility

Video games have been a positive force during the COVID-19 lockdown here in the UK. As well as being entertainment during additional free hours, they’ve given me the chance to keep in touch with friends and hang out with them online.

Because of this, any negative aspects hadn’t crossed my mind and so receiving an email with the subject THESE Gamers Are The Most Antagonistic recently was something of a comedown. Commissioned by a resource for fans of online slot machines (I have absolutely no idea how I ended up on that random distribution list), the report tried to discover which gamers were the most aggressive and unfriendly according to their platform of choice and preferred multiplayer title.

I’m going to point out here that I’m not entirely comfortable with this company’s business or how they collected their data and so I’ve chosen not to link to them. They utilised Google search volume tools to find the number of people looking to report users in connection with the 42 most popular online games over the past 12 months, before asking almost 2,000 gamers around the world a series of somewhat leading questions: for example, ‘Have you had your day ruined by other online gamers?’

Despite my reservations and the fact the findings should be taken with a pinch of salt, they’re interesting. It appears Xbox users are more hostile than PlayStation owners as there are 1,080 more searches annually from them looking to report others for bad behaviour. To quote the report: “There are hundreds of online complaints about users who seek to anger others through Xbox Live chats. On average, each year there are 166,920 searches from players looking to complain or report other Xbox Live accounts.”

The thing that caught my attention though was the list of top-ten titles with the most antagonistic players. Somewhat unsurprisingly thanks to it being free and attracting huge fan-base, in first place was Fortnite: “There are countless stories from innocent users who claim that fellow Fortnite players ruin the game by citing abusive and toxic language. Each month there are 3,750 searches from players looking to report one another for hostile behaviour – that’s equivalent to 45,000 each year!”

Other releases that made the list included Roblox, Overwatch, Minecraft and Rocket League. These are all games either previously or currently played by my teenaged stepson and, according to Ethan, most of the boys in his year at school spend their free time hanging out with each other in them online. Regardless of whether these kids are the ones doing the reporting or contributing to the vitriol, I wonder how involved the parents are in their gaming lives and to what extent they’re aware of what’s going on.

We had a recent experience ourselves, which some people may already know about after we shared the story during a stream. Ethan doesn’t realise how loud he gets when he’s on his Xbox but the bonus of this is that Pete and I can hear everything going on without having to snoop on him. One evening while playing Overwatch with his friends, we caught him using the term ‘slut’ to refer to who he believed to be a female player on the opposite team – and he was busted for it over dinner.

He mentioned their handle when we asked why he thought this other player was female, so we explained to him that judging someone on their name was wrong and could lead to discrimination. Ethan’s excuse for his conduct was that he ‘only said it so his team could hear’ and ‘everyone else was saying it’ but we told him this wasn’t any sort of justification. Saying derogatory things like that wouldn’t only cause others to look at him in a certain light but could also encourage them to adopt or continue the same inappropriate behaviour.

It was when I asked him how he’d feel if someone online called me a slut that the point really hit home and he apologised. We then went on to discuss how trash-talking is often a part of online gaming, but you can be competitive and still be respective of the people you’re playing with. Personal attacks are just a nasty reflection of your own poor skills and, if you see a player struggling with the game, isn’t it better to offer them some friendly advice to help them improve?

Duane from Bar Harikuya published a great post last month which, while being about a different subject, contains a point which is very relevant here. He said: “It only becomes a problem because of poor education, and by that, I don’t mean at school (though there’s still room for improvement there), I mean the education that they receive from the environment they live in… You might say kids will be kids, but if I’d have ever heard any of my kids use homophonic, sexist or racist slurs I would be sure to educate them on why that’s not acceptable.”

If you have young children and decide to let them play video games, it’s your responsibility to educate them on how to use them responsibly. This includes teaching your kids that games don’t always have to be about violence and explosions; that it isn’t necessary to be a ‘perfect gamer’ in terms of skill if you’re having fun; and why inclusivity in gaming can only be a good thing. And it most certainly covers how to behave respectfully towards others in online multiplayer games.

I can’t in good conscience say that the findings of the report above are accurate, but they do show that an awful lot of people have tried to find out how to report others for toxic behaviour over the past year. Whether that’s because they’ve been the subject of hostility themselves or they’re considering making a fake report out of aggression, it doesn’t really matter: what’s important here is that none of us need that kind of negativity in our lives right now.

We’ve been in and out of lockdown for almost nine months in the UK, and our nerves are frayed due to how tired we are with the situation. We’re all looking for ways to pick ourselves back up by bringing positive moments into our lives and for many of us, that involves gaming. Video games should always be a source of entertainment, relaxation, joy and friendship – not an online world someone is afraid to enter because they’re worried about the sort of treatment they’ll find there.

The next time you or your kid pick up the controller for a match, remind them and yourself that it’s within your power to put a smile on the face of someone else online through your behaviour. And if we can all achieve that, then these current times will be a little bit easier for everyone.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)

PAX X EGX 2020: a virtual round-up

COVID-19 may have made it impossible to attend a physical EGX expo this year but that didn’t stop the organisers from putting on an event. From 12 to 20 September 2020, they joined forces with the PAX team to give us the opportunity to attend PAX X EGX online.

The aim was to ‘transcend the physical aspects of gaming events’ and enable us all to ‘celebrate nine days of around-the-clock content with a worldwide community of gamers and no-one will judge you if you turn up in your pants’. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t take up that last suggestion, seeing as PAX X EGX took place during the same time as working at home and attending various conference calls. But I did some time to check out the website and see what was going on.

The ‘show floor’ was essentially the hub of the event and from here, you could navigate your way around the ‘stands’. Clicking on a publisher or developer’s name took you to a page displaying a list of the titles being promoted and you could then dig deeper for trailers, screenshots and occasionally demos. Also available were sections for live streams including panel discussions, tournaments and interviews – and let’s not forget about the obligatory merchandise which seems to come with every expo.

There were two main trends I noticed very quickly while scanning through the games on display. First was that that least one of the same words appeared in almost every other description: ‘unforgiving’, ‘platformer’, ‘roguelike’ or ‘Metroidvania’. Not great news for an adventure fan like me but it made sense when I thought about it in the context of the current state of the world. The lockdown seems to have encouraged many gamers to seek out more challenging titles to keep them occupied through all that extra time.

The second trend I picked up on was how many of the games were currently available. This is something I’ve taken issue with during previous expos: some analysis before Rezzed in 2019 revealed that over 45% of the games due to be at there had already been displayed at the show since 2017 or could be purchased beforehand. It feels as though these events are changing from something where new studios and individual creators can share what they’re working on to events which are essentially a flashier version of the Steam storefront.

That’s not to say I didn’t come across a few gems though. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of Paradise Lost by PolyAmorous initially, because I don’t usually enjoy storylines involving the World Wars or Nazi Germany; but I got sucked into this post-apocalyptic adventure and added it to my wishlist immediately after playing the demo. Narrative puzzler Fire Tonight by Reptoid Games was added straight away after completing the preview too, because I loved the early 1990s vibe from the art-style and soundtrack.

Perhaps the most intriguing title I came across was Finders, Keepers by Alex Francois. It’s a pixelated story about a hike through an ancient woodland told through a mobile phone dating app called fyndr/keepr – which sounds totally strange but really works, so I’m looking forward to finding out more. The Boy in the Book by a team of four people also piqued by interest; it tells the true story of the discovery of a lost diary hidden inside a Choose Your Own Adventure book and the attempt to unravel its many mysteries.

Besides finding out about new games, the highlight of EGX for me is usually the developer sessions. The PAX X EGX organisers made sure that this was still a core element of their event despite it moving online, and livestreams took place continuously throughout the nine days. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to watch much of them while they were taking place thanks to those pesky conference calls mentioned above – but I’m hoping to be able to catch up on the videos this week and see what I missed.

Although PAX X EGX was a good experience and I managed to add a few upcoming titles to my wishlist, I missed this year’s physical expo. The website said that it was designed to be ‘everything you love about your favourite gaming events, minus the queues, expensive food and the need to fork out on a hotel’ but the digital shows just can’t capture that buzz of being at a real expo. Hopefully the situation next year will be different, and I’ll be able to see some of you guys at EGX expo in the real world.

Did you get a chance to check out any of the titles on display at PAX X EGX? If so, what are your recommendations?

PAX X EGX 2020 photo gallery

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The EGX-perience: games from past expos

We’re now in the final third of 2020 and I haven’t been to a gaming expo yet this year. COVID-19 has made large public gatherings here in the UK too risky, and the tickets we had for events such as Rezzed and Insomnia were all cancelled and refunded.

EGX was due to take place this weekend and instead we’re playing games indoors by ourselves, thanks to the coronavirus. There’s always next year though and I’m waiting with my card in hand ready to purchase tickets as soon as they’re released. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the titles I’ve come across at the expo during previous years – both good and bad – and figure out what we’re going to play for The EGX-perience stream on Twitch tomorrow.

Eurogamer Expo 2012 (old event name): Fable: The Journey

EGX, 2012, Eurogamer Expo, video games, Fable: The JourneyI honestly don’t remember much about my first EGX at all, an event attended socially with a few friends as it was before I started blogging. It’s understandable then that the only thing I recall playing there was the demo for Fable: The Journey. I’d loved the series since experiencing the first game in 2004 and was eager for another instalment – but when I then went on to purchase the title on the day of release, it was so disappointing. I’m hoping some of that old magic will be recaptured with Fable IV soon.

EGX 2013 (event renamed): SpecialEffect

My first ‘blogging’ expo and another that I don’t recall too well. But this was the year I came across the stand for SpecialEffect, and seeing the work they do to help physically-disabled people play video games inspired me to sign up to become a volunteer for the charity. I’ve taken part in their annual gaming marathon GameBlast since the first one in 2014 and our planning for next year’s fundraiser begins in a couple of weeks’ time. Keep your eyes peeled for more details about what GameBlast21 is going to hold for us!

EGX 2014: Life is Strange and Monstrum

Life is Strange, video game, girls, teenagers, friends, Max, ChloeThe buzz among bloggers at this expo was around Life is Strange, a new episodic narrative adventure featuring a female protagonist. We were fortunate enough to be invited to a press-only demo and were excited by what we saw. It therefore may seem strange that I didn’t get around to playing the game until five years after the release of its final episode. I finally completed it in May this year – and was hella annoyed by its characters, and now have absolutely no desire to play Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Sorry.

The diamond in the rough was Monstrum and this is the EGX 2014 title we’ll be playing during our stream. I’ll never forget our first experience of this one: we were waiting to interview the developer, and the guy currently playing had to put down the controller because he was too scared to continue. It takes place on a derelict cargo ship and, as the levels are procedurally-generated, you never know where you’re going to find yourself or which monster you’re trying to escape from. Expect me to hide behind my cushion while Pete plays.

EGX 2015: Shadowhand and Lumo

I first came across Shadowhand at this event and ended up choosing it as my game-of-the-show. In an old blog post from the time, I wrote: ‘Any title that can convert me to a new genre and leave me wanting more is worthy of a mention in my book.’ By the time I’d completed all 20 levels at the end of last year however, I was sick of solitaire. Playing straight through was probably the wrong thing to do; I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d dipped in and out of the title, playing other games between levels.

The EGX 2015 game we’re going to be playing this weekend though is Lumo. This isometric puzzle-platformer gives plenty of nods to the ‘golden age’ of video games that older gamers will recognise and is pretty tricky, but I’m hoping well at least make it through to the part where you travel between levels using an elevator. It’s here that players hear a song called Hold My Hand Very Tightly by Whistlin’ Rick Wilson – a track which comes with an interesting backstory about 8-bit computer magazines and singing alter-egos.

EGX 2016: The Black Death and Horizon Zero Dawn

I feel so sorry for the guys from Small Impact Games. We spent a nice hour talking to them about medieval multiplayer The Black Death and they were so lovely and welcoming; and their developer session about surviving the development of the survival genre was very enlightening. But sadly the title just never took off thanks to mixed reviews and it’s still sitting in early access. Pete bought it to try it out for himself and, even though we could see what the developer was aiming for, it was buggy and a little empty.

Horizon Zero Dawn, EGX, 2016, people, crowds, gamersOn the other side of the exhibition hall was Horizon Zero Dawn and that’s the EGX 2016 game we’re going to play during our stream. I usually steer clear of the big-budget areas at expos because they’re overcrowded and consist of queues which take several hours to get through, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued as I walked past the stand. Aloy is now one of my favourite female protagonists – she’s just too good to hate for looking amazing, even after rappelling down a mountain or sliding into a bush.

EGX 2017: Detroit: Become Human and Strange Brigade

EGX, expo, event, video games, Kim, Detroit: Become HumanThe highlight for me this year was getting the chance to play the first section of Detroit: Become Human. I’d adored the other titles by the developer even though they weren’t to everybody’s taste, and I knew I was going to love their latest story about androids and acceptance. Streaming the game in March turned out to be one of the most stressful gaming experienced of my life: I panicked at some of the choices I had to make because I didn’t want any of the characters to get hurt, and can only apologise for the swearing.

Strange Brigade, video game, EGX, 2017. balloon, blimp, sign, titleEGX 2017 game which is going to feature in this weekend’s stream is Strange Brigade. It was thanks to one of the best stands at the expo that the queue was constantly full and, even though we didn’t get the opportunity to try the demo, we had fun watching the trailer outside. Sometimes a title is made even better thanks to a good narrator and I love the posh English voice that commentates your actions – what more could you want when shooting zombies in a cursed tomb than someone shouting ‘Tally-ho!’

EGX 2018: The Gardens Between and Flotsam

EGX, video gamesWhen I saw The Gardens Between at the expo this year, I was reminded how I’d added it to my wishlist a while back thanks to an art-style that looked like a cross between The Witness and Oxenfree. This lovely puzzler went on to become one of my favourite releases of 2018. Playing it left a mark on me and there were many things I realised long after the credits rolled which gave it a deeper meaning, such as the bittersweet reason for its name and the use of the time-rewind mechanic. I can’t deny that I had tears in my eyes.

EGX, video games, Flotsam, PeteIt’s the watery Flotsam that we’re going to be playing tomorrow though, the highlight of not just EGX 2018 but other expos too for Pete. It might seem strange that he was drawn to a quiet resource management game considering how much he likes action, guns and explosions, but there’s something which keeps him coming back every time the developer releases a new update for their early access project. It’s a great title to chill out with on a Sunday morning over a cup of tea because the art-style is so relaxing.

EGX 2019: Beyond a Steel Sky and Death Stranding

My favourite memory from this year was getting to have the booth for Beyond a Steel Sky all to myself, and being allowed to play for a longer than the allotted time thanks to making it my first stop on the first day of the expo! Later during the day we got to see Charles Cecil talk about the project and his enthusiasm for the adventure genre was infectious. Reviews of the game weren’t entirely positive upon release but now seem to have improved, and I can’t wait to play it and Beneath a Steel Sky back-to-back at some point.

Death Stranding, video game, EGX, 2019, gamers, queueSaturday’s game however is going to be Death Stranding. There was no demo at EGX 2019 but we did get to see a 20-minute presentation which was shown in a closed booth in the middle of the exhibition hall – and didn’t do much except make us even more confused about what was going on. I can’t say I’ve ever felt the desire to play this one and I have mixed feelings about it after completing my first Hideo Kojima title for a game-swap last month; but Pete wants to try it, so I’ll withhold judgement for now.

Come join us over on Twitch from around 15:00 BST tomorrow afternoon for The EGX-perience stream, where we’ll be playing the games noted in today’s post and talking about our favourite expo memories. Hopefully the event will go ahead next year and we’ll see you all there in person.

Eel-ing better: fishing in ESO

I’ve had an on-off addiction to The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) since first trying it during the Christmas holidays in 2015. I’ll go through periods where I’ll play it at every possible moment at the expense of other games, then I won’t touch it for several months.

The last time I properly played was at the start of this year during our streams for GameBlast20. Finding video games to play every evening for 50 days proved to be rather difficult but ESO was our saviour: not only was it easy to dip back into it with the absence of a steep learning curve, we were able to regularly hook up with a few friends who were playing at the same time. You’d often find me joining my other-half, Phil, and Tim and Jake from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech for a dungeon or two in the evenings.

It wasn’t all just fighting long-dead draugers and killing giant spiders though. Sometimes we’d leave the dungeons behind and do something completely different instead. For example, there was an entire session spent in what was essentially an ESO-version of MTV Cribs: after Tim and Jake showed us around their sprawling mansion and we’d transformed ourselves into monkeys using their Fan of the False-Face, they guided Pete on a tour through the various abodes available to players and then helped him decorate once he’d chosen a home.

After our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 had been completed in February, we put down our controllers and that was it for ESO. Pete had achieved what he’d set out to do and had finally levelled up a character enough to become a Champion; and I was eager to return to my beloved adventure genre, having not played many point-and-clicks over the past two months because they weren’t particularly great for streaming. Although the game was left installed on our laptops, we signed out and didn’t go back to it.

That was until earlier this month. As I wrote at the end of July, lockdown gaming was turning my hobby into a task that felt more like work and it was starting to feel like something I did more to just pass the time than enjoy. Add to this the fact that most of the upcoming releases I’d been looking forward to had been delayed thanks to COVID-19 and there was nothing I was absolutely itching to play; I was just going through the motions, because what sort of video game blogger doesn’t play video games?

A couple of weeks ago, Athena from AmbiGaming published a great post with the title Old Friends and New Adventures: COVID-19 and Comfort Gaming which talked about nostalgia and the exposure effect. She said: “We take comfort in the familiar. Our brains process a familiar event and recognise it as something that it has survived, and therefore it is not something that poses a mortal danger to us, compared to this Unknown Thing that, despite appearances, might not be as satisfying / benign / good for us.”

The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, tankard, inn, drink, woman, barman

I think this explains why I found myself opening ESO once again at the start of August and downloading the latest patches. With uncertainty about my work and concern for my family slowly gnawing away at my sense of stability, I felt as though I was floating and waiting for something to come down (to quote Athena again). I wanted to do something to take my mind off everything happening around me and all these things I couldn’t control, and I needed that thing to be something which felt safe and familiar.

But instead of returning to my old character, I decided to create a new one so I could ease myself in with the early quests. Surely it was just a coincidence that this new Wood Elf rather resembled by old one and even had the same alliance and class! This time was going to be different though, I told myself. This time around I’d complete the areas I’d already covered in my previous playthroughs, then explore new islands with a view to sticking with it and perhaps finally completing all the missions.

However, I found myself still in the starting location of Vvardenfell several days later and not having done much outside of the first few main quests. I was far too busy running around the countryside with the important task of collecting butterflies and netches for fishing bait. If I’d jumped back into ESO yet again, I was going to do it properly – and that meant making sure I had enough suitable bait to be able to catch every single rare fish in each location and earn myself those achievements.

I have a long history with fishing in this game. I’d previously bagged the Morrowind Master Angler achievement during our 50-day challenge but failed to get the Grahtwood Angler title thanks to one lousy creature. I was struggling to get the Thrassian Eel and so, as you’re more likely to catch a rare fish when others join you, I enlisted the help of Phil. The only problem was that he ended up catching that flipping eel for himself every time we fished together while I walked away empty handed.

After a few weeks of hanging around the shores in ESO and wondering just how many insect parts one Wood Elf can carry, I think my time with the game may be drawing to a close once again. The situation right now may still be unsettling; redundancies loom at work although my position isn’t at risk for the time-being, the UK is officially in recession and the number of daily coronavirus cases is on the increase. But my brief break in Vvardenfell I feel a bit more able to deal with these things mentally now.

I’m also starting to feel that familiar itch of desire to play something again, to take on a new challenge and discover a new story. As Athena explained in her post: “…grabbing a new game, playing through it, and completing – or beating – it is a way for us to vanquish a fear of the unknown. After all, that’s exactly what we’ve done: willingly put ourselves into an unknown situation, and survived it, or, dare I say, even thrived in it, if we successfully made it to the end. And isn’t that a nice feeling?”

I recently downloaded Lighthouse: The Dark Being from after hearing about it during the Ages Before Myst talk during Mysterium 2020 at the beginning of the month. I’m surprised I’ve never come across it before; this title was released in October 1996 as was Sierra Online’s response to the success of Myst and I think it might be just what I need right now. It has that comforting nostalgia I get from old adventure games, but it’s a whole new adventure I haven’t yet experienced.

I’m sure I’ll go back to ESO at some point in the future because I always do. And one day, I’m going to catch that damn eel.