The Benefits of Brain Dead Gaming
You know how it is, long day of work, kids just have gone to bed, study getting you down, the family is a drag. In other words, life. You need something to escape from the hustle and bustle, a way to clear your mind and just switch off. But what games do you turn to? Which games allow you to just…relax? This is where a certain type of game comes into its own. A category of games that doesn’t require deep thought and yet provides enough visceral stimulation to keep players interested. This is Brain Dead Gaming.
I started thinking about it during the hot summer break (which is sadly now over for me.) Tripping off with my family to spend Christmas with even more family and some time on the coast. Now that sounds wonderful, beach, swimming, fishing and all that. That is unless you have a torn calf and can’t enjoy the wonders of the outdoors. So I was forced to sit inside, while the rest of the crew went off and did all those things I usually enjoy. Luckily I had my trusty portable game case, my Xbox One and a pile of new games like Red Dead and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey dig into. But just as I sat down, ready to finally put some serious time into Arthur Morgan’s adventures, something happened. I just didn’t feel like something so serious, something that required so much attention. It had been a long year, I was on a small screen, I just needed to kick back and zone out so Red Dead didn’t get a look in. Instead, I spent my summer playing three games, games that I could play on autopilot, games that have little substance but an excess of visual and aural stimulation. Do you know what? Despite my pile of shame not shrinking by even one title, I don’t regret a single second of it.
I spent those long, hot, summer days playing three games almost exclusively. Destiny 2, Just Cause 4 and Agents of Mayhem. All three fit the bill of style over substance, all three require about as much thought as a tweet from Donald Trump and all three let me approach them in a way that allows for interruptions, hangovers and general laziness. I didn’t have to be invested in the story, understand complicated mechanics or examine enemy patterns, I just had to pull a trigger and watch something die, explode or simply disappear. Instantly satisfying but ultimately hollow was the mood I was going for and these three titles were just the perfect fit. Just Cause 4 gave me an outlet for my minimal creative urges, Agents of Mayhem gave me some surface level cheap giggles and Destiny 2 gave that warm comfort of just doing the same thing, over and over. Nothing in any of these games is deeper than a teaspoon but do you know what? That is perfectly fine.
I realised I needed this period of brain dead gaming. I needed a palate cleanser after a year of deep, emotional, soul-consuming games. State of Decay 2, God of War, Divinity 2, Civilization: Rise and Fall, Mutant Year Zero and the ever-present Xcom 2 are just some of the games that swallowed my time this year, all required a commitment and heavy thought. Even my game of the year, Forza Horizon 4 demands 100% of my concentration to play. There is no “going through the motions” with these games. They are fabulously executed pieces of entertainment that require a full commitment from the player. I came to realise that, when a game demands that much from you, no matter how much fun you are having, it is draining. So draining in fact I found it was hampering my enjoyment of them and that is why I found this period of play so enlightening. Balance for all things, not just the force, is important and if there is no balance, joy takes a back seat.
As a video game critic, I play more games than most. I play the wonderfully created AAA masterpieces all the way down to the tiny indie darlings. The industry is amazingly diverse, featuring titles that cater to all walks of life. But I feel like, we as gamers, don’t give enough credit to the games that just set out to do one thing, entertain at a basic level. The Sunday afternoon action movies of the industry. The titles that are well put together pieces of bombastic entertainment that serve no other purpose than bringing a smile to our faces with a big explosion, a wave of dead enemies or a groan-inducing quip. The Red Factions, the Saint’s Rows, the Serious Sams, hell even the Dooms of the world aren’t ever going to change the face of gaming, but they serve a purpose and that purpose is fun. These are not perfect games, not by a long shot, but they have a place in our increasingly deep and complicated pastime and that place is more important than you may think.
Perhaps it is time you looked back at your Steam catalogue or console library and spent some time with games of this nature. We all have them, sitting there, underappreciated, underplayed. These are games that you may forget 10 mins after playing them, but still somehow manage to entertain you. Perhaps it is time that you gave yourself some brain dead gaming. It may not be as deep or as ultimately satisfying as the latest AAA epic, but it may clear your mind, refresh your view and actually make you enjoy those epics even more. I know it has for me. Brain dead gaming isn’t something to be afraid of, it is something to be embraced and I encourage you all to do so without shame and whenever you feel the need.