Marshall Bowers

Conjurer of code. Devourer of art. Pursuer of æsthetics.

Returning to Games

Sunday, July 17, 2022
684 words
4 minute read

Returning to a video game after a hiatus is often a jarring experience.

Sadly, I am all too familiar with the experience of reinstalling a game in the hopes of rekindling a feeling it once evoked, only to immediately become overwhelmed after logging in.

Path of Exile

I pretty much exclusively play Path of Exile during leagues. However, sometimes I'll log into old characters from past leagues to liquidate their items before deleting them to free up a character slot.

Typically this happens one or more patches after the character was originally created, which means that, upon logging in, the game presents you with a warning dialog that the character's passive skill tree has been reset. Since Path of Exile revolves so heavily around the passive tree, the impact of the reset cascades into the skill gems and gear on the character not being usable either.

These characters' builds are effectively bricked, especially since changes in the skill tree could make it impossible to run the same build.

You could always re-roll with a new, patch-appropriate build. This is a fine choice for testing out a new build, as you can skip the leveling process and jump straight into end-game.

World of Warcraft

For a while I would return to World of Warcraft with each new expansion that released. What followed was a fairly predictable pattern: I would start a new character, level up to the new level cap, do a bit of end-game raiding, and then stop playing until the next expansion.

I would generally start by logging into an existing character with the intent of playing it for the new expansion, but expecting to pick up the character where I left off would always prove to be too lofty a dream. The hotbar setup that was once familar and comfortable is now indecipherable and clunky.

There also isn't any real downside to starting a new character. WoW expansions generally operate on invalidating all of the previous expansion's progress, at least in terms of gear. The green items you get from the quests in the new zones are already better than the top-tier raid drops from the last expansion.

Leveling up a new character allows you to be eased into a class, learn your skils gradually, and still end up at the same point gear-wise when you reach the end-game.

League of Legends

I haven't played League of Legends in years (and I plan to keep it that way), but even if I did want to return to the game, I would be faced with a steep knowledge wall that would have to be broken through.

At my peak I had a decent understanding of each champion in the game: their movesets, matchups, and how they fit into a team comp. With the number of champions that have been added or reworked since then I would basically be starting over to rebuild my understanding of the game.

I'm sure my mechanical skills have taken a hit as well...

Over the years I've returned to many other games with similar results.

There's a common thread of temporality that these games share. The time at which you play a game and the time that has elapsed since you last played it both impact the experience.

Even outside of the games themselves changing, for games with a multiplayer element the people you play the game with also impacts the experience. Many of these games I played with friends back in high school and college, and to return to them without the same group of people along with me is probably what impacts my experience the most.

As I've thought about this, I now realize that these experiences with video games are just a stand-in for a deeper truth: there are some things in my life I can never return to in the way I want.

To quote Heraclitus:

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.

I'm still trying to come to terms with this.