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Friday, May 24, 2024

So You’ve Binge-Played the Perfect Game. Now What?

You know that feeling, when a hugely anticipated game drops and your body is just ready. You may have even blocked off time on your calendar and taken off work on release day. All you can think about is playing, and you just want to be perched, controller in hand, mashing those buttons with sweaty palms and grinding away.

It's a familiar and exciting place, one from which many gamers recently returned. You know the ones—the folks who have been waiting for Horizon Forbidden West since Horizon Zero Dawn came out five years ago. They were, if the gushy writing about the game is to be believed, not disappointed. Many, surely, got sucked back into its postapocalyptic future and charged through every level, barely taking time to breathe, let alone savor any single moment.

Herein lies the danger of binge-playing video games. It’s fun during the journey, but it all passes in such a haze it’s impossible to appreciate the intricacies and nuances of anything, especially in a title as expansive as Horizon Forbidden West. True, there are moments when it’s therapeutic, a chance to turn off your mind and be taken away. But there is a time when binge-playing is just too much, and that’s when the problems start.

Maybe “problem” doesn’t do this feeling justice. Perhaps it’s “anxiety.” The joy of Horizon Forbidden West lies in its story, in finding out where Guerrilla is taking the narrative. The nervousness hits when one realizes that at some point the story has to end. No matter how much you might want to live in this world forever, you can’t.

When I hit 75 hours in Forbidden West, I stopped playing. There are still small things on the map left to uncover, but for now, I’m done with this playthrough. Frankly, it left me feeling a bit of emptiness. What’s next, after you play the perfect game, one that somehow exceeded your wildly high expectations?

For me, the answer is nothing. I put down the controller, because I knew no video game would satisfy me after that experience. It’s not fair to any game that follows Horizon Forbidden West. I can either start and stop a bunch of games, dissatisfied because they’re not exactly what I want them to be, or I can accept that after a binge session like that, I just need to take a break. I feel like I just emerged from a dark haze (literally, I play video games in the basement), and I want to appreciate the outside world for a while.

Eventually, I will replay the game. But when I do, I’ll fulfill the promise to myself I broke that first time around: to take it slow. I know the story, so I don’t need to push through as fast as possible to get it into my brain. It’ll be a healthier relationship this time, one with more give and take. But for now, I’m going to go easy, maybe read a book or catch up on all those television shows I’ve been neglecting. Or maybe, I’ll just replay Horizon Zero Dawn.

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