Most of my gaming is done on a weekend; I find weekday evenings I’m usually too tired to really dedicate the stupid amount of hours a typical game requires, so I binge over Saturday and Sunday. When Sunday morning comes and I slump on the sofa in my dressing gown, a mug of builder’s tea by my side, the games I play have to meet a few requirements.
To start with, they have to be pretty relaxing games. I’m not likely to be in the mood for exploding the Combine or machine-gunning my way through Liberty City while blearily rubbing the sleep from my eyes, and the only way I’m likely to be playing Rez or Street Fighter at 8am on a Sunday is if I’ve started playing at midnight on Saturday and haven’t stopped, which is pretty unlikely as I’m usually in bed by then, my nightclubbing days long behind me.
No, a Sunday morning game needs to be a calm, measured affair. It can’t be anything that requires fast reactions or violence; at the best of times I’m rubbish at games but at that time of day my brain is only half-on. It can’t be anything with a time limit or else I’ll find myself dozing off with only 15 seconds on the clock and will wake 20 winks later to find I’ve lost the game. It shouldn’t be anything that’s going to ask me too many complicated questions or to aim.
A Sunday morning game should also be quiet, which again rules out pretty much anything with guns. I live in a flat, and have another flat on top of mine, beneath mine, and next door. Everyone else is in bed at this time, so it’s important not to be playing anything that might wake them.
It’s important to stress here that it’s not because I care about disturbing their sleep. I used to care, but it became clear after a few months that nobody else in the building cared about finding an appropriate time and volume for their televisions, stereos, musical instruments, orgasms and telephone voices so I gave up the moral high ground and started matching volume with volume. In case you’re interested, ’80s French Funk is an effective counterpoint to Polish Hip-Hop, the only thing that can drown out the girl upstairs’ telephone voice is a sturdy pair of headphones, and nothing can drown out an orgasm aside from, well, a counterattack. Fight fire with fire, as they say.
ANYWAY. The point is, if I wake them, they’ll start making noise, and that’s going to make me unhappy because their noise — always very bassy by the time it reaches me with my floors, ceilings and walls acting as massive subwoofers – distracts me from my game. I’m easily distracted and my hearing is unusually sensitive to certain frequencies; I can’t enjoy the rustic delights of a Zelda game when underneath the gentle Koji Kondo soundtrack I can hear what sounds like a Charlie Brown adult.
So. Quiet games need to be played at quiet times, and Nico Bellic must be saved for later when I need Vladivostok FM to drown out next door’s cello recital.
Here’s what I’ve been playing lately while most other withered and jaded thirtysomethings are still in bed.
Axel and Pixel
This Xbox Live Arcade game is a point and click of sorts with an amazing, Gilliamesque art design and sound effects straight out of an Eastern European Communist Bloc cartoon. Much fun to be had just clicking random things to see them carry out actions for no other reason than sheer loveliness. Truthfully, I often don’t know how the puzzle is going to be solved until it’s actually solved but I’m ok with that as the solutions usually make me smile at the end of it. It’s marred slightly by the more cerebral levels being punctuated by tedious action-orientated minigames that I just can’t muster up enough enthusiasm for when I haven’t even had breakfast yet.
Another point and click, this time set in a steampunk robot world with a vaguely European feel to it. Plenty of sleepy “oh, ha” moments to be had and the character you control is unbearably cute in that way only small, bendy robots can be. Available for PC, Mac and Linux and there’s a demo available here.
LostWinds, and presumably also its sequel, LostWinds 2: Winter of the Melodias, which I’m yet to play. Available only on WiiWare and one of the few games to really show how good WiiWare can be when developers put their minds to it, this is a gentle romp through a breezy, pastoral world. Over in a few hours but this is quality over quantity.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Not an obvious choice, but I started playing this a few weeks ago and discovered that when you’re not killing people in the face there’s plenty of breathing room to just calmly drive around Liberty City taking in the sights and listening to music. I assume this is why real people enjoy ‘going for a drive’, it’s unnervingly relaxing.
Another game that allows you to spend as much time as you like away from the main story, messing around in Bowerstone trying on different outfits and hairstyles is probably the most rewarding unrewarding way I’ve ever found to spend my time.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
“There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”