Episode 639: A Series of Pellets and Shocks

On the Overthinking It Podcast we wonder why we play video games even when they’re Not Fun.

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During the quarantine, Mark Lee has been building a gaming PC and using it to play the hell out of Jedi: Fallen Order. On the podcast, he joins Peter Fenzel and video game neophyte Matt Wrather to overthink whether the game is even fun or not, and why he is playing the hell out of it even when it isn’t.

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9 Comments on “Episode 639: A Series of Pellets and Shocks”

  1. John C Member #

    An odd aspect of games that I’ve noticed is that exclusivity seems to play a part in play. For example, when I was a kid, we had pirated copies of almost every Commodore 64 game, because adults would have actual weekend parties where they’d drink all day copying disks. The people I know from that culture sampled many games, but it was rare for anybody to play them with any intensity.

    And yet, I was obsessed for years with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure (BBC’s fancy version: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1g84m0sXpnNCv84GpN2PLZG/the-game-30th-anniversary-edition), which someone gave me as a gift. I even came back to it sometime in high school and even managed to finish it.

    These days, I usually pick up the Humble Bundles when it’s independent studios (and they’re not just Steam keys), figuring that throwing a little bit of money at smaller studios is probably going to make me a lot happier than throwing a lot of money at a huge company, whether or not I play the actual games. But the result is that I probably have a couple hundred games and have only bothered with a few of them.

    My friends have always been “sit (or walk) around and talk” types, so distance hasn’t changed much and I haven’t experimented much with social games. However, I’ve heard decent things about Empty Epsilon (https://daid.github.io/EmptyEpsilon/), which is basically a spaceship “bridge simulator,” where each player has their job. That seems Overthinker-friendly. It also has the virtue of being free.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      Mad respect for finishing Hitchhiker’s. As a kid playing on the Apple //c I couldn’t get out of the house before the bulldozers knocked it down.


      • John C Member #

        If I remember correctly, the relevant verb (“lie down”) was buried somewhere in the game manual like the example gameplay, so I may have just tried every verb, whenever I got stuck. That mentality gets pretty far into the game, with a couple of puzzles that were WAY over my head for years.


        • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

          I could quote chapter and verse from the novels and BBC radio play even as a boy, so understanding that I had to lay down in front of the bulldozers was not the issue. I think you only had two turns to do it, “look around” just burned time, and you also had to take an aspirin from out of your dressing gown pocket.


          • John C Member #

            Ah, that was also an accidental discovery, as I tried to find things that would work. Any actions would do (other than checking the footnotes), so looking at inventory items did the trick. They should have added points for “Ford, what about my home” which also triggers the “cut-scene.”

            I mostly love the game, though, for introducing me to Douglas Adams. I was young when I found the game and hadn’t heard of the books, radio show, or TV series, but fixed that quickly…

  2. Erigion Member #

    Just a couple of notes on this episode.

    AAA video games have been $60 for a long time and that’s one of the reasons publishers have been pushing video games as service as either a subscription and loot boxes for the extra revenue after the initial sale. https://www.polygon.com/2020/7/7/21314545/console-video-game-price-increase-70-video-game-ps5-xbox-series-x

    Fallen Order falls into the Dark Souls “genre” of video games. Dark Souls is a series from FromSoftware. They’re known for being punishing action RPGs where the player is expected to die again and again until they learn patterns and the right way to fight enemies, and especially bosses. The difficulty has caused some controversy in the video game community where some players want more accessibility options to their games.



    This genre of games is pretty damn hard for a new player to get into as Mark found out.

    This genre also dovetails into one of my favorite things to watch on Twitch which is Kaizo Mario games which Pete touched on them with the mention of two streamers. They’re fan made hacks based on the old Mario games, usually Super Mario World, and the most popular ones are extremely difficult. It’s not surprising that the players who enjoy grinding one a single level for hours on end would also enjoy fighting a boss in Dark Souls for hours on end.



  3. Three Act Destructure #

    I think that any discussion of the “why” of Jedi: Fallen Order has to begin with a mention of the 2011 game Dark Souls, from which it apparently borrows almost all of the flow of its combat mechanics. Before Dark Souls, third-person melee action gaming had mostly been following the example laid down by God Of War, which is to say: stylish, fast and button-mashy. Not too easy but not terribly challenging either. There were very few truly wrong moves and any one of them could be quickly undone, on the fly, in such a way that the player still appeared fancifully in control.

    Dark Souls, on the other hand, put the weight back into the combat and basically changed AAA video games for good.

    Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s what it looks like when someone is good at a God Of War game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjTG5LpaG3o

    And here’s top-tier Dark Souls play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2YnUVoN4Lk

    It’s like the difference between a careful game of chess and repeatedly beating a pinata full of health power ups.

    Fallen Order is, for as cliche as the title has become, a “Soulslike”. The problem with a game like that though is that it requires an enormous amount of trust from the player. If a game is going to be punishing then it should also be refined to an exactness of input-to-effect that is impossible for many studios to actually design. It’s tough. And emulating that and getting it wrong stands out in a much bigger way than a more forgiving combat design would.

    But part of the reason it’s still so widespread as a design philosophy is because of that skinner box effect which you guys mentioned. How those are employed and whether or not they’re healthy is a major topic of discussion in gaming right now, both as an art form and as a business model.

    Keeping players engaged in ways that make them better customers is a big part of why certain games are switching to “live service” models in which the base game is a platform that allows monthly, weekly and yearly content updates to be rolled out and bought over time. There are also “loot boxes”, which are literally just slot machines for children and are currently being battled in the courts because they’re, you know, super illegal gambling.

    As far as recommendations go, I’d like to take a crack at that. Firstly, I have to say though that getting into AAA gaming is no longer really the optimal strategy for understanding where games are at. Titles like Fallen Order do decent sales (especially because of the licensing) but are mostly forgotten about in the culture within a few weeks. Most people these days won’t even pick something like that up until a year later when the horrible bugs have been patched out and the game is being sold at a discount.

    Meanwhile, major touchstones like Fortnite are free-to-play and Minecraft is still pretty cheap. The Last Of Us 2, one of the most anticipated AAA games of this year, is already in the rearview mirror while Among Us, a two-year-old indie that’s basically Werewolf, is the new and highly memeable hotness.

    That being said, here are my suggestions:

    There are some games that are highly story-based and require no combat or other skills from the player. They’re a lot better than they sound, though. Basically interactive stories with intriguing mechanics.

    For those, I would suggest Gone Home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5KJzLsyfBI

    Firewatch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdUYYnfRdl8

    What Remains of Edith Finch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mrx1G26GTQ

    And The Stanley Parable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBtX0S2J32Y

    The Stanley Parable is especially interesting because it’s a game in which you change the story based on how often you’re willing to defy the narrator.

    There are also some puzzle games with some of that AAA polish. For that, I would suggest the Portal series, both for their engaging mind-twisters and their clever, dry wit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TluRVBhmf8w

    There are two of them and they’re both pretty great.

    And if you do want something that’s online and competitive but doesn’t require the perfect reflexes of a fourteen-year-old Twitch streamer then there’s always Rocket League, which is as much soccer-with-cars as it is full-contact digital juggling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC82dWrFqCE

    Anyhoo, that’s my fifteen cents. It was originally ten cents but the recommendations cost extra.


  4. Mike O #

    Everyone assumes MKUltra stopped after the public inquiries. But videogames could have been the end result. From direct chemical inducements -to- triggering natural chemicals via video input. We need an updated videodrome remake.


    • Three Act Destructure #

      The CIA and the military make their own video games and they’re not always upfront about their own involvement. They also spy on private companies’ online games and steal user data. Combine that with how active the Russians and Chinese are in spreading propaganda through online games and how Steve Bannon was inspired by the “rootlesss white males” on World of Warcraft to create Brietbart and, well… you really don’t even need to get into the literal mind control stuff to see how these digital spaces are being used.


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