Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
One fine evening last December, a few weeks after buying a PlayStation 4 and its clutch of largely underwhelming launch titles, I settled in on my couch with my cat and a bottle of burgundy, cued up a few Gucci Mane mixtapes, and spent several hours driving around in Need For Speed Rivals doing virtually nothing. That is to say, I drifted, aimlessly, pointlessly, once in a while gently bumping into another racer in the margins of a narrow road but otherwise ignoring my objectives and more or less keeping to myself. Need For Speed Rivals is an online open-world racing game and, should you want to, you can roam its gleaming curlicues of country road indefinitely, sopping up the next-gen splendor of shiny cars and dynamic weather. I did, and it was glorious.
I bought the remastered edition of Grand Theft Auto V last week, and I’m looking forward to taking the time this weekend to dig in and really do nothing in it. I am going to do nothing in high definition, do nothing online, do nothing in first person: I’m going to load that game up and luxuriate in the vacuum of all the stuff I’m not doing. GTA5, for all its faults and blemishes, strikes me as a very good backdrop for meandering. Los Santos is a sprawling, shimmering thing, after its new face-lift especially, and on its scale, with its scope, there’s nothing else like it. And of course Grand Theft Auto practically invented the anti-action impulse. It was with GTA3, I think, that the possibilities of undirected exploration first revealed themselves. Since then the game worlds have gotten bigger and more dazzling, while the action has gotten stupider and more obnoxious. It has never been more appealing to faff about.
But here’s a question: Should you feel guilty about all this nothing? I’m not sure. On the one hand, it’s tempting to excuse it as simply indulging in a pastime that the game’s very design affords. Open worlds are built to accommodate this sort of purposeless digression, which is why they’re so open in the first place. Do away with the tyranny of rails! But on the other hand, it feels somehow contrary to the spirit of video games to play so carelessly with them. A game ought to be more than merely a platform for your distraction, and so much care and effort has (well, usually) been invested in narratives and missions and… you know, the stuff that makes a game a game rather than a virtual theme park. There is also the question of time—what constitutes wasting it? Without structure, without an objective to pursue, are you really engaging with this thing on a level that serves the art?
Perhaps not. And perhaps, too, one ought to enjoy the unproductive pleasures of the open world in moderation, with caution. Yet I find it intriguing that games can be enjoyed in this way at all, without the ongoing forward momentum that makes it impossible to “do nothing” in a meaningful sense with a book or an album or a movie. (I suppose you could re-read the same sentence of a novel over and over, but I can’t imagine that yielding quite the same pleasures.) It may be that in a sense doing nothing in a video game is a way of asserting its very game-ness, of experiencing it in a way only a game can be experienced. Or it may just be that doing nothing is a bad habit that I should break. In any case, I look forward to sinking into Grand Theft Auto’s leisurely rhythms with the abandon of someone who doesn’t care about goals or objectives. There’s a neon Ferris wheel by the water that takes you up and over the downtown Los Santos skyline—everything awash in electric blue like a Michael Mann movie. I’m going to ride it all the way through.