1,000 Planets, 500 Hours, And Everything Else That Turns Me Off As A Gaming Parent

I've tried and failed on a number of occasions to pinpoint exactly when I started playing video games. Someone, presumably my parents, brought home a Mega Drive when I was about three or four. Almost three decades later, I have Sonic tattoos all the way up my arm and I'm trying to figure out when exactly is a good time to introduce games to my own son. He's two, almost three, and has just started to show an interest. It started with Kirby and The Forgotten Land and has evolved into him holding a controller while I play Mario Kart, Rocket League, and Lego Star Wars. You know, the trick you'd play on your younger siblings when they wanted to play but they weren't quite old enough to know what they were doing.

It's going to be a while before we're dropping into Fortnite together, or before he takes my partner's place for an It Takes Two playthrough. If anything, even though his interest in gaming has started to show, his presence tends to mean less game time rather than more. In fact, as many of you will be able to atest, adult life really gets in the way of playing games. Earning money in order to stay alive and having to make sure your kids aren't climbing out of windows or playing with the oven can really eat into your gaming time.

Gone are the days where I would say one more game so many times that the only thing that could stop me was the realization the sun was coming up. Now I need to meticulously carve out small parts of the day in which to play games, usually for an hour or two in the evenings and perhaps a couple more at the weekend. My time being so limited is exactly why when Todd Howard boasted that Starfield will have more than 1,000 planets to explore when it launches in 2023, my eyes glazed over and Bethesda's ambitious sci-fi RPG instantly slipped off my radar.

I actually haven't owned an Xbox since the 360. However, the affordability of the Series S has had me seriously considering breaking that duck so I can enjoy a few of the exclusives I've been missing out on. Starfield has overtaken Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 at the top of that list prior to the 1,000 planets reveal. Now not only do I have almost no interest in Starfield whatsoever, but picking up a Series S has fallen way down my list of things I want but don't really need. That Sonic Lego set isn't going to buy itself.

Bethesda isn't the only studio guilty of doing this, of course. Earlier this year, Techland gleefully boasted Dying Light 2 would include 500 hours of content. Again, I saw that announcement on Twitter and mentally drew a line through Dying Light 2 on the checklist in my head. A studio telling me its game has 500 hours of content is something that fills me with dread, not intrigue. Unless a game demands my time, be it for a review or something else work-related, I probably get 15 hours of game time during a week in which I have nothing else on. So yeah, excuse me if I don't like the idea of blocking out most of the rest of my year to play a single game.

Yes, I know after the discourse that came with that reveal Techland was quick to highlight you don't need to spend 500 hours in its game, but it still saw that as a major selling point. The same applies to Starfield. You obviously won't need to visit all 1,000 of its planets, but if one of the selling points its creators are desperately eager to make known right out the gate is its size, odds are that's a pretty important part of the game. I feel bad enough as it is skipping out on a side quest as I try to finish a regular-sized game's story. If I know there are 995 planets out there I'll never see, especially if I wound up loving the five I'd explored, I'd struggle to sleep at night. Then again, that would give me more time to explore those planets, but probably make me a pretty terrible parent the rest of the time.

There are other big turn offs for me as a gaming parent with a limited amout of free time. The inability to leave a game and pick up exactly where I left off is one of them. The introduction of saving a game when I was a kid was an innovation. Many a time I would leave my console running all day while I was at school, game on pause because I'd have to start again otherwise, only to be scalded by my parents for doing so upon returning home. Another game I skipped was Returnal, largely because, despite its glowing reviews, most of the talk surrounding the game when it launched was how you could lose a boatload of progress should you die between opportunities to save. As someone who isn't keen on replaying part of a game I literally just played at the best of times, doing so in an incredibly difficult game because I had to dash off to change a nappy is of no appeal to me whatsoever.

Metrod Dread is a rare example of a game that has slipped through the cracks. I had never played a Metroid game before, but Dread looked so good I couldn't resist. I found out the hard way that Dread only saves when you specifically tell it to at certain points in the game, so when you find a save room or after you've checked in with ADAM. I also found out the hard way that Dread doesn't autosave after you've traveled to a different area on the map. Not a huge problem on Switch since a game will load right back up where you left it providing you don't close the game. Not ideal when you have a son who's penchant for Mario Kart grows by the day and other people in your house don't know you've left Dread having not saved your game after finally felling Kraid after 20 failed attempts.

I know for a fact that if Starfield doesn't win me back between now and launch that I will feel intense FOMO once it arrives I know this because I have felt it before, multiple times. I continue to feel it with Elden Ring. Although its vastness wasn't something FromSoftware flaunted like the examples above, I know damn well if you don't have 50 hours or more to sink into it, it's probably not worth your time. However, I also know for every Starfield, there are ten other games I could be playing instead. Whether they be titles I've missed, something from the pile of games I've left unfinished, or something that launches around the same time. Let's be honest, the way 2023 is looking right now, there's still going to be a lot to play while everyone else scatters themselves across Bethesda's vast new galaxy.

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