Welcome to Pushing Buttons, the Guardian’s gaming newsletter. If you’d like to receive it in your inbox every week, just pop your email in below – and check your inbox (and spam) for the confirmation email.
I have a long, emotionally-significant history with Elden Ring’s developer – I was the first person in the world to review Dark Souls, for heaven’s sake – but I still haven’t found time to play FromSoftware’s latest title. I once flew to California to play Dark Souls for 24 straight hours on a live stream. These games are IMPORTANT to me! And yet it feels impossible to carve out enough time to do Elden Ring justice. I know I’m not alone in this; most weeks I get emails from people who read this newsletter asking how anyone has time to play massive games and also have a job and a life.
Games can be a time-consuming hobby, which is one of the reasons why it’s traditionally been dominated by teens and young adults with few responsibilities. For those of us in that annoying period of life where people need stuff from you ALL THE TIME, it gets harder. It’s tough to sink into something for 50 or even 30 hours when you have bosses (of the professional kind), partners and/or children to keep happy, as well as a resurgent post-pandemic social life. But like most working mothers, I have by necessity become extremely efficient with my time, so I’m here to tell you that it IS possible – you just have to take what you can get. You are no longer a student, and you can no longer spend an entire weekend wrapped in a duvet playing Mass Effect 2. But that half hour before work, or that hour when the kids are in bed? Take it.
It’s perfectly possible to prioritise games that don’t ask for too much of your time, too. Most of my gaming diet now is things that take 5-10 hours and have something interesting to say. It’s especially useful if you can play those games with a partner, friend or housemate, thereby usefully stacking gaming time and social time – here’s a list I put together of 10 shorter games that are especially good in company.
If you are going to pick a timesink, then you have to just stick with it. Bouncing around between a few different games that you feel like you’ll never finish is a recipe for dissatisfaction. It might take you a few months to get through Red Dead Redemption 2, Horizon Forbidden West or Elden Ring, and it might feel like the conversation has moved on, but if you’re enjoying yourself, who cares? The hot takes might be lukewarm by the time you get round to reading them, but is that such a big deal?
Another solution for parents is to play games in front of your children. I’m obviously not saying you should bust Doom Eternal out in front of a seven-year-old and start eviscerating demons – but there are a lot of games that are suited to either playing with (especially older) kids, or while they watch. I’m reviewing Tunic at the moment, an interesting and very cute Zelda-a-like game starring an adorable fox, and managed a good 40 minutes of wandering around bashing creatures with a sword before my kid got bored watching.
Be careful, though: I tried the same with Horizon Forbidden West a few weeks back, and it became quickly clear that it was a bit intense to be playing in front of wee ones, even though the violence was only aimed at robot wildlife. I was equal parts ashamed and delighted when we passed a bus with a PlayStation advert on it and my two-year-old cried “Look Mama, it’s Aloy! Aloy fights the METAL DINOSAURS! I wish I was Aloy.”
There are games you can play actually with your kids as well, if they’re old enough and interested enough to pick up a controller, but this relies on them actually being interested in good video games. You’re never going to catch me willingly spending time in Roblox. My teen stepson and I intersected briefly on Minecraft and Destiny when he was a bit younger, but for the rest of the time our gaming taste has been poles apart. I am intensely jealous of my friend Carolina, who passed several happy months exploring The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with her delightful six-year-old. That could be you! Maybe, one day, it could also be me, once my kids age out of lovely, educational – but ultimately quite boring – iPad games.
Something I’ve heard over and over from people in my many years in this job is: “I used to love games, I just don’t have time for them any more.” Like anything, you gotta prioritise. Games aren’t a guilty pleasure, something to fit in around the fringes of your life; they’re part of life, and like all art they can be nourishment for the soul. Don’t feel bad about making time for them.
What to play
Since indie games started to boom again in around 2010, there has been a steady stream of games inspired aesthetically and mechanically by the 16-bit era: the glory days of the Mega Drive and the SNES, bright colours and pixel sprites and chiptune music. This is because the developers making these games grew up in that era, and a lot of their titles aim to recapture some of the joy that those games brought them as children. More recently, however, there have been more and more indie games inspired by the early 3D games of the late 90s; those atmospheric, slightly weird treasures found on the PlayStation, N64 and PC. Tunic, the Zelda-like game starring an adorable fox that I mentioned earlier, is one of those. It reminds me a lot of the action-adventure games that I loved when I was really getting into gaming and waking up to its possibilities. It has mystery, atmosphere, secrets, and puzzles, all pulled together with an evocative look and feel. Reviews will start appearing tomorrow (that’s Wednesday if you’re reading this later in the week) – I can’t go into too much detail before then, but know that this does not disappoint.
Available on: PC, Mac, Xbox One Approximate playtime: 12 hours
What to read
Video game companies continue to remove their games from sale in Russia in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Pokémon Go no longer works in the region. Nintendo and Ubisoft have withdrawn their games, and Bungie has blocked its multiplayer space-shooter Destiny. EA, Microsoft, Epic Games (of Fortnite fame), Sony and more are also cutting Russia off. All of this follows Ukraine’s vice prime minister Mykhailo Federov’s open letter to Xbox and PlayStation, published on Twitter, asking the games industry to withdraw from Russia and prevent players in the region from accessing their accounts or competing in esports tournaments: “If you support human values, you should leave the Russian market!”
Meanwhile, a bundle of 992 games for $10 (or however much more you want to donate) has raised more than $5m to date on indie game platform itch.io. Obviously I have not played most of these, but there are some good ones in there – for that price, and that cause, it’s surely a no-brainer of a purchase.
The blockchain/crypto/NFT backlash is starting to make companies nervous: GamesIndustry.biz’s Brendan Sinclair reports that startup developers aren’t even mentioning the blockchain aspect of their new developer/project/business, even during job interviews with people whom they are trying to employ. Meanwhile, Peter Allen at Axios delves into a report on $17bn’s worth of NFT sales in 2021 to find that there is only one game of any consequence operating in this space.
What to click
Keeping with the theme, reader Amanda Forde wrote in with this question: “I wonder if you have any tips about how to play games with young kids? I played a lot of Mario Kart with my six-year-old but that got old. We’ve now moved on to Super Mario Bros U Deluxe, which we both enjoy but it causes HUGE rows. He blames me whenever anything goes wrong and I turn into a big kid myself and go into a rage … Is there a better game for a kid and adult to play together? Or does one of us just need to grow up?”
I’m going to recommend Untitled Goose Game, which often has kids in Amanda’s son’s age bracket nearly wetting themselves with laughter; Minecraft, which is obvious but just still one of the greatest creative outlets for kids, and better than most alternatives; and Nintendo Labo, which has you building working cardboard models of motorbikes and fishing rods and pianos and then playing with them (it’s good for at least a couple of weekends, but I found my kid got bored by it after that). Oh, and Rocket League, if you can handle the competitiveness: it’s football, but with RC cars. I’d also like to throw this one out to the readership: what games have you successfully played together with your kids?