My secret to making time for video games

I miss very few things about being a teenager, but I do miss all the time I had back then to play video games. I got great joy out of binge-playing into the small hours, an opportunity I almost never get now as a busy adult. Aside from covering games for work it feels as if I barely get time to play at all, which explains my affection for games that can be polished off in a couple of evenings, rather than the gigantic, absorbing role-playing games I used to crave. I have pretty much made peace with this. My days of 100-hour epics and/or live-service online games are behind me. They’ll be back eventually, when my kids are bigger.

But it’s been more than two years since Elden Ring came out – a game in my favourite genre, by my favourite director – and I suddenly got very fed up about the fact that I’d barely played it. I’ve picked away at the game on PS5, but never got out of the (admittedly vast) starting area of Limgrave. I kept hoping that my partner might take the kids away for a weekend, or that I might manage to take a week’s holiday during term time, so that I could return to my teenage habits and play it by myself for hours on end. But it’s been two years. If I want to play this game – or any massive game – I’ve got to try to fit it into the life that I actually have, with the job and the two small kids and every other responsibility that gets in the way.

Is that even possible? One thing would surely help: the Steam Deck. Since I had children I have become very reliant on portable consoles, because an uninterrupted hour in front of the TV with nobody else watching is almost impossible to come by, and I don’t want to traumatise my kids by slashing away at Elden Ring’s violent grotesqueries in front of them. I managed to play both Zelda games on the Switch because I could take it with me wherever I went and snatch occasional moments – and those games are huge. So a few weeks ago I bought Elden Ring again, installed it on the Deck and restarted, determined to make it past the infamous early(ish) game boss Godric the Grafted and see what lies beyond Stormveil Castle.

At home, I spent every spare minute on the Steam Deck, stopping just short of actively ignoring my family. Kids watching TV for a half hour before dinner? Elden Ring. Partner watching the Euros? Elden Ring, with one eye on the score. Lunch in the microwave? Time for some Elden Ring. I tried to go for small, achievable adventures, galloping around in search of unexplored ruins and being surprised by a dragon in the middle of a lake. I made my way back up through Stormveil Castle and got absolutely flattened by Godric. I got used to giving up in the middle of a fight, retreating and finding something else to do. Progress felt painfully slow and I hated it whenever I had to stop playing in the middle of something. At the end of the first week I checked the playtime clock: six hours.

‘I left Godric in his castle, warped back to a safer area and simply … tried to have fun.’ Photograph: Bandai Namco Europe

Six hours!? Is that actually the sum total of all the free minutes I have in a week? I felt deeply dispirited. Playing a game like this in tiny chunks didn’t feel natural, and all my stolen moments added up to an alarmingly paltry total. At this rate it would take me half a year to finish this game, and that’s without playing (or doing) anything else.

My problem was that I was thinking about finishing the game, rather than enjoying it. Six hours is still better than zero hours. I can’t play games like I used to, and that means I needed a different attitude. Instead of reading guides to find an optimal path through the game, trying to make progress as quickly and efficiently as possible, I left Godric in his castle, warped back to a safer area and simply … tried to have fun. I found some hidden bosses and vanquished them with ease. I opened a chest and got teleported to a horrifying underground mine full of insectoid wizards, ran away and ended up in a city full of ghosts. I became very fond of some Wolverine-esque metal claws that I found, not because they were the best weapon around, but because they were fun to use.

After a week of running about like this, I’d cured myself of the frustration I felt before. Elden Ring is a horrible game if you’re trying to complete it as fast as possible with extremely limited time – most games are. It’s a wonderful game if you’re focused on the adventure you’re having in the moment. I spent about 40 minutes in a small smouldering church, trying to beat a red phantom warrior with a gigantic cleaver who could kill me in two hits, just to see if I could. When I got her – after two successful parries and a flurry of desperate sword swipes – I was beside myself. That was a moment I would have missed entirely if I’d been fixated on getting through the game.

I beat Godric last night – with those silly claws that I enjoy using so much. I’ve stopped looking at the playtime clock. I’ve stopped worrying about min-maxing. And now I am actually enjoying myself. If you are wondering how to play huge games when you’ve only got an hour here and there, my advice is: take that hour. It’s what you’ve got – and an hour enjoying a game is better than an hour spent wishing you could play it for longer.

What to play

Demon’s Souls. Photograph: Sony

If you’re ready to take on your first FromSoftware/Miyazaki game and want something more manageable than Elden Ring, I recommend the PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls. Originally released in 2009, the rebuilt version irons out a lot of the kinks in the controls and the camera, so you’re left with all the horror-tinged dark-fantasy vision and exceptional fights with less frustration. It’s a tough game, but so worth it – and it asks for much less of your time than any of the other Souls games.

Available on: PS5
Estimated playtime: 30+ hours

What to read

Positech’s Democracy 4. Photograph: Positech Games
  • We did a cursed thing and simulated each UK party’s first five years in government in the game Democracy 4, based on the policies in their manifestos. It very much did not go well.

  • Elden Ring’s creator Hidetaka Miyazaki, he mentioned the prospect of an Elden Ring movie or TV show in last week’s interview. Well, now George RR Martin, who co-wrote the game’s lore, has hinted on his blog that something may already be in the works. “About those rumors you may have heard about a feature film or television series … I have nothing to say. Not a word, nope, not a thing. I know nothing, you never heard a peep from me.”

  • There are multiple remakes of older Assassin’s Creed games in development, says Ubisoft – which may well include the pirate-flavoured Black Flag, still the best one in my opinion.

  • Capcom announced a remake of Dead Rising, the satirical cult hit about killing zombies with whatever you can find in a mall. It’ll be out in September.

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What to click

Question Block

Will the consolidation of video game journalism be good for gamers? Photograph: Joosep Martinson/FIFA/Getty Images

Reader Matt asks:

What are the likely consequences of IGN buying the Gamer Network of video game news sites? If they shutter Eurogamer we riot.

This might seem like an inside baseball question, but it’s an important one for readers of games news and criticism – and as a Pushing Buttons reader, that’s you. In late May it was announced that the very big games website IGN (where, full disclosure, I worked from 2010-13) has bought up UK games websites VG247, Eurogamer, and others (more disclosure: I also worked for all of those places between about 2006 and 2010). There are now only two companies that own almost all the specialist games media in the UK. Future Publishing has GamesRadar, PC Gamer and its selection of magazines, and IGN has everything else.

Now, IGN has bought up other games websites before, including 1up and GameSpy, and those ended up being shuttered, which does not inspire confidence. But you have to ask: why would one buy a bunch of beloved and, from what I’ve heard, still profitable brands just to shut them? In 2024, any company in online media needs all the traffic it can get; buying up the competition just to shut it would be a terrible investment in the shrinking advertising economy. So I am cautiously hopeful that IGN will be a good owner for these sites, and we won’t lose a huge chunk of the UK games media through this acquisition.

Why does this matter? Games is one of the few areas of entertainment that still has a thriving specialist press. The music press is dwindling: look at the fates of NME and Pitchfork. TV and movie journalism now mostly lives at newspapers, like this one. But when it comes to games, mainstream press is miles behind the reporters and critics at places like IGN, Kotaku and Eurogamer. There’s immense competition and passion and talent in gaming’s specialist press and it leads to truly excellent coverage that benefits us all, not just because it’s fun to read but because it actually challenges publishers and developers. Do we want a games media composed entirely of fawning influencers and celebrity streamers of exceptionally poor character? Please no. We want a thriving specialist press, and hopefully IGN is in a position to deliver it.


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