This week’s question: What’s the most mundane thing you’ve loved doing in a game? Here are our answers, plus some from our forum.
Dave James: Obeying traffic laws
Whenever Lynyrd Skynrd’s Free Bird popped up on the radio in GTA San Andreas I would always just drop whatever I was doing and go for a nice, sedate drive for the duration. Not wanting to attract attention from law enforcement I’d strictly adhere to the laws of the road, with maybe a little speeding once I’d got out into the wilderness, but otherwise I’d be idling at traffic lights and queuing up at the on-ramp, just tapping my steering wheel in time to the beat. A welcome interlude to the wanton destruction and law breaking I would otherwise have been indulging in.
Fraser Brown: People watching
I like to find a random street corner and just watch NPCs going about their business. I’m not looking for emergent weirdness or funky bugs—though I welcome both—I just like watching the flow of the crowd. It’s hypnotic. I’m well catered to, thankfully, with most open-world games providing plenty of wandering NPCs to gawk at. I think Oblivion was the first time I found myself doing this on purpose, and for all its issues the Radiant AI was great for people watching. These days, Rockstar is usually the best at catering to this specific predilection, but my current fave is Watch Dogs 2. The recent freebie reminded me that I’d hardly touched my copy, so I’ve been hanging out in San Francisco a lot and getting almost nothing done. Being able to hack their phones and look at their texts or hear their calls makes me feel a bit more like a voyeur than I’d like, but also makes the NPCs more memorable and grounds me in the world in a way that GTA 5 or RDR2 doesn’t. And given that I’m still self-isolating as much as possible, games that let me just hang out in a crowd feel even more important.
Robin Valentine: Looking at walls
Having just recently gotten into old school dungeon crawler Legend of Grimrock, I’ve been spending a pretty disproportionate amount of my gaming time lately staring at walls. They’re not especially nice to look at—though they have a retro charm about them. There isn’t even any paint drying on them. And just to add to the mundanity, there’s only a handful of designs which just repeat throughout the dungeon, so really I’m just staring at the same four walls over and over. But the thing is, any one of them could be home to a tiny secret button, one that opens a door to amazing treasure! So what choice do I have but to spend hours carefully inspecting stonework. Now that’s fantasy escapism.
James Davenport: Dark sightseeing
I love recording empty, ambient shots in Dark Souls. Every playthrough begins with a sprint through the graveyard to pick up the binoculars. Whenever a particular scene jumps out at me, I’ll turn off the HUD, pull out the binocs, frame up the scene nicely according to my elevated taste and decency, and hit record. I don’t know that I have a plan for these videos, but they tend to evoke my memories of those spaces better than a plain gameplay recording. They’re like little postcards to myself. Dear James, Hope you’re doing well. Lost Izalith is a pain in the ass to move through and looks like lasagna when taken as a whole, but sometimes the nonsensical rock formations, chaos roots, and streaks of lava hit just right.
Andy Chalk: Scanning for minerals in Mass Effect 2
I spent a lot of time sweeping the surface of alien worlds with the Normandy’s sensors, firing probes from high orbit, and plundering its precious resources, and I loved every minute of it. Not that I really cared about, or needed, all those minerals, but I found the activity incredibly relaxing. The sound effects were especially entrancing: The high-pitched, ticking hum of the sensor, the percussive jolt of the probe being fired, and the distant thud as it crashed into the planetary surface—which of course you wouldn’t hear in real life, but it made for a brilliant effect. Honestly, if EA had released a “Scanning for Minerals” standalone minigame, I’d probably still be playing it.
Pifanjr: Decorating my house in Skyrim. The physics were always a bit janky, so stuff went flying regularly, but that just made it more satisfying when you got everything perfect.