Sometimes the hardest thing you can do is simply make a decision.
DexX is busy finishing his write-ups of Hitman: Absolution and Far Cry 3, so today please enjoy a double-dose of Your Turn.
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Choosing which games to buy is something that one might expect a gamer of more than twenty years to take in their stride. But for someone who is not very good at making choices generally, it is a task that I probably spend too much time thinking about and not enough time just doing.
I never really thought it was a big problem, but it does tend to result in my putting off decisions. Especially when it comes to buying things, and the higher the price the more I'll procrastinate. So for example, deciding between items of electronics equipment to purchase like computers, audio equipment or televisions, would be something that I would rather not have to think about. This is because I would actually worry about having made the best choice to the point where it becomes counter-productive and stressful.
Two things led me to start questioning the way I make choices. The first was that I watched a TED talk by Dan Gilbert entitled The Surprising Science of Happiness. In it he discusses the psychology of synthetic happiness and how it is linked to the conditions under which we make choices. The second was that I finally bought and played Borderlands.
Let me start by stating something that seemingly everyone who reads Screen Play already knows: Borderlands is an excellent game. Once I started playing, I began to ask myself why I took so long to make the decision to buy it.
Everything I have read about the game since its release three years ago appealed to me. The distinctive art style depicting a shirtless psychopath using his hand to make a threating gun-to-the-head gesture is one of the most enticing pieces of cover art I have seen. I like first person shooters, I adore depictions of post-apocalyptic dystopias and the type of dark humour used so effectively in this game sings to me in a way that only my therapist will ever know about.
The choice here would appear to be a no-brainer. And yet I resisted.
The reason is pretty simple: I was still not sure that I would like it. Trying to be completely sure that you will love a game before you buy it seemed like a fairly natural state of affairs. However, according to the previously mentioned TED talk, it is a strategy that will almost inevitably lead to dissatisfaction even if you successfully choose the "best" games every time.
According to Dan Gilbert, a far more useful strategy for being happy with the choices we make is to be forced into an irreversible decision and then convince yourself that you are happy with it. In other words, synthesise
your happiness. Further to this some people are better at synthesising their happiness than others, and, after watching the video, I was convinced that I was terrible at it.
So I decided to try and practice, and I would use Borderlands as my training ground. One aspect of Borderlands would ordinarily be something that I would personally consider a detractor for a game, and that is that there are too many choices. To even start the game requires choosing the type of character you want to play, be it a Soldier, Hunter, Berserker or Siren each with different attributes and special abilities. There are skill points to
allocate to the aforementioned abilities and of course there are thousands of weapons, mods and shields to choose from, and limited space to store them.
My first step was to create a set of rules that provided good conditions for synthesising happiness. Once I had played for a little while (I chose a Soldier because I liked the idea of the turret), levelled up a couple of
times and understood how to compare different items I came up with the following.
Rule 1: I would choose to level up a particular attribute in blocks of five, once I had chosen to increase turret damage, I kept choosing it until it was full.
Rule 2: I could never take the option to redistribute the attributes I had chosen.
Rule 3: Every time I came across a vending machine I had to sell everything except one weapon of every ammunition type, one grenade mod, two shields (one healing, one strong) and one class mod.
Rule 4: When choosing which weapons, mods, etc. to keep, take no longer than a minute to decide.
Rule 5: No multiple save points and no restarts.
At first it took some discipline to stick to these rules. At times I was very tempted to hold on to the odd extra shotgun or sniper, just in case I had misjudged and should have kept it. There were times when I wanted to whip out the calculator and do some quick maths to make absolutely sure that the fire rate times the damage caused was better, but that would have taken too long and broken one of my rules.
Soon I found myself becoming very decisive, a cursory glance at a few statistics was enough to make split second decisions about which items to keep, even when discarding an old favourite. I found myself largely ignoring the talent tree except on rare occasions, not worrying about what I didn't have and just being happy with what my turret could do.
By the time I had levelled up to 35, I was happy with my class mod that regenerated ammunition and was delighted with the ridiculously high fire rate on my Desert Stinger SMG. Launching triple corrosive shells from my rocket launcher was a joy to behold and my turret firing corrosive bullets with intermittent rockets was like, well, having another soldier in the field.
I have no regrets about selling every Eridian weapon I could find. They are apparently very powerful and accurate but when I tested them I found them annoying. There was no pining for the special weapons picked up after defeating a boss; if they didn't feel right they were sold, with no second guessing about their potential usefulness against an enemy that I hadn't yet encountered.
All in all my experiment was a tremendous success, the usual stresses of making decisions that plague my RPG experiences had evapourated, and it really added to my enjoyment of the game. I certainly won't be waiting three
years to pick up Borderlands 2.
In the end the only aspect of the game that I didn't like was that I was starting to experience eye-strain while sniping. After a while I realised it's because the picture on my 12 year old CRT Toshiba television has started to fade and distort, I'd been putting off investing the time to figure out which flat screen to buy for a long time now.
I think I'll just head down to an electronics store next week and pick out one that I like.
- Ryan 'ryvman' Crawford
Screen Play readers can submit articles and game reviews for consideration in Your Turn and Your Review using the email address SPYourTurn@gmail.com. The best blog post published on Screen Play between 1 November and 30 November 2012, as judged by James Dominguez, will win a PS Vita handheld console from Sony Computer Entertainment. This is a wi-fi unit, and has a recommended retail price of $349. The next prize winner will be announced on Friday 30 October. Only Australian residents are eligible and the judge's decision is final.
Screen Play is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez