By Luke

I love playing games. This may not come as a surprise to anyone who has known me for longer than five seconds, but it’s true. I like to play games on the way home from work, while sitting back on a sofa, while lazing around in bed and just generally in the evening to relax. However, even though I like playing the things I know that life doesn’t let me just do the things I like for hours on end.

The fact that real life cannot be planned around has caused me issues recently. You see I like playing action games – those that offer a challenge – like, for example, Dark Souls and more recently Noih. These are games that hold your attention, you have to focus and plan every move. If you have the wrong equipment then accessing inventory menus won’t freeze what is happening the in-game world. Often it leaves me attempting to flee to a quiet corner – panicking all the while – trying to unequip the lightning weak armour you have before you get zapped, then pressing the wrong button and ending up doing the rest of the fight in just your underpants. It’s fun and adds to the tension and causes a few good stories. It worked even better in games like ZombiU where any time spent thinking “should I use this or that weapon” could cause your character to receive a rather nasty surprise lovebite from the nearest zombie. In-game examples of the inability to stop and view inventory, craft items or spend skill points are great at making you feel on edge.

Needing to pause a game for out-of-game reasons on the other hand, and realising that you can’t, isn’t so fantastic. You see as you get older, you realise that real life means you cannot just say “I’m going to spend two hours playing this”. You may have to get up to answer the door, answer the phone, let the cat in/out, help a housemate drag a heavy clunky suitcase that sounds like it’s full of buried treasure out of the basement… that kind of thing. So this is why I ask “Why the fuck can I not pause the game completely to deal with actual real life?”. Why does having a menu that doesn’t pause the game while you fiddle with your equipment mean the game can’t have a separate “pause everything” option for those of us who have to do other things?

I mean I get it sometime games with online function and interactions with other players; like with Dark Souls where if you pause then the person who “invaded” your world is sat there twiddling their thumbs. It was a trick to see if you were being invaded in Watch_Dogs to occasionally fire up the pause menu, because if it DIDN’T pause some twat was trying to hack you in-game. But I play offline, partly out of a fear of any sort of social actively, but mostly a refusal to pay for online features on consoles. So why, when I have very specifically chosen to play “offline”, why can I not pause the game with a separate option? What is lost from the game by not being able to pause when needing to take a piss, or quickly go tell my housemate that a police officer was around earlier asking for them in relation to the heist from the jewellery store they worked at? I don’t mean let me change equipment, I mean “pause the entire game”.

Nothing, there is nothing lost, but bring up that “I want to pause” and you will get a ton of responses from the internet saying that “maybe it means the game isn’t for you”. But why is that a good argument? Why is it ok to say that “this game is only for you if you can dedicate all of your time & attention to it”?  That basically means it’s only for people who have absolutely no life outside of gaming. Even I have a life outside of gaming… kinda… well a limited one anyway. I do see the sun from time to time (and I don’t mean the newspaper with the tits).

At the same time though, I understand the arguments. When I was younger I would be the person saying “oh just suck it up it’s how it works”. I had the time to sit down and focus, I got home from work, sat on my arse with no cares in the world and just played until I fell asleep; so I can see where these arguments are coming from. It helps developers as well as it’s easier to integrate online features. However why is it not an option that if I play offline, a way to say “ok I accept I won’t get all the cool stuff, but I’m just sitting here playing with myself (not like that) or playing offline, so keep going if I’m changing equipment but give me a menu option to pause completely and disabling any tinkering I want to do.

Recently I have found myself not playing much Noih and instead playing Stellaris, a very different type of game, where I can just tap the spacebar and a big message appears saying “paused”. I can then walk away, go for a piss, talk to my housemate about the recent spate of jewel thefts, let the cat out (we don’t know whose it is, it just turns up) and then go back to the game. It lets me focus more KNOWING that I have the ability to just stop and go do something else if I need to as I’m not thinking at every save point “do I have time to attempt the next area?”.

This should be the rule but nowadays it’s becoming a bit of an exception in some types of action games and it makes no sense. It just excludes people from what are otherwise excellent games.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m in the middle of making a leaving meal for my housemate who is heading to the Bahamas after a recent unexplained windfall, their police officer friend is coming round to surprise them as well so that’s why it’s useful that I can pause my games, as they could turn up at any time!