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Like a lot of people, I’ve been home a lot more often lately. I’ve been trying to fill the time with useful endeavors—you know, those that contribute to growth and personal development. And I’ve been doing a lot of that, sure. (Well, maybe not “a lot.” Some. A small amount. ...Sometimes.)

Ok, well what I have been doing a lot of is gaming. All this extra time at home has led to me digging through my Steam library, finding those old titles I used to love but moved away from, and firing them back up. It’s been a really fun and refreshing exercise. It’s like bumping into an old friend and having some catching up to do and then reliving your favorite memories together. Or maybe it’s more like visiting your hometown: sure, you remember why you left, but it feels good to be there for a little bit, comfortable and surrounded by the familiar, doesn’t it?

One such game that’s drawn me back in during these unpredictable, pandemic-laden times is Banished by Shining Rock Software. It’s from 2014 but holds up just fine, and there are beaucoup mods to spice it up if that’s your thing.

In the game, you start with a few families and supplies (the number of which depends on whether you want to play easy, medium, or hard mode) and a few houses. From there, you have to build your town and help your villagers survive the harsh winters and (hopefully) prosperous summers while expanding your population. Which do you prioritize first? Food or clothing? Firewood or tools? The choices start to pile up quickly.

Your villagers can all take on jobs as laborers, builders, or specialists as you assign. You immediately have a lot you need to balance in order to ensure your town’s survival, but once you know what you’re doing, it feels good to cross things off your mental checklist, accomplishing so much while sitting in one place... during a global pandemic... alone in your house.

Ok, that got a little dark.

Anyway, Banished has plenty of curve balls to throw you, but at the same time, the experience of playing is one that is, at least once you get the hang of it, quite soothing. It feels good to watch your residents live well fed, warmly dressed, well educated lives. It’s fun to keep track of growing families and to watch your town flourish and expand. You get to rely on your own resiliency and careful planning... or fall victim to the lack of them.

Should you trade some of your precious tools for a new type of livestock? Is your town too densely packed to survive the destructive path of an errant tornado? Have you provided enough firewood and stockpiled enough food to get each of your families through the bitter winter months? The questions are stressful to ask but also incredibly satisfying to answer in the affirmative, and once you get into the groove of Banished, more often than not you see your success grow and grow—or at least you get good at bouncing back when you overreach.

When I clicked on the title in my Steam library, I thought my revisiting would be a brief foray for nostalgia’s sake and then I’d move on, but I’ve already logged more hours than I expected on my most recent playthrough, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. What drew me back into Banished so completely? I think it’s the pace (slow, steady, ever progressing), the simplicity (there’s lots going on, but overall your duties are straightforward and well defined), and the control (you make all the decisions—you’re essentially the god of your little hamlet, and the success of your villagers is wholly in your hands). In short, the game offers pretty much all the things that we feel like we’re missing right now as the real world around us is turned upside down because of the pandemic.

Off the computer, things might feel like they’re crawling painfully slowly or rushing by in a chaotic hodgepodge of ever-changing circumstances, depending on the day. Nothing feels terribly simple or straightforward right now, and the new rules and rituals that we do finally get comfortable with suddenly change, so that the things we thought we knew become things we regularly have to reexamine, reconsider, and make new decisions about. And it’s no small statement to say that many of us have seen the control seep out of our lives over this last year. So many things that make us who we are and so many decisions we usually make for ourselves have been taken away, and no matter how you feel about that, whether it makes you seethe or you’re more than willing to do so for the sake of the greater good, it has still taken some getting used to, and even after a year, I certainly still don’t feel fully adjusted.

But in Banished, the antithesis is true. Everything comes at you as quickly or slowly as you want. When things are going well, you can watch your villagers speed walk around, fulfilling their duties at a lightning pace, and when something bad happens, you can bring everything to a halt and take all the time you need setting up your answer to whatever disaster has struck, all but ensuring your success. You can plan ahead and watch those careful strategies come to fruition—something that remains fulfilling whether it’s real-life accomplishments or the myriad achievements of the characters on your computer screen. You have all the answers—and the ability to dole them out as you see fit. And finally, unlike that pressing voice in the back of your head in the real world, reminding you lives are on the line in these risky and unprecedented times, if you mess up, the consequences are temporary, lasting just long enough for you to choose a new map and assigning a new name to the replacement town you’d like to build.

Banished has provided some semblance of accomplishment and control that, at least for me, has been missing as of late. While I know we’ll get back to what we consider normal eventually—and we’re well on our way now, I hope—having this escape where I can relax and feel comfort and control again has been medicine I didn’t even realize I needed. While it does get stressful when disaster strikes or your population outpaces your food supply, in the end, it’s a pretty soothing game—especially because you know you know you can make a difference, and unlike what’s going on in the world around us right now, you can see that difference, easily defined and quantified, being made right in front of you in real time. That sort of validation is something that’s been lost in the shuffle for a lot of us lately, but Banished can provide it in small, pixelated doses for those in need of a booster shot while we do what we can to stay home, stay safe, and wait for things to get back to normal.


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When I decided to start this blog, I was worried. Will people read it? I won’t avoid new games, but I won’t be focusing on them exclusively either, because my heart is with so many of the ones in my Steam library I’ve played over and over, and I want to talk about them. They’re not new, but they’re also not old enough to be considered retro or pull people in with nostalgia. Is there anyone who cares about those kinds of games?

Apparently, the answer is yes, and there’s a whole subreddit for them! I found out about r/patientgamers when PC Gamer shared an article about them on their Twitter, and let me tell you, I think these folks are onto something.

I’ve been gaming literally since I can remember. I have an older brother who is eleven years my senior, so he put a controller in my hand before most kids my age had the opportunity. (Who buys a four-year-old an NES? No one. But a 15-year-old is a different story!) I spent my time swapping between Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, Gradius and Punch-Out for years. Because of my dad’s job, we also had a computer in our house before most of my friends (yes, I'm that old), and even the basics like Ski Free, Chip’s Challenge and Rodent's Revenge pulled me in. I wanted to play everything.

When my best friend got a Playstation, we were instantly hooked. I remember overhearing our moms whisper in the next room as we played Rayman that first day. “Well, I guess this means K will be getting one soon too.” And I did. And for the two of us from then on, it was all about the newest games, seeing who could get farther faster, and taking turns to beat the hardest levels together.

But that’s when I was a kid and had all the time in the world--not to mention I wasn't having to buy all those games myself. Getting everything the moment it's released isn't the driving force of my gaming anymore, and there's a couple good reasons for it.

The obvious one is that the new big games are expensive, and lately, also incomplete. Paying $60 for something that's not even finished yet is a trick I'm only going to fall for a few times.

In addition to that, and I know probably sounds ridiculous, but for me, there’s also a certain kind of pressure that comes with buying the newest AAA game on launch. It’s like I’m in a race to experience everything as quickly as everyone else, and it often ruins the experience for me. Now, I understand this is certainly a me problem and that no one is actually rushing me through the game, but I can’t help how it feels. I almost fell into the hype when Cyberpunk 2077 came out this last year. It was quarantine, and for once in my adult life, I had all the time in the world again. But I could feel the pressure mounting before I even added it to my Steam wish list. Given some of the frustrations of the early adopters I've seen online, I'm glad I decided against it.

But on the other side of things, when I first play a game that’s a little older, I don’t have any of that pressure. I feel free to play how I want and for as long as I want and at the pace that I want. My friends and most of the forums I visit have moved on by the time I start through these older games myself, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out or need to hurry up because I can’t follow the conversation or have to constantly doge spoilers, and the game becomes mine rather than part of a collective experience that I have to race to keep up with. That being said, I've yet to find someone who's not interested in talking with me about the "new" game I'm playing just because they played it a few months or even a few years before me. A good game stays good, and it remains fun to discuss even after the hype dies down. I get to relax as I play and still get the fun debates and conversations--it's the best of both worlds.

I also feel like just smashing through a game and moving onto the next big release often doesn’t do the best titles justice. In fact, on r/patientgamers, I read a thread about someone who didn't like Red Dead Redemption 2 on their first playthrough because they were so focused on getting through it that they missed a lot of the story and nuance that exists in the side quests and world exploration. When your goal is only to beat the game, rather to enjoy it, this is the issue. And it wasn't this particular Redditor's problem, but I've often asked myself how you can truly lose yourself in a game if the whole time you're playing you’re just waiting for the next one to drop.

But a lot of readers may say that’s not fair and that they enjoy every game to the fullest, and you know what? I believe them. In the end, enjoyment is in the eye of the game holder. (Ha, see what I did there?) But for me, slow and steady wins the heart. That is to say, gaming doesn't have to be a race. (Unless, of course, it's a racing game.)

Waiting rather than rushing to play a game for the first time isn't the only way to find love for old titles, though. Revisiting favorites (and even not-so-favorites) brings a different kind of enjoyment as well. It’s important to remember that old games can still be good, even if they don’t have the top-of-the-line graphics. There was nothing in the past that stopped games from having a story that was gripping or mechanics that were engaging, and those things are more important than graphics in the long run anyway. In fact, when going back through your game library, you might surprise yourself by finding new things you like, even if it was a something that didn’t grab you the first time.

And if you’ve already finished something and loved it, you might even find a different appreciation for it on a second visit, depending on where you are now in life. It's no different from re-reading an old book or re-watching an old movie. The first time you read Harry Potter, you were probably simply enthralled with the magic, but a re-read a few years later might have you aghast at just how irresponsible some of those teachers are. And there are all sorts of memes where people joke about how they used to agree with Ariel, but when they watch The Little Mermaid with their kids now, King Triton has suddenly become the most relatable character in the story. So too you might find your old games contain perspectives that passed you by on the first go-round. You might relate with characters and get sucked into story arcs that didn’t strike you when you played before, and it can make for a whole new experience.

In another article, I mentioned how playing an old game is like bumping into a childhood friend or visiting your hometown after years away. There are things to catch up on and new things to learn, there's a feeling of comfort and familiarity, and fond memories will almost certainly creep back in. There’s a different sort of appreciation there that new games can’t compete with.

Finally, I think it’s important to keep in mind that an older game doesn't have to be considered retro for it to be a fun replay. I know there are so many remasterings of retro games out right now for a reason: people want to revisit their old favorites, and those games old enough to have strong nostalgia attached are hard to play on today’s devices, so it makes sense that they need to be updated. But you don’t have to wait until a game is so old it can’t run on your modern computer or that you need a vintage console to play it. Crash Bandicoot is definitely a ton of fun to play now, 25 years after its release (Yes, it's been that long!), and so are Spyro, Shadow of the Colossus, and so many others, but they were just as fun one year, two years, and five years after they came out, too. There was no period where a replay wouldn't have been a blast, so why did so many of us wait until now to revisit them?

I know, I know--It's because technology left them behind. But what I'm saying is don’t think you need to wait until a game is old enough to get its own deal on car insurance in order to enjoy something you’ve played in the past. Give your old-but-not-that-old games a shot. Just one visit to r/patientgamers shows you how much fun you can have, and, while I’m not adverse to covering something new or remastered every now and then, you’ll hopefully see right here on this very blog what value there is in returning not to the games of your childhood, necessarily, but to the ones from your… a-couple-years-ago-hood. Trust me, it can make for a really good time.

Leave a comment below and let me know what your old-but-not-that-old favorite is right now.


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