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The six stages of open-world relationships

Following on from last week’s post, my rediscovered-addiction to The Elder Scrolls Online continues. I’ve managed to tear myself away for long enough to be able to get a few hours in with a couple of other games, but I’ve paid frequent visits to my High Elf in the land of Auridon to complete a quest or two each time.

During one such excursion, I was reminded of a post written by Luke at Hundstrasse back in September about open-world titles and the way he tackles them. This got me thinking about my own process and it suddenly dawned on me: it’s kind of like being in a relationship. A union which is passionate whirlwind full of exciting discoveries and tempestuous arguments, split into six distinct stages before its sad demise…

1: The infatuation stage

The first stage in a new relationship is filled with intense attraction and an uncontrollable urge to be with each other. Design flaws don’t exist right now and you only want to focus on the good stuff: you spend your days at work daydreaming about picking up the controller and how good that frame-rate looks on your monitor. Those initial plot missions allow you to become comfortable with a game in a gentle learning curve, and the thought of there being a huge open-world to discover is thoroughly exciting.

2: The understanding stage

At this stage you and your love-interest start getting to know each other a little better. Tackling those side-quests picked up while completing the first set of story missions fills in their background, like long late-night conversations about families, exes and hidden secrets. Both life and that screen resolution seem so beautiful and romantic – until, that is, your relationship hits its first major hurdle. You inevitably come across an optional quest which is harder to overcome than the others and it’s clear you’re being asked to upgrade your gear.

3: The power-struggle stage

This can be a painful stage for most couples as it’s when the romantic illusion falls away and is replaced by disappointment and potentially anger. You start seeing your partner’s flaws: you want to be the hero and concentrate on slaying the beasts in their open-world, while they want you to collect 152 twigs in order to improve your armour before progressing. You’ve got two choices. You can either get on your knees and collect those resources, or continuously meet your end as the game sends foe after foe rip through your defences.

4: The stability stage

Learn how to fight in a way where both you and the game win and you’ll move on to the stability stage. As you slide into the routine of working through a story mission, knocking off a few side-quests and then gathering more resources for upgrades, the thrill of being in love returns and you think you’ve finally met the game made for you. Unfortunately though, it’s easy to get stuck if you become too attached to the peace and stability; at some point you realise that growth requires change, and you need to get out of your comfort zone.

5: The restless stage

It’s been a hundred-hours since your relationship began and, somewhere along the way, restlessness starts to creep in. You feel confined by the routine and compare your relationship to those with past games; where did the romance and excitement from those early levels go? As your eye starts to wander towards those glittering shapes on the horizon, you feel the urge to throw off the responsibilities, the side-quests and resource-gathering, and instead ride off into the distance to seek your fortune. What might you discover there?

6: The reluctant stage

Unfortunately, the only thing you find is even more side-quests and it’s with some reluctance that you return to the grind. A sense of guilt invades your spare time as you realise only a few story missions stand between you and the end-credits; you know you should really finish them but that cute little indie title you bought in the last Steam sale is calling your name. Only two options remain. You either need to roll up your sleeves and get the job done… or resign yet another game to backlog.

Just as there are plenty more fish in the sea, there are plenty more video games on Steam. Will The Elder Scrolls Online and I make a lasting commitment or are we headed for relationship-counselling?

34 thoughts on “The six stages of open-world relationships

  1. You, madam, are operating on a scary parallel with my gaming habits. This is EXACTLY where I’m at now: I’ve got two maHOOSIVE chunks of Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild to finish off… and, for me, it really is a case of they just need to be finished now as I’ve been parallelling my full bohemian side with both Life is Strange: Before The Storm and the fantastically excellent Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Plus, I’ve got Dear Esther on 24hr standby to go afterwards as I’m probs about an hour away from finishing Amnesia.

    My problem is I truly think, like the indie rocker who suddenly makes it big, I just want to eschew AAA’s altogether and fall into an opium-haze of quality indieness…

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    1. I tend to go in cycles: I’ll pick up a huge open-world game and really get into it; then go through the stages in this post; and then not want to go anywhere near another one for ages. It’s at that point I’ll stick with indie releases for a while as they offer something completely different. They have a tendency to fit into adult life a bit more conveniently too, where they don’t require so many hours.

      I’m always intrigued when people say they’re playing a number of games at once because it’s not something I seem to be able to do well! Any tips on managing it?

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  2. There are many worlds in games that I’ve fallen in love with, Final Fantasy XV and Bloodborne are two examples.
    The world Eos in FFXV is extremely interesting and even now 120 hours later, I still run around defeating monsters and doing side quests.
    Bloodborne though is a game world that is intriguing. It is in no way inviting and some parts are horrific (in a good way). Despite that, I was almost forced to explore the harrowing world of Yharnam out of curiosity. Somehow even with the horrorifying and depressing elements, I ended up loving the world more than nearly all the worlds I’ve explored in video games.

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    1. I haven’t played Bloodborne yet but I get what you mean about loving a video game world despite (and because) of its darker side. I like those settings where there are some incredibly beautiful parts alongside locations which are in total contrast – light and dark, good and evil. The juxtaposition seems to hide loads of little secrets you want to dig up and explore. 😉

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  3. I recognize myself so very well in stage 6 haha. Most of the time I just throw the game in to a corner and almost never look back on it. Even though I really love open world games after a decent amount of time you have seen every place in game and I just get bored at that point. I must say I started on ESO a while ago but it just didn’t grab me. So unfortunately I will never play it again. I started playing Ark again since the new map and new updates I must say I’ve been playing 7 hours straight today and I really love the game again!

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    1. ESO surprised me: I don’t really do MMOs but it had me hooked from the beginning! My obsession with it this time around has lasted longer than it did when I first played it a couple of years ago… but I’m starting to feel the call of indie games again…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love to play indie games! but to be fair indie games mostly are way better then the big triple A games. I should get back to ESO though it is a cool game but yeah time is my biggest issue haha

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        1. Urgh, you said the dirty word… ‘time’… why does adulting have to be so difficult? I’m hoping that the days off between Christmas and New Year will mean a chance to catch up on games!

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          1. yeah you are so right. I have one good thing and that is that I stream 5 days a week haha. It means that I have some time to play. But as a high level Rocket League player I mostly need to train xD.

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  4. This is hilariously accurate. I’m playing through Xenoblade Chronicles X right now. It’s my second attempt at doing so, as in my first attempt I never quite got past the understanding stage, but it kept me engaged enough to get to the restless stage. Unfortunately, like most relationships that follow the pattern I just described, I had a falling out with the game fairly early on and we went our separate ways. But like an ex you idolize I’ve returned to give it a second go, and I’ve learned more about myself and the game, so this time I’m hoping we can understand each other better and get to the stability stage.

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    1. 13 years… that’s a serious commitment! To steal The Optimistic Gamer’s analogy above, it sounds as though WoW is that ex you idolise and keep returning to. 😂

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      1. It’s become comfort food, really. I don’t dislike it in any way, but the sub fee ensures I don’t stick around for more than a few months at a time. But when I don’t know what to play or I just need something mindless to break away from school or work, WoW is always there.

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        1. I totally get what you mean. Sometimes you need games that don’t require much effort – not in terms of gameplay, but those which are just easy to slip back into. This could be the start of a good post… 🤔

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  5. You’re spot on with this. I’m currently feeling the Power Struggle Stage with Breath of the Wild. I really want to keep playing, but the dread of continuing to scour the landscape for Shrines is ever present and distressing. I really want to just enjoy the game, but I can’t help but feel obligated to continue upgrading Link…

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    1. I know that feeling: you really want to continue the game and find out what happens, but the thought of all that searching just isn’t doing it for you! This tends to be when I tell myself I’ll play something completely different for a while and then come back to it… but sometimes that never happens…

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  6. What about a 7th stage of “rekindling”? As a lore hound, I’ve suffered through hours of nonsense logic, inane fetch quests, and busy work because THE STORY GETS SO GOOOOD! I’m not a Final Fantasy fan; but, I played XV along with a friend who explained all the references, and the ending got me! While it’s probably not a game I’m going to pick up again anytime soon, I’m actually looking forward to seeing where the series goes, and I anticipate the day it produces a game I choose to pick up on my own 🙂 Ah! Not to mention some of the phenomenal Skyrim mods like “The Forgotten City” 😉

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    1. I missed a trick here – this post should definitely have included a rekindling stage! This is exactly what happened to me when I played The Elder Scrolls Online and I re-found my love for it a month or so ago.

      I can’t say I’m a Final Fantasy fan either; I just can’t seen to get into the combat. It’s that ‘series I wish I loved’… everyone is so positive about it and I think I’d actually quite enjoy the storylines!

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      1. I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it if my friend weren’t such a devoted fan. It’s not even remotely her favorite Final Fantasy, but she fleshed out the lore enough that I could actually enjoy what the developers attempted to do with the mechanics and story. I feel like there are a few games like that, where it helps to play it with someone who either loves the story or the world.

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        1. Perhaps that’s the issue then: I have a few friends that like Final Fantasy but nobody close enough that I could actually play a game with on a regular basis. That’s a good idea for a post though… games with are better with somebody else… 🤔

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          1. I think most games are better with someone else, but some have mechanical or lore thresholds that require a veteran’s or a rabid fan’s translation~ It might be a good community question?

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    1. Aw thank you! Christmas will probably see me starting up another open-world game because I’ll have a bit more time to play, so no doubt I’ll be going through all of the stages yet again. 😉

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