The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, box art, featured, Necrom, zombies

Junk-food gaming: the addictive joy of ESO

Certain video games are like junk-food.

This old opinion of mine was something I was reminded of when picking up The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) again last month. As explained in my post about my recent experience with Sea of Thieves, I was bitten by the bug again in July and have been hanging out with a new wood elf character lately.

I started playing ESO in December 2015 after gifting a PlayStation 4 to my husband and stepson for Christmas. Friend-of-the-blog Phil kindly lent us his disk and we were looking forward to giving it a try once Ethan returned to his other home. It didn’t go according to plan though when Pete came down with the flu and ended up sleeping through the first part of our week off work.

I was left to entertain myself in between tucking him under the duvet, fetching paracetamol and making more cups of tea than I could count. I therefore decided to check out ESO on my own and from that moment on I was hooked: ten hours disappeared into it on the first day, along with a similar amount on the second and third. Once Pete had recovered, he played alongside me with a takeaway on the sofa for New Year’s Eve.

A big reason for my addiction to this MMORPG is exploration. As I wrote previously, it’s one of my favourite things about video games as I love the feeling of being transported to somewhere unfamiliar and given a new world to discover. Although most of the quests are pretty standard and involve either killing or collecting something for a non-player character (NPC), you never know what you’re going to come across or who you’re going to meet on the way to your next objective.

The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, screenshot, sea, ghost ship

Several random encounters have kept me entertained during my current journey across High Isle recently. I met Jolie Virane in a field, whose determination to ride a fiery Vulk’esh monster she’d named Rocky led to a very painful demise. Then there’s Begs-In-Wilds, who seems to pop up by the roadside occasionally to ask for gold. And I’ve been ambushed by a ghost ship twice now while out by the coast, having to fight my way through undead enemies summoned by its captain.

ESO is junk-food in gaming form for me. It’s so easy to consume, just like opening a packet of biscuits and not noticing how many you’ve scoffed until it’s empty. This game always welcomes me with open arms and it’s like I’ve never been away whenever I log in. Familiar mechanics and straightforward gameplay mean there’s no learning curve when returning from a hiatus of several months, so I can simply play and not have to worry about which buttons I need to press on the controller.

The analogy doesn’t end there. The same as ice-cream has the ability to bring comfort on those days where I’ve had to deal with high stress levels and an increasing workload, ESO does it without calories. It’s become an online refuge over the years and I’ve noticed my returns often coincide with periods when there’s a lot going on at work. It’s a place where I can forget about deadlines, meetings and to-do lists for a while, and concentrate only on completing the current quest.

It’s more than the gameplay though; it’s about the community too. Just like sharing a slice of chocolate cake with friends, joining forces with them in ESO encourages a sense of camaraderie. Phil, Ellen from Strength in Sarcasm, Pete and I used to play together weekly and I’ll sure we’ll be back once we’re done with Sea of Thieves. Other players in the text chat add to the entertainment with their banter, such as the time a comment led to an impromptu group rendition of a 90s dance track.

You know when a new flavour of your favourite crisp is announced, and it’s like trying something new but familiar at the same time? I’m drawing a parallel here to ESO’s expansions and regular in-game events. Unknown NPCs and situations will be encountered during these but there’s always something reassuringly recognisable about the whole thing. At the time of writing, I’m participating in the Zeal of Zenithar to try and gain enough tickets to be able to purchase a new mount for my collection.

The Elder Scrolls Online, ESO, video game, Phil, Pete, Ellen, Kim

Sadly, there’s a downside to every indulgence. Just like eating too much junk-food can leave you feeling sluggish and guilty about your lifestyle, playing too much ESO can make me feel bad about my gaming choices. I know it’s time to put down the controller and step away for a while whenever I reach a state where there’s remorse about ignoring the other titles in my Steam library. Since first picking up the game almost eight years ago, I’ve been in a cycle where I’ll binge for several weeks and then disappear for a few months.

I’m trying to adopt healthier gaming habits now though and learn from past experiences. It’s all about a balanced diet. Alongside the MMORPG, I’m also progressing through two adventures which are proving to be really enjoyable. The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales by DO MY BEST is an intriguing story about a writer with the ability to dive into books, while Voodoo Detective by Short Sleeve Studio is a more traditional point-and-click with humour reminiscent of the classics.

There you have it: the reasons why ESO is my personal junk-food equivalent of video games. We all deserve to indulge a little every once in a while, and it’s probably better for me than all the treats I’ve mentioned above. It has become one of my main virtual escapes over the years because it’s able to offer both solace and adventure in equal measure – and the best bit is that I don’t have to get on the treadmill to run off the calories afterwards.

Now over to you: what’s your junk-food game? Is there a title you find yourself continuously returning to, and why?

20 thoughts on “Junk-food gaming: the addictive joy of ESO

  1. I have two junk-food games. Destiny 2 and Guild Wars 2.
    The big difference though is when I finally snap out of it and stop playing them, with Destiny 2 I always end up regretting and feeling like I just wasted so much time, while with Guild Wars 2 I always just enjoy it and feel like I’ve had a good time.

    And now I kinda want to get back into ESO! 🙂

    • It’s really interesting how one game leaves you feeling fulfilled, while the other feels like a time sink. What do you think it is about Destiny 2 that elicits that response? I’ve only ever tried it once briefly myself so I don’t have very much experience with it!

      If you find yourself somehow picking up ESO again this week, I can only apologise… 😳

      • With Destiny 2 its most likely the constant FOMO and knowing that the thing you currently like can end up going away to the dark hole of the Destiny Content Vault.

        With games like Guild Wars 2 everything stays so youre never really missing out and can take things in your own pace.

        At this point Id recommend people stay away from Destiny 2 tbh. Most of the story isn’t available except for some cutscenes and such. Its become such a strange thing.

        How does ESO land with that stuff? Lots of seasonal things or?

        • There seems to be something going on most of the time in ESO. Some of it’s focused on PvP which isn’t really my cup of tea, but there are plenty of events which coincide with holidays usually on a monthly basis. The Witches Festival at Halloween is always fun especially if you’re playing with friends. And the conversations with NPCs and random occurrences can be quite funny too.

  2. I dunno if it qualifies as junk food, but I have been playing fighting games daily for the better part of 5 years now. Things is, I usually have to put them down after 60 to 90 minutes cause…they’re a little too intense for elongated play sessions.

    I guess Monster Hunter would be a more appropriate answer then haha.

    • I’ve seen how you play Monster Hunter and yes, I can see how that would be a junk food game for you. You seem to treat it as I treat ESO… although I’d say it definitely requires more skill, so you’ve got me there. 😆

  3. At one point in my life, my junk food game would easily have been something like Counterstrike, StarCraft, or Worms – particularly the online aspects of all three games. It was so easy to do “just one more match” as we endlessly fought for glory. I’d stay up til 2 or 3 in the morning and sometimes wake up early before school. It was not a healthy way of living but it connected my friends and me – and I had a blast! I don’t play like that anymore. It’s just been Tears of the Kingdom since it came out. Do I like it? I don’t know. Do I feel compelled to to play it when I can and 100% certain aspects of the game? Yep. This goes away next week when school starts, so I have to get it in while I can!

    • Ah, Worms… I remember friends from school going on about it constantly when we were kids. It wasn’t really my thing but I used to watch them play when we hung out in the evenings, so it still holds some memories for me!

      Hope you manage to finish Tears of the Kingdom as much as you’d like to before next week. I must confess that I haven’t played it (or Breath of the Wild), so I’m looking forward to hearing how you get on. 🙂

      • Worms is a riot. I mostly liked it for the silly voices.

        Do your gaming habits change, too, depending on the time of year based on your work? I play a little bit here and there once school kicks in. It’s no secret to my students that I like games. I have a Last Airbender calendar in my office, several comic book hero figurines, and a couple Mario Kart racers as well! I think they get some amusement from that 😂

        • My gaming habits definitely change in line with the academic calendar. I always seem to play more from about November to April, and longer games during this period. Then the number of hours decreases through the following months and I go for shorter games (or those like ESO where I can dip in and out), while we’re preparing for the new year and completing summer projects.

          I wish I had a cool teacher that that when I was at school! 😀

  4. My equivalent was FIFA for a long time, I could just plug into playing a long series of online matches and zone out, listening to music or podcasts. Then it got even more to it with Ultimate Team and there would be a stream of other little things to do and the excitement of new players and new kits (though I’d usually keep rocking the Tigres FC away kit:, and it was just the right level of enjoyable without needing too much effort. Then they added a mobile app for Ultimate Team and it started taking up my time even when I wasn’t at home, and I started feeling like I was being pushed into doing more and more of it, and even though I never actially spent money on its lootboxes it started feeling like it was taking too much from me and stopped being fun. Now I haven’t played a new FIFA for five years.

    • There’s that tipping point where playing a game turns into feeling more like work, right? I can see how the addition of a mobile app would move it past this. A junk-food game needs to have the element of there being no pressure, so it’s easy to choose to get sucked in when you have a spare hour.

  5. Yes, love this subject! For a long time this was GWENT for me, but I’ve finally started to drop off of that. It’s not “junk” in any way, but I could see Tears of the Kingdom becoming it for a while – so much to see and do in that game, and now I have finished the story, I just want to mess around and explore. 😀

    • Seems like the perfect junk-food game to me! No pressure to ‘do’ anything because it has been completed, but still plenty left to see by the sound of it.

  6. Mine is Good Pizza, Great Pizza (Kind of apt my junk game is based on making takeaway pizzas 😝). I don’t want to admit how many hours I’ve lost to virtual pizza making, but man does it help me unwind 🤣

    • I’ve never heard of this one… but I’m kind of scared to look, as I have a feeling I’m going to get sucked in! 😆

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