The thrill of cleaning in video games


Almost all games are cleanup and maintaining order in a world threatening chaos. Certainly any game with monsters to kill is a systematic “cleaning” out of the undesirable/threatening elements of the world. Asteroids, Pac-Man and other games are also about clearing away inanimate garbage. I’d say the idea of “messing things up” and breaking the world have come more recently with the advent of open-world games where processors can make the “everything can be broken” mechanics fun enough to be worth it. But even then, in a sense you are creating entropy by breaking down the made world, which is the most existential kind of cleaning there is…

On a related note, whenever I organize our tiny-ass fridge (which is at least weekly…damn you NYC tiny kitchen) the tetris music plays in my head…

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Some people enjoy playing games.
Some people enjoy overthinking playing games.

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It occurred to me some time ago that Solitaire isn’t really a game - it’s just a method for sorting a deck of cards. It’s fun in the same way as any cleaning chore can be, if you’re actually supposed to be doing something else.


Haha! I would so get in to this, briefly! A little while ago I got so in to the delightful simplicity of Farm Simulator 15, with all its collecting, sorting, moving and stacking of items. (Plus it had vehicles I would never get to use in real life) I was crazy about it for about 2 weeks and I don’t regret a minute of it!

Don’t forget that sister task to cleaning, collecting. God I spent so much time collecting things in Skyrim and then sorting them out into different barrels in my manor. Just the sheer joy of banal time-wasting in that game.

What really makes that game powerful to me, though, is you can waste entire days collecting things without having to worry about debts or eating or what society thinks about you, and then turn around and go back to killing things and questing and whatnot. I really wish there was some analogue to this in the real world - not the collecting, but just “I want to spend a week practicing my guitar, peace out y’all” and then in a week it’s back to work. Nobody in the game seems to mind that you take 5 in-game weeks to kill that mage or storm the castle or whatever!


I suspect that what you’ve noted is why actual hard time constraints are so relatively rare in RPGs, even where they would fit logically(often quite a bit more logically than the quest-driven atemporality model) into the story and the technology is more than up to the task.

Spatially, everyone hates invisible walls in games, and time limits are basically another flavor of invisible wall(unless handled very carefully, as in Ocarina of Time, or a core feature of the gameplay(classic RTS, say, is a genre where time is of the essence), or limited to certain discrete situations to build dramatic tension(you’ve sabotaged the reactor, head for the exit before it goes critical!)).

Even in relatively closed-world RPGs (like the Mass Effect series, time mostly progresses when you do a mission, the universe doesn’t just change on you if you spend too long on the observation deck looking out. Something like ME3 would have been much more logical with a time limit(hopelessly superior and utterly hostile reapers are annihilating all civilizations, after all); but it would also be painfully claustrophobic to actually play.

One thing that would be nice is games that manage to be slightly less static without feeling like they are prodding you too hard. Skyrim’s whole ‘civil war’, say; absolutely nothing appears to happen until you show up and put on your quest hat. NPCs are always talking about it; but absolutely nothing moves an inch. Even stalemates aren’t that quiet.

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Katamari Damacy?

That realization ruined solitaire for me. If I knew a game of solitaire was contributing to some sort of distributed computing effort, then maybe I could play. Now that I’ve said it, I bet it already exists.

Wanders off to find it

That’s part of what’s relaxing for me about games that allow “completionist gaming style.” I’m allowed to perfect the task at hand before moving to the next.

Unlike real life, where all too often I have to settle for “good enough” because of other people’s pesky expectations.

mmmm, Witcher drops next week.

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