It’s that time in the console cycle where the promise of new hardware is just tantalizingly out of reach, so imaginations can run wild. Gamers want an upgrade that’s orders of magnitude more powerful to enhance their interactive-entertainment experiences, and this period is the most magical, because between the unqualifiable possibilities, and the cold-hard reality of announced specifications, there’s room to dream.
Before Sony, Microsoft, or any daring third parties dare rain on our parade with consoles that are ‘affordable’, or ‘feasible’, gamers have wishlists, damnit. We want higher fidelity worlds that are infinitely larger than what current limitations allow, we want deeper physics systems that will bring us towards verisimilitude in our simulations, and we want persistent online worlds that allow us to engage with gamers around the globe without much fuss. We yearn for disturbingly lifelike graphics that can accurately render shrapnel tearing through flesh and sinew, and we won’t stand for any more AI that has incompetent insurgents running on the spot behind a crate until we put them out of their misery.
These are all beautiful, sensible things to wish for, but only the most myopic cretin would ask for something as vulgar as the eradication of load times. Load screens are just too damned important. Sure, many bemoan how they eat into the limited time that you have for gaming, while also breaking immersion, but this is a boon, and not something detrimental to your life.
Regardless of the obstacles that are placed in your way, most games can be abstracted to a simple process of getting from point A to point B. Given how it’s currently de rigeur to checkpoint players into victory, death in videogames is already a trifling matter.
When your protagonist miscalculates how long he’s been cooking his grenade and turns himself into fleshy pulp, the game sets about retconning your past few minutes of play, resetting all the elements that you must prevail over for the sake preserving canon. More often than not, this is masked by a load screen. This break in the action is a punishment for your failure, and were it not for these trips to videogame limbo, death – already a mere inconvenience – would be rendered even less meaningful.
Didn’t wait long enough behind cover because you want to finish this mission and use the toilet? Not good enough soldier, think about what you’ve done for 30 seconds, then try again. Morbid curiosity lead you to plant mines in a civilian’s front-garden, turning innocent bystanders into red mist? Twiddle your thumbs for a minute and rethink your actions. Acted on a whim to charge headlong into an enemy platoon with just your knife? A trip to the phantom zone will curb that impulsive nature of yours.
Much like how people who misbehave in society are incarcerated for periods of time, making gamers who fail to play their role accurately sit around is the preferred form of behaviour modification developers employ. Without leveraging our natural aversion to idleness, there’d often be little incentive to address the tasks at hand in the appropriate fashion.
Nurture a relationship
When you’re venturing through Skyrim, currying favour from royalty and government bigwigs alike, it’s important to not forget your roots and run errands for the peasants too. While you’re exploring this immense world and engaging with its many inhabitants, it’s easy to forget about the people closest to you.
I’ve talked to countless gamers who use transitional interstitials to acknowledge their significant others, dashing off to dole out the bare minimum of affection to keep resentment at bay. My own girlfriend is all-too-familiar with embraces that include a clutched Xbox 360 controller pressed against the small of her back, with distracted smooches as one eye remains fixed on the screen to make sure an ice troll isn’t waiting on the other side of that cave door.
Stuck looking at slowly rotating models of Nirn’s various trinkets for a solid minute? Maybe now is a good time to reply to those sweet-nothing text messages that came in a few slain bandits ago. These opportunities to safely ignore the game world for a few minutes may well the the only thing holding some relationships together.
There have been babies conceived as a direct consequence of Skyrim stalling on a load screen, so this phenomenon is partly responsible for keeping the nerd population in healthy numbers moving forward. Embrace the load screen romance.
Videogames rank among the best in escapist entertainment, particularly those titles that allow skills to be levelled up, and cribs that can be upgraded to give a more tangible feeling of progress to your rags-to-riches tale.
It’s important that your avatar doesn’t live in squalor, so grinding through side-missions to raise cash is necessary, as is enduring some repetitive training activities to make sure your hero is in peak physical condition. The temptation to focus on these virtual chores is hard to resist, considering the rewards that await on the other side of some tedium.
These time sink distractions are often optional, which makes it free like an entrepreneurial undertaking, even though there’s a promise of rewards on the other side. Taking risks in the real world requires more exertion, and there’s no guarantee that your efforts will ever pay off, so it’s easy to be beguiled by the simulation.
It can cause existential panic in all but the most diligent couch potato to have to reconcile hours of virtual drudgery with such fleeting accomplishment, so it’s best not to think about these things. Distressingly, the reflective quality of dark load-screens will provoke this inner-conflict. Seeing a pudgy, dishevelled mess (how the present author typically looks on a Sunday morning) looking back at you during what felt like a self-betterment session should be plenty of incentive to consider getting around to those new year resolutions.
Load screens are a convention borne out of necessity, but that doesn’t mean that we should seek to eliminate them once the technology allows. While developers have increasingly been using load screens to reinforce key mechanics and information about the game’s fiction to keep your attention from wandering, load screens are something that we must put up with to get to the good stuff.
There are no hobbies quite as engrossing and time-consuming as videogames, and since few games require breaking a sweat, it’s too easy to fall under the spell and lose track of time. As troubling as it can be to break the spell, if you’re interested in functioning as a productive member of society and enjoying meaningful IRL relationships, load screens are best considered as an ideal moment for allowing boring reality to reclaim your mental faculties