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I’ve been playing a lot of Valheim lately with some friends. I actually haven’t had a lot of time for other writing, because I’ve been busy with Valheim. In fact, this essay will be pretty short, because I need to get back to the game…
But I wanted to take a moment to explore what I find so much fun. Because I’ve certainly played or seen plenty of survival crafting games in the past, but so few have seemed appealing to me. I can usually play Minecraft on my own, and Terraria was a lot of fun. So why don’t I just play all of these games, aside from just lacking time?
The thing that speaks to me about certain survival crafting games is the degree to which “survival” plays a core role. How tough is it to just play the game? How much is it fighting against you? This is where I think Minecraft does a great job and why it has such wide and lasting appeal. There’s not only a lot to do, but each individual thing you can do – from building to mining to fishing to fighting – is all so simple that you can easily become an expert in everything. And conversely, you never really have to interact with any aspect of the game. You can choose to turn off many of the core survival elements such as enemies, or just play in Creative Mode and focus solely on construction.
But Valheim doesn’t quite work that way. You have to participate in a lot of stuff. It’s tough to get through the game without having some skill in combat. You need to mine, often quite a lot of materials. You need to farm. You need to build fortifications. So why do I still enjoy Valheim, if it’s not really offering that same solo experience?
Because I have friends to play with. I think the thing that makes Valheim so interesting is the depth that comes with that variety. The amount of stuff that needs to be done – exploring and fighting and mining and farming and building – means that if you have a group of people to play with, each person can essentially take on a particular role for themselves according to their interests.
It is this dynamic that I really appreciate about player vs. environment content compared to player vs. player content. One can play with friends in something like an arena shooter such as Overwatch, but so much of the game often boils down to a level of sameness that can get boring at times. The sense of accomplishment also depends on a wide array of factors that often fall back to your own skill – if you (or your friends) aren’t good enough at the game, you’ll hit a wall. More competitive players will usually find the drive to get over that wall, but usually that drive is found with some kind of internally defined goal – you have to decide what amount of work you’re willing to put in and know what “success” means. If the goal is merely “keep playing and try to win the next match,” then each match will start bleeding into one another. It’s not that PvP content is inherently bad or worse, but it doesn’t have the exact same appeal, even if on a surface level the idea of “playing with friends” appears the same.
And there’s something nice about feeling like a part of that little community. That you can go do something that contributes to the good of the group, and not merely yourself. I can spend hours mining iron and hauling it back to base and feel like I’ve done something to help others. If I like combat and go out to kill trolls or goblins, the materials I get can be brought back to create food or weapons for everyone. A survival crafting game helps make each individual’s efforts mesh well with the group’s goals, whatever those goals might be.
One thought on “Fun with Friends”
What you’ve described is pretty well the only way people can get me to play survival titles. A big part of why I enjoyed Grounded so much boiled down to my SO doing most of the resource collection, while I ran around like a sociopath killing everything that moved. Between our combined efforts, we eventually made it through to the end, which is a rarity for me with these titles since I usually get bored after 5-10 hours.
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