I’ve whittled away many, many hours over the last seven years playing Diablo 3 across various platforms. These are hours I consider well-spent, even as I slay the same bosses, mow through the same demons, and run the same builds again and again. The source of this continued appeal is a little mysterious, though. The story is a let down, the atmosphere lacks the Gothic charm that made the first two games classics, and the gameplay loop is extremely simplistic to the point of mindlessness. It’s enough to make me wonder why I keep coming back for more. But as it happens, ‘mindlessness’ isn’t such a bad thing.
Many modern games – RPGs in particular – boast long play times filled with tens or even hundreds of hours of content. In reality, much of that time is spent clicking through dialogue windows, reading lore entries, re-reading them when you forget them 30 hours in — it’s busy work. I have no doubt that the Dark Brotherhood has a long and fascinating history, or that Emhyr var Emreis is a riveting conversationalist, but sometimes a guy just wants to kill some monsters!
Diablo is not a history lesson, nor a long-form debate. There is, undoubtedly, a story there — but it’s one you can safely click through without missing much. The game’s more open-ended, story less Adventure Mode demands even less. Diablo is a game about smacking demons into red mist and making sure your damage numbers grow as fast as your enemies do, and it delivers on that without demanding anything more than the occasional brain-tickle triggered by the sound of a Legendary item drop.
With nothing straining your cognition, you are left open to entertain your higher consciousness with just about anything you like — and let me tell you now, that is a truly freeing experience. Rewatch your favorite sitcom; stick on a nice mellow playlist, or something higher gear if that’s more your speed; listen to that new podcast everyone’s been going on about that you’ve never gotten round to. This is your free time made free again, and it’s yours to do what you want with!
How many times has someone recommended a ‘must-watch’ Netflix series, or a podcast you absolutely need to listen to? How many Marvel films come out every year that we need to see so that we can joylessly track the overarching plot of a twenty-three title canon? These first decades of the 21st century are in many ways defined by an overwhelming deluge of media, a rising tide atop which we must tread water every hour of every evening to stay afloat. We don’t have to spend our time this way; we can reclaim it, and enjoy it.
I like my post-work/pre-sleep hours to be as chilled as possible, and I like my TV shows and music with a side of nice, mindless gameplay. Divinity, Tyranny and other lore-heavy RPGs are good in controlled doses – something for the weekend, maybe – but it’s Diablo 3’s reliably straightforward gameplay loop I come back to when I want to mellow out with some Always Sunny in the background, or better yet, my twentieth rewatch of Peep Show. It turns out that pillaging the desert-tombs of ancient sorcerers pairs with Jeremy and Mark’s dog-eating antics like wine and cheese.
That’s not to say this effect is limited to Diablo. Pick out a podcast to go with DOOM and within seconds you’ll be hypnotized, leap-frogging off Cacodemons with the rest of your brain free for whatever floats your particular boat. For the less violently-inclined, Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing give you a laid back routine to settle into, and as lovely as your neighbors are, their conversation is unlikely to strain you. Got more of a head for PVP? Drop into Super Smash Bros. with some Red Dwarf on and you’ll be three-stocking smegheads without a care in the world.
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I love the stories games can tell, and I’m a big advocate for games going all-in on a riveting, well-written narrative that pulls me right into the world. But everyone gets tired, and there are benefits to taking it down a notch every now and then. Next time you want to really blow off some steam, consider sticking on Netflix, firing up Diablo 3, and hammering through the dialogue before you hammer through the hordes. You might be surprised to find just how relaxing carnage can be.