Junk Food Games

I am distinctly in the minority when it comes to games where “you can turn your brain off”. Per this week’s podcast, I’m probably at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum as Bel, who, as he puts it, tries to “get to a point where playing a game requires no thought”. Pretty much everyone on the podcast other than myself had some kind of “relaxation” game, something they’d mastered and find relaxing to play because it doesn’t really require them to be engaged.


It’s something I find hard to wrap my head around. It’s one of the blind spots in my ability to recommend games to other people and understand what they find appealing; I mostly go off of what I hear other people talk about rather than my own feelings. It strikes me as similar to people’s descriptions of cilantro– I’m aware that some people find cilantro appalling, “like eating soap”, but it’s hard for me to visualize because I don’t taste the same way. The best I can do is remember that some people really don’t like cilantro, and remember that some people relax through unengaged gaming.

I really don’t have a good set of terms to even talk about the concept. The ones that come to mind– “mindless”, “unengaged”, “requires no thought”, even “junk food” have hugely negative connotations for me, and I don’t necessarily like ascribing such negative language to what is essentially a difference in opinion. Other than that I personally get bored, I don’t have a fundamental problem with these kinds of games. I’ll get frustrated when that’s all anyone seems to want to play and I find it boring, but that’s true of anything where I’m not interested in what everyone is playing.

Spoons and Banana Split --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Spoons and Banana Split — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

What I’m more interested in sussing out is *why* I don’t have the same craving for low-stimulation games. I really do get antsy and bored when a game isn’t keeping me engaged enough– I’ve nodded off while playing all kinds of games, mostly at points where I’m just not interested in them or I’m not learning anything new. At the same time, even slow- or variable-paced games like Civ, Anno, or Crusader Kings all keep me alert, just because I’m juggling so many things in my head and managing my territory. A friend of mine suggested a possibility to me: I’ve played a lot of games, so I reach a comfortable point with them a lot sooner. She pointed out that while my threshold for boredom is a lot lower, my threshold for relaxing is a lot higher, so it’s easier for me to hit a point where a game “requires no thought”, and do with a lot more games.


I’m not convinced by that explanation, but as was (sharply) pointed out to me, I have a history of disbelieving any explanation of something that speaks to my own abilities. It’s possible that I simply learn games quickly and that I’m really doing the same thing as everyone else when I play. I don’t have a good way of knowing if the way I play most games is the way that other people play their “most relaxing” games. I do know that I don’t have any particular game I return to over and over again; I almost never play a game more than once unless it’s been long enough for me to forget significant amounts of it (and thus, relearn them while playing). I get bored quickly when playing a game I already know, even if there are little tidbits for me to still pick up. New Game+ is REALLY hit or miss for me. As a result, there aren’t really any games I can claim mastery over, but there are a lot that I feel comfortable with.

Now I really want to plug myself in to an EEG while I play and compare my results with my friends’ over various games.


  1. I do not understand why someone would want to choose a game that requires no thought. There’s a lot of entertainment out there already that allows us to turn off the deep-thought processes, but games excel at helping ramp up the thought process through more intense engagement opportunities than movies or music.

  2. Trying out commenting here this time! 😀

    I don’t particularly like games that are “easy” or require NO thought, in general, but I do play games that I am pretty sure I’m going to win eventually– like picross, or some tactics games– to shut down OTHER parts of my brain either so that I can go to sleep or get some relaxation “no thought” time in. I think it functions for some people less as game playing and more as meditation: you engage a part of your brain that tends to go haywire, give it something simple to do to keep it occupied, and zone the rest out without it’s constant interference.

    I have no idea if that’s other people’s concept as well, just something I know I do, but it’s VERY different from what I’m doing, in terms of both enjoyment and stimulation, than when I’m actively playing a game.

  3. While I love that new game feel, and stuff that continuously challenges me I also enjoy those moments I can and do just completely shut off. Diablo is one – well when playing normal haha. Very little thought goes into it but clicking to kill stuff but the repetition makes it rather relaxing and enjoyable. Some of the mmo grinds are the same too, enjoyable in their complete lack of energy needed.

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