I Might Have Escaped Too Hard

Once again, I am confronted by the weirdness of the time I write these posts versus the time I post them. It’s a bit different this time, though, since I’m writing this only two days before it goes up. There will be no gap in post coverage, but it has been almost a week since I wrote my last blog post. I respect the break I took because I do feel better rested, but I also don’t want to not have blog posts for six days. Also, I have a lot to say since I did that thing where I escaped with a variety of activities and did a lot of thinking in the background while I kept my fore-mind busy. I’ll skip this upcoming weekend, but I’m going to get a couple extra posts written this week to fill in the gaps I created while I rested.

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Reclaiming Past Gaming

Today, as I consider what birthday plans I have made and what my holiday weekend has in store (this is going up after all that, since I write these a week ahead of time), and I gotta admit that the idea of buying my favorite chips, my favorite sodas, my favorite snacks, foods, and treats so I can hunker down in my apartment to play old SNES and N64 games is so tempting I’m not sure I can deny myself.

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Video Games or Vacations

It is incredibly difficult for me to plan and then take a good vacation. Specifically, I mean that I have never once taken a proper “leave my common sphere of activity” style vacation that wasn’t to a lake house owned by my grandparents since I left for college. Well, I recently had one exception to that, which was a camping trip with some friends, but a crown I’d just gotten not long before the trip broke on the first day and left me feeling pretty awful for the whole weekend so I’m not counting that due to the lack of actual relaxation or rest that one single moment caused.

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I’m Tired and Sad, So Let’s Talk About The Legend of Zelda: Episode 2

Time for another episode of your favorite not-show on this blog! I’ve had a rough weekend, did an emotionally difficult thing, and just cannot shake the doldrums of my week because I’m in a tough but healthy situation of my own making that finally rejects the secret hope of my entire existence in order to move on with my life. No, I will not be getting more specific than that. Also, the day this is going up is my birthday and I can do what I want on my birthday, even if I’m writing this a week before my birthday.

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Like All Gasses, My Steam Library Expands to Fill All Available Space

As a young, single adult with a modest amount of disposable income and a keen desire to get the most bang for my buck, I frequently took advantage of Steam sales to add a huge variety of games to my Steam library. Over the course of each year, I’d add any interesting games to my wishlist and, whenever I receive an email notifying me that an item on my wishlist is on sale, I buy the game if it is at least 50% off listed price. During big sale events, I will buy games with a smaller discount, but only if I’m out of big titles to play.¬† For instance, I still haven’t bought Dark Souls 3 because I haven’t even beaten the first one yet and I still occasionally dip into Fallout 4 since I’ve never actually beaten that, either. I’ve made it to level 100, but I’ve never beaten it because there’s just so much else to do. Which feels a lot like looking through my Steam library for something to do.

While I don’t have as many games in my library as some of my peers (one woman I know has over a thousand games in her Steam library), I’ve played maybe a dozen of them. I’ve installed well over 20% of them, but most of the time I wound up uninstalling them to make room for some other game on my hard drive. Every time I look through my library of unplayed games, I think to myself how fun they all look. Yet every time I’m looking for something to do, I invariably return to games I’ve already played or decide to put another dozen hours into Fallout of Borderlands 2. I started playing Broken Age a few months ago because I thought it’d be super fun to review, but I stopped playing to go hang out with my friends at one point and I’ve never gotten back to it. Half my library are low-commitment games, from 2-10 hours of projected playtime, so I shouldn’t have any qualms about committing to a new game since it’ll be over in a day or two of playing anyway.

But I do. I have tons of qualms. I’d like to chalk it all up to my depression and my habit of berating myself if I “waste” time when I could be doing something productive, but I feel like that’s just being unnecessarily harsh on myself. Sure, those things are contributing factors, but the real reason is that I’m a sucker for sales. A good demo makes me want to throw money at the people who made it and Steam is an excellent platform for introducing people to good demos and then providing them with an easy way to justify throwing money at it. “It’s on sale. If I buy this game, I’m only spending five dollars instead of twenty, so I should take advantage of this sale.” Never mind the fact that I don’t even really want a new game, much less need one. The whole idea of having sales works out perfectly, since it’s getting me to spend money I otherwise wouldn’t. Steam makes millions off of people like me who buy games they’ll never play and I’m sure the developers enjoy the income as well, even if it often doesn’t give them what their game is worth.

Honestly, I still plan to go through my library at some point and play all the games in it. The only problem is I choose not to do that now because I’ve got other things I’d like to do and I’m pretty certain I’ll have other things I’d like to do. I keep envisioning a future when I’m a successful writer and can write as my day job so I don’t have to cram it all into my evenings, leaving me time for stuff like regular gaming and exercise. I’d get so much more fun stuff done if I wasn’t spending all of my free time trying to work on my dreams. Which, you know, is fun, but it’s not the same kind of thing. Writing is still work and it always will be. It takes something out of me. Gaming only takes my time and, if it’s a good game, gives me so much more back. Which is why I always buy the games that look like they’ll do that for me when they go on sale. If I ever reach this hypothetical future I keeping envisioning, I want to make sure I didn’t miss out on the chance to buy a wonderful game for a bargain.

One thing I’ve learned after over a year of owning a Switch is that I’d much rather play games on a high quality mobile system than something chained down like a desktop computer. Even a laptop is more constraining that I’d like since I need a surface to put the laptop on and carrying a gaming laptop around can be a real pain in the back. If there was a way to play all of my little, low-requirement games on a mobile system, I’d probably play more of them. As more of them get re-released on the Switch, I’m starting to wish I hadn’t spent the money on them already. There isn’t much I’m willing to buy twice and anything I like enjoy to buy more than once is likely something I’m willing to sit down at my computer to play. Like Borderlands 2. I own the four-player console version and the computer version because sometimes people want to hang out together while hunting treasure and shooting bandits.

In more recent years, Steam has started edging its way into the hardware market with mixed success. I can’t deny their products are excellent in concept, it just often feels like their execution is lacking. Sure, the Steam Controller is nice, but that’s just another controller to use with your computer. Their living-room PC seemed really cool, but it seems to be suffering from a certain lack of interest from the general public. I know they dipped their toes into the Virtual Reality market, but there’s so much competition that they got lost in the crowd. The technology is still mostly in its gimmick phase, so it makes sense that there wasn’t really much Steam could add that some competitor couldn’t do better since hardware is still a side business for Steam. If they come out with a handheld or super mobile computer… then I think they might be able to break into the market. And possibly dominate it, since you’ll be able to play so many great games you’ve already bought.

Until that day, I’m probably going to change my rule to seventy-percent or more as my cut-off for buying games since I really need to slow down my acquisition rate to something I can actually keep up with. Otherwise, with how many good games are going to be going on sale soon, my Steam expenses are going to expand to fill all available space in my budget.

Four Hours, Six People, And One Raid

It may have taken us twice the amount of time we were initially told it would take (though, to be fair, my roommate was very clear about leaving room for it to take longer), but we managed to clear the Leviathan Raid in Destiny 2. For those of you who do not know what this is, the Leviathan Raid is a sort of dungeon. Your team of one to six players (it is almost always six as there are parts that are nearly impossible to do without six players or the best two or three players in the world) has to make their way through a series of challenges to reach the final boss, all while earning special gear that gives you bonuses while doing the raid. Upon succeeding, you are given more gear, various extra rewards, and some small side missions to unlock even more gear. Basically, you’re raiding the lair of a Big Bad Evil Guy for loot and bragging rights. On the surface, it seems pretty simple and, at least to me, boring.

Thankfully, it is not nearly so boring in practice. In practice, you and your team receive an invitation to visit the palace of the most powerful member of an alien race, The Cabal. There, you are basically given a royal guard to the main chamber of the palace, whereupon the emperor tells you that he wishes to see your strength. Your team is challenged to unlock a series of doors, take on some challenges, and eventually make it to the emperor’s throne room in order to take him on in combat after proving yourselves worthy. Every week, when the game’s challenges reset, so does the raid, which means you can only complete it once a week but you have all week to complete the raid if you only get partway through before your group needs to stop. There isn’t a lot of plot to it, but then there isn’t much plot to the Destiny games in general. You show up, kill some stuff, some alien out to get your power gets angry about it, you kill them, and then it turns out a god of some kind was behind them the entire time so now you get to add “god killer” to your list of titles. The games include various powers and small RPG elements, but they’re mostly straight-forward shoot-em-up games with little real choice or plot beyond good versus evil.

The raids, though, were the first real puzzle-solving elements of the game. There are other puzzles you need to solve, things you need to find, during the rest of the game, but there was always a quest marker to guide you to where you needed to go or explain what you needed to do. There was no difficulty other than when you got caught without cover in a giant swarm of enemies. Even then, you usually just respawn a few seconds later a short distance away. In the emperor’s palace, though, there are no explanations. No quest markers. No hints aside from what is posted online by other players and the occasional little line of text off to the side of the screen. Even if you look up a guide video on YouTube, there’s still a huge difference between knowing what needs to be done and being able to do it. Even though one of the puzzles was incredibly easy to figure out, it still took our team a while to be able to pull it off.

Thankfully, the raid is just as forgiving as the rest of the game, when it comes to death. If the entire team is killed, you just start the particular room you’re in over from the beginning. Anything you’ve already completed stays done. If just one person is killed, the team has the chance to revive them, though each person only has the ability to revive someone one time. If you fail to revive your teammate in the specified amount of time, then the entire team is killed and you must start the room over again. This mechanic allowed us to restart rooms as soon as we realized we’d messed up, which saved us a lot of time. If we’d been forced to attempt to play out every attempt we’d screwed up, we probably wouldn’t have finished the raid that night. Hell, there was only one room in the raid where screwing up didn’t result in all of us instantly dying, so it was usually pretty clear when we missed something or someone had forgotten one of their assignments.

All six of us have known each other for a while, at least in passing. My roommate, the organizer, is the common thread that connects us all right now, so I was worried there would be communication issues because we weren’t used to each other’s voices, play styles, or communication styles. Despite that, we all got along really well. There were a few tense moments where frustration with our repeated failure or a repeated gripe resulted in a few disgruntled words, but that was about it. Even then, most of it can be chalked up to all of us not playing together as a group and not really seeing each other’s skill levels aside from the few windows provided in the raid. For the most part, there wasn’t time to sit around watching how your allies played. Your only gauge of their skill was their success or failure at their assigned tasks and they were difficult enough that even the most experienced among us struggled to perform them correctly. We all learned a lot about each other’s abilities that night, but only in specific areas.

Our communication, though, was amazing. We all fell into our roles naturally, we had clear lines of communication, and we constantly refined our short hand for call-outs, directions, and affirmative responses. There were a few times when the leader had to ask someone to shut up, but it wasn’t ever more than once. Everyone listened patiently, everyone was willing to help out, and everyone had good suggestions for how to make things easier. We may still need to work on our understanding of each other’s over-all abilities and play styles, but we definitely established a rapport with each other that will make future group gaming easier than ever.

Unfortunately, due to our scheduling issues, we won’t be able to repeat the raid more than once a month. In my opinion, that’s plenty. Maybe, once we’ve done it a couple more times, it’ll feel like less of a time-sink to run through it. I know just thinking about it is tiring me out again… It was still a ton of fun, though, and I’m really looking forward to doing it again. I’d love to recapture that feeling of hard-won success when we finally defeated the raid boss.

Tabletop Highlight: Shout-Out to All the Games I Can Carry in My Pocket

From a deck of playing cards to small sack full of stone tiles, I love games I can stick in my pocket or in the side pouch of my bag. I’m a big fan of being prepared and how can you call your Bastion of Nerdiness (built at a time when I was the only nerdy person where I worked and maintained because it felt really nice to have all that stuff with me at all times) fully prepared if you don’t have a game or games you can play with one or more additional people? Sure, you’ve got a first aid kit, clothing/cosplay repair kit, energy bars, and a basic survival kit, but no games to play? What kind of amateur preparation are you trying to do?

One of the reasons I was so excited to buy Tak through the Kickstarter was because one of the options was a travel pouch and a clothe board for the game. The whole idea was to create a version of the game people could carry around with them. Entire sets were built around the idea of being able to travel to a location and find someone else with a traveling set to play against. In the book world the game is from, it is apparently a common practice to make or purchase your own Tak set to bring to taverns in case you want to get in a quick game while you’re having your drinks. The pieces are so simple, even, that you could probably spend fifteen minutes walking around outside and find enough material to play a quick game with someone. I value my really nice pieces, the wonderful stone set I purchased as an add-on and the sleek, beautiful wooden sets I originally pledged for, but I enjoy the fact that knowledge of the rules is all I need to play a game because I can imagine a board and play using wood chips and flattish stones. I still travel everywhere with my full stone set, though. They’ll hold up better in my bag that the wooden pieces.

I also like to keep two decks of cards in my bag. It used to be three, but I almost never play Magic the Gathering’s standard, 60-card style anymore. I keep my Commander deck (99 unique cards plus a single legendary creature card whose colors dictate what colors I can used in my deck”) plus all the dice I need for a game (a lot, thanks to several counter-dependent plays) in my bag, along with a deck of normal playing cards. The Magic the Gathering cards are mostly for use with my friends since I don’t generally play much and usually only play because they wan to. I’d use one of their decks, but I prefer having my own to tinker with when the mood strikes me. The regular playing cards are great for everything from a friendly game of poker over lunch to a game of solitaire when I’m bored and trying to stay away from phone games that appeal to my addictive nature. There are so many games you can play with playing cards that they can be an almost ceaseless fount of entertainment. As long as you enjoy card games and the basic amount of psychology that goes with playing cards against other people.

Another game I’m going to soon add to my bag is Bananagrams. My girlfriend is a huge fan of the game and I’ve got to say that it is growing on me. It is a lot more fun to play when at least three people are playing, but you really only need two people. You also really need to love words because the whole point of the game is to use all of your letter tiles (like scrabble tiles, but without point values) to create words. If you run out of tiles, you say “peel” and everyone has to take a new tile from the pile in the center. Once all of the tiles who have been used, the person who says “peel” when there aren’t enough tiles for everyone to take one wins the game. It is a very simple game and dependent on your knowledge of spelling and how many words you know. Possibly the best part is that there generally isn’t a clear winner until the end because it is possible that you saying “peel” is going to give one of your opponents the letter they need to win the game while you struggle to figure out what to do with the “x” you just picked.

My life has improved since I started carrying games on me all the time, beyond just the general feeling of confidence that comes from seeing myself as prepared for whatever comes my way. For instance, I like to keep to myself most of the time, not because I actually dislike people, but because I’m so often unsure of what to say or how to act. Keeping games on me allows me to create a framework for longer social interactions and makes it easier to get comfortable enough with people to not feel so anxious about saying or doing the wrong thing. Anything I can do to lessen my anxiety has a positive impact on my life, even if this comes at the cost of adding a few extra pounds to an already heavy bag. My mental health thanks me but my physical health is a still waiting to see how all this plays out over the next few years before it comments.

Got any small games I should check out? I’d love to hear about them!

Tabletop Highlight: How to Please the Dice Gods and Other Useful Rituals

As one of the many humble priests of the dice gods, I often field questions from supplicants, believers and non-believers alike, about how best to get on their good side. The first lesson you must learn is that the gods are fickle and the only way to truly get what you desire is to avoid their influence entirely. However, your companions who rely on the whims of the dice gods and any pastimes that depend on their influence may decry you for such heresy. Eventually, the gods will have their due and any heretical successes will only contribute to the eventual retribution against you when you finally re-enter the realm of the dice gods.

First, you must always take proper care of your icons and totems. Do not lose them, or else the gods may be angered by the lack of care you show their representatives. Keep them clean using proper sanitation techniques and do not lend them to individuals who practice poor personal cleanliness. If you lose part of a matched set, be aware that you can replace individual pieces without needing to replace the entire set. However, you must monitor the set to ensure that they properly bond as it is possible for the remnants of a matched set to reject all new pieces. You can increase the adoption rate by ensuring the new pieces are a visual match for the set.

Second, regularly handle and use all of your icons and totems. If a set goes a long time without use, the dice gods may come to look upon it with disfavor. A good practice is to include a single use as a part of icon and totem selection for each ritual or service. If the gods decide to bless a certain set, they will make their good will known through this initial usage. Such signs should be trusted without question and not second-guessed if find yourself not getting favorable results from the dice gods. They are merely testing your faith and perseverance will be rewarded eventually.

Thirdly, do not dispose of any icons or totems until they no longer represent the gods. Any disfiguring action, such as melting, shattering, or defacing with the intent to retire will be respected by the gods and you will incur no penalties or disfavor for tossing aside one of their representatives in the mortal world. Carelessly tossing aside an icon or totem can incur the gods’ wrath and all will come to recognize you as one so rejected and cursed by the gods for their disfavor will be written clearly upon any other icons of totems you use.

If you do not use physical icons or totems, instead relying on the electronic ones provided behind the scenes of your computerized rituals or services, you need not fear the gods’ wrath for carelessness relating to the icons and totems. The care for these totems and icons rests upon the shoulders of whoever generated the computerized rituals and services. Bear in mind that their care and maintenance can still impact the outcomes provided to you by the gods. Therefore, it is in your best interest to let the creators of computerized rituals and services know if you find a way to remove them from the realm of the dice gods. Their curses fall upon your head as well.

If you are currently under a curse by the gods or RNGesus refuses to hear your supplication, there are a number of rituals or penances you can perform in order to find your way back into their good graces. The easiest is to simply obtain a new set of icons or totems. It is possible that, seeing your purse support their church, the gods will grant you clemency. You may also speak with whoever leads your rituals or services in order to take a penance upon yourself, further worsening the results of the gods’ will so that you can show your contrite spirit. If all else fails, the wailing and gnashing of teeth accompanied by continued supplication of the gods during participation in their rituals and services will eventually bring you back to rest in their¬†benevolence.

While I hope this guide was instructive, know that there is no one correct way to worship the dice gods. Consult with your local priests and ritual leaders to find what works best for you and in your particular case. Do not forget that the results of rituals and services, while not directly related to day-to-day life, are a good indication of what you can expect from the dice gods and their pantheon-mates in more ordinary situations. May the dice gods bless you and may you o in peace, all the rest of your days.

Saturday Morning Musing

I really don’t like the hype train. I’m very patient when it comes to people and obligations. When it comes to things I get excited about or that don’t have a specific wait time, I absolutely suck at waiting. Which means I hate watching trailers for movies and video games because they get me super excited for something cool and then I have to wait four months or a year or, in Breath of the Wild’s case, three years. Last week, Nintendo announced the latest Super Smash Bros. game would come out on the Switch this year and all I can do now is wait and think about it. It probably won’t come out until the holiday shopping season, but a soft release date is not very helpful to me.

I’ve never really enjoyed the anticipation portion of anything. I like knowing when stuff is going to happen and then mostly ignoring it until it is time to do something about it. This can sometimes backfire on me, as it did with the Switch, because I missed my 12-hour window to pre-order one. I managed to get on by waiting in line for 12 hours and freezing my butt off, but my life would have been better if I’d just pre-ordered it. For the most part, though, I don’t actually lose anything by avoiding stuff until right before it comes out. I got movie tickets to see Star Wars just fine. I can just go into most book stores to grab books I want. Game stores never actually run out of games these days. Steam makes pretty much every game easily available since I don’t know if it is even possible to run out of digital copies… Heck, most “physical” games are just download codes concealed inside plastic rectangles these days.

There’s only so much planning you can do for stuff like that before it starts feeding into anxiety. I already have enough trouble properly allocating my mental energy without marketing companies doing everything they can to convince me to uselessly spend mental energy on substanceless hype. I really don’t need the encouragement since I’m already to get overly invest in pretty much anything. This means I can be susceptible to marketing because it feeds into behavior I’m already prone to, so I spend a good deal of effort to stay away from marketing geared toward my interests. Which unfortunately means I miss out on a lot of things I might enjoy until long after they’re out.

Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of friends who all advocates of the hype train, so I can ask them what is coming up and get all my gaming news without any of the hype beyond their excitement. Books are a little bit easier to follow on my own because there isn’t as much energy put into marketing them via excitement like there is for video games and movies. Most of the time, we just get news from conventions or author blogs, such as Patrick Rothfuss confirming that The Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy is actually just the beginning of the story. Which I am super excited about, because it means I was right to suspect that there was too much left unanswered at the end of Wise Man’s Fears to wrap up in one book. I love the series, so I am excited to hear there will be more books, but there is no urgency behind this. We don’t even have a release date for the book that was for-sure happening, Stone Doors, so information like this is close to news than marketing.

Honestly, even if I do miss out on things sometimes, I feel a lot better when my life isn’t full of a constant stream of advertisements, marketing promotions, and pitches for things that I probably want. It is a lot easier to focus on what I am doing and what I already have to enjoy when I’m not being bombarded by what I don’t have. Inner peace, and all that.

Video Games and Me: I Can Quit Any Time

I have a complicated relationship with video games. They’re an excellent source of interactive stories, they can take me away from my problems when I need some breathing space, they can make me feel powerful, and they can help bring me together with people I’d otherwise have nothing in common with. At the same time, they take up a lot of time because they’re easy indulge in, they make it harder for me to write because escaping via gaming is easy than escaping via writing, and they can make it difficult for me to do the self-care things I need to do but do not want to do (like paying bills or eating properly or getting daily exercise). Managing my time investments when it comes to video games is always tricky and I probably fail more often than I succeed.

When it comes to video games, I tend toward extremes. Most weeks, I don’t play at all because there are things I need to do every evening like write blog posts, try to work on a book, pay bills and do chores, or take some time to let my mind calm down without anything else stirring it up. The weeks I do play tend to be in the middle of the month when bills aren’t due and usually involve me doing nothing but playing video games in my free time. When I manage to play on only same days in a week, I still stick to extremes. I’ll either not play at all during a day or I’ll do nothing but play video games during a day. I’m not very good at only playing for an hour or less before moving on.

I have well over one hundred games I’ve never played, thanks to Steam. That’s not a sizable amount, compared to many, but I haven’t actually bought a game I didn’t intend to play and, when I go scroll through my Steam library, I still want to play all of the games I’ve bought. However, there’s never enough time. If I want to work a full day with a little bit of overtime, I’m out of my apartment for 10 hours. Mark off another two hours for meals and hygiene,¬† two for blogging and social media (trying to build a twitter following is no joke), two for working out or exercising (and related clean-up), six for sleeping, and I’m down to two hours. Only two hours for whatever fun thing I want to do, for working on a personal project (like a book), or for doing chores each day.

That’s all the time I get in a day unless I cut down on sleep (like I did during NaNoWriMo), work less (which is also a thing I did during NaNoWriMo), or forego all responsibility in favor of taking as much time for myself as I can (which I did last night). This is why video games tend to wind up being entirely ignored or done to excess. It feels so good to leave everything behind and just play until my eyes feel sticky with exhaustion and I’m blinking at my cell phone’s display as it tells me that I will be getting up for work in three hours. Even now, I have to struggle to focus on writing this and not turning on my TV so I can play some Breath of the Wild or Skyrim on my Switch. I have to exit all of my game applications when I write because the call of Overwatch or my recent Borderlands run-through is too strong to entirely ignore when all I have to do is right-click an icon to start up a game.

I’ve made a habit of making the tough decision to ignore my desire for immediate satisfaction or reward in favor of doing what is best for my life in the long run. Loan payments get made, extra money gets tucked away for paying off loans, and I make myself work an extra hour or two every day so I’ve got enough financial padding to make it from month to month without worrying about being short for all of my bills at the start of every month. All of this practice goes out the window as soon as I start playing a video game. There is no stopping at a set time, or playing for only an hour. The best I can do is play only one match of Overwatch, but that’s generally only possible when I’m feeling burned out on my favorite PvP game.

Extremes work pretty well for me. I’ve made 79 blog posts in a row because I’ve made a rule that I’m not allowed to miss a day for anything. My most-successful diet was done by removing most food from my potential menu and allowing myself only certain meal plans so I made sure I got a balanced meal along with basically my target number of calories. 100% committed to whatever I do with no wiggle room to make excuses or try to justify taking a break. “Taking a break” is how every period of working out eventually fell apart. Playing no video games or nothing but video games seems to fit right into that habit. New games are my “taking a break” moments that result in me doing nothing but playing the game for a while. I played Clustertruck for 5 hours the night I bought and downloaded it. All I had planned to do was open it up and fidget with the settings, to see if I could donate it to the Steam arcade we’ve got at work.

The only game that doesn’t really cause the same problems is Pokemon, but I feel like the only reason it doesn’t is because I’ve conditioned myself to quickly fall asleep while playing it in a reclined position. I don’t have to worry about staying up too late playing Pokemon when I literally play it so i can fall asleep right away most nights. Rumor says there’s going to be a new Pokemon game for the Switch, so my conditioning will think it is different enough to let me play it for more than ten minutes at a time once it has come out…