You can’t play every single video game. It would be statistically and physically impossible, for one thing.
Nor should you want to play every single video game. Preferences differ, tastes are fleeting, and my list of ‘must play’ games is probably different to yours. But even when you whittle it down to a subset of personal preference and ‘must play’ releases, it’s still an insurmountable, unassailable mountain; and that’s before you get onto the logistical concerns that will chisel that mountain down to a modest hillock.
Without wanting to get into the “console wars” and the relative merits of exclusivity, most people probably don’t own every console or platform available. And those choices determine which releases you’ll have access to. For a brief moment as a kid – when my sister had an NES and I had a Sega Master System – those choices didn’t matter. We could play Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog together. We could swap between Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy, or flit from Wonder Boy 3 to The Legend of Zelda. But from that point on, when my sister became a theatre geek and didn’t want a console of her own, we went down to a one-console family; we certainly weren’t rich enough for me to own more than one personally. I chose the PlayStation over the N64, which meant I kept Final Fantasy (and gained the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil) but lost access to Mario and Zelda, among others. In the next generation it was PlayStation 2, so no Mario and Zelda on the Gamecube, and no Halo on the Xbox. You might get to play a bit at your mate’s house, but at the time, it was devastating to miss out on games like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask and The Wind Waker when The Legend of Zelda had been such a constant in your life. (So much so that I wasted a lot of time and effort on terrible emulation to try and fill that Zelda-sized hole. Sorry, Nintendo!)
And so it goes, enjoying some things, missing out on others, probably forever. Forever, unless you hit a point, later in life, where your disposable income allows you to double- or triple-dip on platforms. That might mean waiting for price drops or mid-generation refreshes (I’m still not made of money) but the catalogue expands, ever so slightly, over time. An Xbox 360 and a Wii in the noughts. A PS4, an Xbox One, and a Nintendo Switch in the tens. Suddenly, the lack of platform becomes less of a concern and, with a moment of painful whiplash, you are reminded that there are just too many video games.
We build our own personalised playlists based on our preferences, piling games onto that shameful backlog during sales, like painting the Forth Bridge with a brush best-used for tiny figurines. With barriers lifted, choosing seems harder, somehow – a sort of menu-blindness, like staring in paralysed disbelief at 800 restaurants on Just Eat, missing the days of paper takeaway menus in the top kitchen drawer – but there are a handful of video games most people agree agree are ‘must plays’, right? Red Dead Redemption 2, The Last of Us: Part II, God of War: Ragnarok … you get the idea.
The latest of those ‘must play’ games is The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, the just-released sequel to 2017’s Breath of the Wild, widely regarded as the best game in a very good year, and probably the game of the decade to boot.
Having missed so much of Zelda’s middle-era, save for the aforementioned crap emulation and the weird waggling of Twilight Princess on the Wii, it was with an enormous sense of relief that I played Breath of the Wild. I still came to it late – my wife bought me a Nintendo Switch as a birthday present a couple of years after its initial release – but it was a special moment, in March of 2019, when I felt like I was finally back on track with The Legend of Zelda.
And I still haven’t finished it. That’s not to say that I bounced off it; on the contrary, I love it dearly. Nor is it that I couldn’t; I’m probably well-enough kitted to storm Hyrule Castle, if pressed. But between the near-endless exploration and life’s other plans (work is a constant vampire of time and energy, and my house is now governed by an ornery toddler, a dictatorial miniature clone of myself that rules with a sticky fist) I just haven’t had the time or energy to wrap up Breath of the Wild in a way that feels satisfactory, that feels like it does that world justice. Maybe part of me just doesn’t want it to be over. It wouldn’t be the first time, that I’ve not completed a game because I literally didn’t want it to end.
Usually, if I shelve a game, the one thing that will spur me back into action, to nudge me towards completion, is an impending sequel. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and I’m not a completionist by any stretch, but it triggers a little FOMO alarm in my brain, for whatever reason. Even massive games aren’t safe from this strange compulsion; I once started Fallout 3 from scratch (due to a corrupted save), then bashed through it in a weekend, such was my desire to wrap it up before playing Fallout 4.
You would think Tears of the Kingdom ticks all the boxes, then, that it meets all the criteria. The sequel to Breath of the Wild – released a few weeks ago to possibly the most unanimous critical reception and rapturous audience reaction we’ve ever seen – is remarkable. In the age of tent pole blockbusters, from Red Dead Redemption 2 to The Last of Us: Part II to God of War: Ragnarok, Tears of the Kingdom’s tent pole stretches the highest. (Then Link whacks a fan and a battery on the side of it and flies that tent pole up to a floating island, hundreds of feet in the air, because why not?) I’m also not restricted by platform (bless Nintendo for bringing it to Nintendo Switch and not waiting for the next console) and I’m within touching distance of wrapping up the previous game. Check, check, check.
I fear that I’m probably never going to play it, however. Not because I don’t want to, or because I don’t think I would enjoy it. No, I think the reason I won’t be able to bring myself to play Tears of the Kingdom is that I won’t be able to do the game justice.
Gone are the days of pouring entire weekends into the latest Final Fantasy, or playing Civilization until sunrise, or idly poking around the far reaches of Hyrule while half-watching junk TV for hours on end. Time is fleeting. Time is precious, now. Time is a a bit of a bastard, to be absolutely honest with you. We wake up, we get our kid out to nursery, then we start work. We break from work for a few hours – to collect the toddler from nursery, to allow the toddler to refuse dinner, to refuse to get in the bath, to refuse to get out the bath, then read stories and sing songs for however long it takes for sleep to occur – then there’s just time to go back to work to finish up for the day. Work eventually put to bed, we do the chores and (if we’re feeling fancy) grab a shower, then take an hour to sit on the sofa and watch an episode of a TV show. Before long, it’s time to pass out, in preparation to do it all again tomorrow. (And, to be clear, work and chores are the issues here. Primarily work, actually. The kid is never the problem.)
Where do video games fit into that schedule, never mind a game so expansive as Tears of the Kingdom? One of the beauties of Breath of the Wild (and by extension, Tears of the Kingdom) is that you can play it in bite-sized snippets. There’s precious little sequential storytelling, and the game can be approached and completed in almost any order. (People running straight to Hyrule Castle and decking Ganon in their underpants has become both a speedrunning challenge and something of a meme.) And you don’t even have to do any of that, if you don’t want to. If you want to just load the game, climb up a big hill to see what’s up there, then call it a night, you absolutely can. In a medium filled with open world bloat and busywork and checklists, with even simple missions lasting hours upon hours, Zelda’s dip in/dip out approach is supremely refreshing. But the problem is that, while you technically can play it in bite-sized snippets, when you do climb up that hill, you invariably find something interesting. So you follow it, and you find something else interesting, and you find something else interesting; before you know it, you’re recreating that brilliant scene from Malcolm in the Middle where Walter White changes a light bulb. And Tears of the Kingdom doesn’t just have hills, and mountains, and towers, and shrines. Tears of the Kingdom has full reign over the skies above and the catacombs below Hyrule, and dungeons, and machines you can build, and… there will always be something interesting, just around the corner. I’ve seen the clips. I’ve seen you all having a wonderful time. I know I’m not wrong in this.
So unless something fundamentally changes in modern life – like the threat of robots taking all of our jobs materialising, which would be a blessed relief, frankly – I just don’t have the energy or the attention or the time, the bastard time, to do Tears of the Kingdom justice. And for something this special, so obviously special, I’d rather do nothing at all than half-arse it. That means I’m (probably) never going to play The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and that’s (probably) fine. You can’t play every video game, after all.