Admit it: We all know what it’s like to need a videogame. But what about when a videogame no longer needs you?
Alarmingly, I seem to be choosing games lately that, at best, only require me sporadically – games that keep on playing even when I’m not.
I have already written about Lifeline, a text-based adventure where you communicate with a stranded astronaut via an Apple Watch. You send him on missions that unfold in real time and he calls you when he’s ready. In the meantime, there’s nothing for you to do but wait.
Since then, I’ve been playing two games that take that concept to an extreme, games that often don’t require me to be there at all – and yet still manage to hook me into a passionate relationship.
With Fallout Shelter and Runeblade, I have become, at times, little more than a virtual booty call.
Bethesda’s Fallout Shelter (who also of course made Skyrim, my favorite console game in recent memory), is a best-of-breed tower defense-style iOS game. And it’s a timesink in its purest form. Like your little sister’s Tamagotchi back in the day, you’re compelled to check in on the health and wellbeing of your vault and its dwellers throughout the day.
So much of the action happens without you. You build a school, a gym, an athletics center, a weapons room, others. You assign dwellers to those rooms and then sit back for hours upon hours waiting for them to improve their skills.
Load up a dweller with supplies and send him or her – mine is a father/daughter team of explorers – into the wasteland to gather weapons and outfits and cash. The longer they stay out there, the shinier the spoils. I have left them to roam for 12, 16 hours at a time.
There’s nothing for me to do but watch and wait, then call them back when they’re low on health and stimpacks. And guess what? It takes them half the time they’d been exploring simply to walk back to the vault.
In other words, these expedition cycles can last a full 24 hours. A full 24 hours during which I’ve done nothing. They fight their own battles, build their own caches and level independently of me.
Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.