The parkour actually has a nice sense of embodied movement
There were so many reasons to pass on Dying Light. Not only was it an open-world zombie survival crafting game, but also an extension of the terrible Dead Island series of OWZSC games. However, once I finished with Fallout 4 I was casting about for something to occupy my time, and I happened to latch onto Dying Light.
Dying Light has a number of clever risk vs. reward systems that I really appreciated, i.e. rooftop safety vs. zombie-filled streets, daylight safety vs. faster XP gain at night. But that quickly wears thin, because Dying Light never really does anything with them, and the progression systems quickly make risks meaningless. And the environments are terribly generic (just like the voice acting, the script, the endless fetch quests) with immense amounts of repetition and little sense of place.
Far, far less violent and gory than the actual game.
More than that, though, a lot of other aspects of the game really started to get to me. Having a white undercover paramilitary dude beat the hell out of a whole lot of non-white bodies, and especially women’s bodies, got to me. Presenting them as zombies doesn’t actually negate what those bodies represent. All in all, Dying Light is just another fairly mindless and unnecessarily cruel exercise in video game stuff for the sake of video games, with nothing much of substance to justify its production.
Ascension is my zen game. I’ve played it almost daily since I first got it on my iPad in 2011 and I’ve bought every expansion and promo set as they came out since. I know the game well enough at this point that playing it is close to automatic for me. I play it in bed before I go to sleep most nights, as the act of playing is almost meditative, and helps me switch off and get ready for sleep.
How I play Ascension is a mode of play I like to think of as “processing”. It’s something like how most people play Solitaire, and it’s almost the inverse of the idea of Flow, because it involves no challenge at all, just a mechanical following of a well-understood procedure. It’s what MDA calls a gameplay aesthetic of submission, a sublimating of mind to the task of processing game actions, and it frees other parts of the mind to think about other things. This is a mode of play I think deserves a lot more attention, because it covers how a lot of people play a lot of different kinds of games, from questing in WoW to routine cargo runs in Elite: Dangerous, to those tappy farming games. Not every game needs to engage the player in active, “immersive” interaction. Some games can, as Ascension does for me, just let the mind be.