5 reasons solo gaming isn't just for lonely gamers

You can have it all

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Some people have the impression that solo games, or playing multiplayer games by yourself, are consolation for people with no friends. The assumption is that it's "normal" to buy a game for your family or your game group, and that you'd only resort to a solo game when there's something wrong. Maybe you're one of those people who can't find friends, and has no family, or whose partner thinks games are a waste of time or too complex. While those are all valid reasons to play a game designed for one player, they're not the only reasons. Solo gaming has no gatekeeper. You're allowed to buy a single-player game regardless of your social circumstances, and here are 8 good reasons you should.

In this blog post, I'm using "solo game" to refer to three types of games:

  • specifically for one player
  • for many players, but that feature separate single-player rules
  • for many players, but that you can play alone by standing in for different players

Some solo gamers wouldn't consider the last variety true solo games. To an extent, I agree. A game designed exclusively for multiple players should never be advertised as a possible solo game, because nearly all games are solo games to someone willing to control multiple player tokens. However, I've played several multi-player games as a single player, sometimes by inventing my own solo rules and other times by playing several roles, and it can be a lot of fun.

In the context of this blog post, a "solo game" is anything you might enjoy playing as a single player.

1. Play how you want to play

Playing a game solo means you get to play a game exactly the way you want to play it. You don't have to follow the rules included in the box. You can add your own rules, you can ignore rules in the rulebook. You can bring a gun to a knife fight. You don't have to play the game from start to finish. You can introduce new challenges, you can mix two different games together, you can use 12-sided die instead of 6-sided die, you can do whatever comes to mind.

Whatever you want to do is fair game when you're the only player.

2. Prioritise your own fun

The concepts of being a good sport, and of being a team player, are vital for making games fun for everyone involved. And when you're the only one involved, none of it matters. When you play a game solo, you can do whatever is the most fun for you, even if it would normally aggravate or cheat other players.

That might mean making up your own rules, or conversely it might mean adhering to the rules as written regardless of how broken they are. Or it could mean playing for some goal other than the win condition.

Playing alone also means you don't have to be sociable. I enjoy gaming with friends, but for it to be fun for everyone you usually have to acknowledge their existence. A good gaming group chats and laughs together, but that does take energy. A good gamer picks up on social cues from fellow players, and those cues ought to guide behaviour. For instance, when I play Mansions of Madness with someone who clearly enjoys exploration more than combat, I suggest that we barricade doors, or throw myself into combat to spare my fellow player.

You don't have to think about those things as a solo player. The only person to cater to in a solo game is yourself.

3. Total immersion

When it's just you and a game, it's easy to lose yourself in the game world. With fewer distractions around the game table, a solo game allows you to spend quality time in the game's imaginary setting. Add some mood music and a good hot beverage, and a good solo game rivals the comfort of a good book by a warm fireplace.

4. Develop an obsession

You know the old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results? Well, mix in the randomness of dice and you've got what I consider prime gaming.

I'm a troubleshooter by nature. I enjoy testing something over and over again to see all the possible results. Because most games have some element of chance to them, I really do enjoy re-playing games, or even just a moment in a particular game session, to see how chance or slightly different choices might render a whole new game-world timeline. For me, "losing" a solo game is often just the opportunity to "rewind" the game a few steps and then restart with a new random seed.

To many people, that's just either cheating or fixating. To me, it's the simulation coming to life.

5. Game as often as you want

Scheduling is one of the worst things about being an adult. Anything you want to do that involves any other person requires scheduling. You schedule things at work, you schedule things for real life, and then you have to schedule games. Scheduling conflict is, I think, the main reason even passionate gamers don't game as often as they'd like to game.

Aside from real life responsibilities, there are no scheduling conflicts in solo gaming. If you're flexible on what game you play, there are definitely solo games you can play no matter how busy you are. Heck, I invented Skuffle Wammer, a 5-minute wargame you can play at your desk at work, to ensure gamers can sneak a game into their schedules in less time than colleagues spend on a cigarette break.

6. Beat the algorithm

A puzzle, whether it's a jigsaw puzzle, a puzzlebox, or a brain teaser, usually states a static problem for you to solve. There's a set number of variables that might take you some time to fully comprehend, but once you've got them in sight you can account for them.

A solo game often uses an algorithm to challenge you. There's still a set number of variables, but depending on the mechanism used there may be a lot more of them, or they may happen in an unpredictable order, or may even react to your player actions. A solo game is ultimately just another puzzle, but it feels both structured and unpredictable all at once.

These are different from what you experience when you play against another human. Humans are irrational, impulsive, frivolous, vindictive, and vengeful. There's no predicting what moves a human opponent might make. That's really satisfying, but it's different from a puzzle. Humans aren't puzzles, they're forces of nature.

Playing against an algorithm is a unique kind of fun, and sometimes it's exactly what you want out of a game.

7. Challenge yourself

Playing a game against a human can be a wild ride, and playing against an algorithm can be hard work, but to add to the mix you can also play against yourself. Some games don't have solo rules, but as a workaround you can just play the role of your own opponent. The problem with that, aside from it arguably being inelegant, is that you aren't really your own opponent. You're the same person, so you're playing two sides of a war with privileged information and biases. Nevertheless, it can work surprisingly well.

Challenging yourself to think against yourself is hard. I find that I tend to become more objective about a game when I'm playing both sides. Instead of being one or two players invested in the game, I become the arbiter of imaginary players making interesting game decisions. I often gain insight into strategies, or I see solutions to common problems I hadn't seen before.

At best, when you play against yourself in a game, you actually learn something about how you think and process data. At worst, it's great mental exercise to step through the structure of a game, observing how common choices and the rules governing them effect the game state.

8. Research

If you enjoy gaming because you enjoy the design aspect of how games are made, then playing solo is an easy and quick way to do research. The more you play, the more you understand what works, what doesn't work, and under what circumstances.

Playing solo does provide biased results. You can't exclusively play solo games and expect to understand nuances of, for instance, how a game can be a great experience with one group of friends and the worst with another. But you do learn about game design, about your own interests, and you also get to have a lot of fun.

9. Fine, be an introvert

Gaming doesn't have to be a social event. Sometimes, the most relaxing evening is the one when you go home and break out a solo game so you can play in peaceful silence. That's what a solo game can be. You might plunge into a chaotic fictional game world full of cataclysmic threats, or you might sink into the quiet calm of subdued puzzles, but either way it's a respite from the clamor of real life concerns.

10. Be a lone wolf

OK, I admit it. Solo games really are [also] great for people with no friends. But if Highlander and Blind Fury has taught us anything, being a lone wolf can sometimes be a noble calling.

If you're somebody who doesn't have a gaming group and can't find anybody interested in playing games with you, then solo gaming is a great and noble option. I'd rather play solo than deny myself the pleasure of gaming.

Dice photo by Joel Abraham, using the Unsplash License.

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