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A fond farewell to addictive ‘Hearthstone’ game

Last week, Blizzard released “The Grand Tournament,” the latest expansion for its blockbuster “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft” collectible card game. It features 132 new cards and two entirely new game mechanics that, taken together, will open up scads of fresh strategies and deck types. The expansion will reinvigorate longtime players and bring in lots of new ones as well.

Alas, I’ll be watching it all from the sidelines.

This might come as a surprise if you read this column regularly. I’ve written about “Hearthstone” twice in the last couple of months, both in glowing terms. It’s an insanely fun, addictive game, and a very deep one relative to its accessibility. But I realized the release of “The Grand Tournament” was a good time to call it quits.

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Blizzard was offering 50 packs of the new cards (250 cards) for $50. Shelling out the cash for these would have marked the first time I spent real money on the game (you can earn cards slowly simply by playing, and I should acknowledge Blizzard hooked me up with the game’s first two expansions for free). More importantly, it would have guaranteed, from a psychological perspective, that I would have invested at least another month or two in the game. It would have been a self-fulfilling prophecy: owning the cards would have made me want to play with the cards.

But in recent weeks I’d found the game was starting to get a little intrusive, for lack of a better word. I was spending too much time not only playing it, but watching YouTube videos about it, checking in on the “Hearthstone” Reddit, and so on. Sometime in the last couple of weeks, I started thinking about how bad I would feel — and I’m not saying this is likely — if I realized 20 years from now I hadn’t accomplished some important thing because I’d logged so many hours playing and thinking about an online card game. The game even made my insomnia worse. I’d find myself mulling over moves, or grappling with “Tetris effect”-style afterimages, as I lay in bed, trying to think about nothing.

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Obviously, any hobby could be seen as a “waste of time,” and video games are often unfairly maligned as though they are somehow inherently less worthy than more mainstream, established hobbies like, say, watching NFL football (another hobby of mine). But playing “Hearthstone,” and deciding to stop playing it, helped further clarify for me what I value in video games as a 31-year-old who feels perpetually busy. It’s just harder and harder for me to get into games that require tens of hundreds of hours of grinding (which is exactly what “Hearthstone” requires to compete at a high level, unless you utilize the shortcut of buying hundreds of dollars worth of cards). More and more I’m gravitating to the “Limbos” and “Gone Homes” of the world — games that offer vivid, unforgettable experiences you can get through in five hours or so — though I still fall for the occasional more open-ended, potentially endless game like “Don’t Starve” (which is probably the last game I was fully addicted to prior to “Hearthstone”).

The night I wrote most of this column, I played one last game of “Hearthstone” as a Warlock, my favorite character class. Fittingly, I got absolutely wrecked by a Paladin who was sporting several of the new cards from “The Grand Tournament.” Right before he or she delivered the death knell. I snapped the screenshot you see above.

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I’ll miss you, “Hearthstone.” We had a good run.


Jesse Singal can be reached at jesse.r.singal@gmail.com.