At a certain point in my gaming life, everything changed. After spending most of my twenties marathoning titles for hours on end, emerging bleary-eyed from all-day gaming stints, my priorities shifted. I can’t binge-play now, even if I still hear the call of the console and yearn to be swept up into a game. Moderation is key, but finding a way to unlearn unhealthy gaming habits is tough. Or, at least, it was until The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
A lot has changed since this game came out in 2017. For one, I have a toddler now and my gaming time is limited to bursts of 15 minutes or a half-hour, and Breath is the kind of game players get lost in for hours. But in anticipation of the game’s sequel—Tears of the Kingdom, which is scheduled to come out next May—a replay felt necessary. So I set out to find a way to make a big game fit into my small allotment of playing time. The trick? Goal setting. Now, every time I pick up the controller, even just for a few minutes, I make sure there’s a very specific task to accomplish, then I do it. It’s just as satisfying as getting lost, but fits much more comfortably into the time I have.
At first, I worried this method wouldn’t work. I’d tried to replay Breath once before and abandoned it before getting to Dueling Peaks Stable because I never had time to get fully immersed. But by giving myself a clearly marked to-do list, I get sucked in much more easily—and have a clear way to tap out. It’s completely changed how I play games.
Sometimes, when I have a rare couple of hours to play, it might mean tackling a Divine Beast. When I have 15 minutes, it might be finding five Hyrule Bass to upgrade some armor or exploring the top of a mountain (I’m looking for all the Korok seeds this time, so there is a lot of climbing involved). Part of the joy of a game like Breath of the Wild is that there’s always something around every corner, and I absolutely allow myself to get sidetracked. But if I know I don’t have time to fully explore something, I just mark it on the map and continue on—and then that marker becomes the goal for my next gaming session.
It’s a weirdly systematic way to play such an open game of endless possibilities, and frankly, it might be the opposite of what Breath’s designers intended. But it works for my brain with the time that I have. I’m enjoying this playthrough so much, even when I’m playing it in Tetris-sized blocks of time.
Who knows, this time, I might actually even let myself finish it.