Turns out podcasts pair very well with ‘Mario Kart’

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Some people get used to not having as much free time as they did when they were kids. I am not one of those people.

As a working adult with an admittedly compromised social life (thanks, COVID!) and numerous other time-sucking obligations, finding time for both video games and podcasts has become a challenge. I truly, deeply adore both things; gaming is a lifelong passion and podcasts have been making me laugh on a daily basis for 15 years. I had to hear a lot of talk radio as a kid, so podcasts changed everything once I found out that the format could be funny and lively instead of dusty and decrepit.

And since there’s never enough time for both, I have to combine the two. A lot.

Yes, I constantly game while listening to podcasts. I had to get through 65 hours of Elden Ring somehow. What might cause sensory overload for some is a default state of living for me and other individuals of sophistication and taste. While this habit of mine may have started as a time-saving measure, it’s actually become the only way I can enjoy both these leisurely pursuits.

Wait, don’t games have audio you need to hear?

Screenshot of Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

‘Final Fantasy XIV’ is so cool, y’all.
Credit: Square Enix

An obvious problem with this double-dipping lifestyle comes from the gaming side of the equation, as it’s a complex art form that combines visual, aural, and interactive elements into one work. You see the word “aural” there? Yes, sometimes you do need to hear games to progress or otherwise fully enjoy them. But if any video game sound designers are reading this, you may want to stop before you get to the next part of this sentence because the truth is: You can play a lot of games with the sound off. 

To be clear, I don’t listen to the college football podcast Shutdown Fullcast (which is really mostly about jet ski accidents) while I play any narrative-driven, single player games like Yakuza, at least not the first time through. I do care a lot about story and I don’t want to miss that part of a game. Rhythm games like DJ Hero, multiplayer games with an emphasis on communication like Rainbow Six: Siege, and frankly anything with rockin’ music like Mega Man are also exempt. But if any game features an abundance of mundane tasks that don’t require sound to complete, like the farming sim Stardew Valley, hoo baby, my earbuds are on.

I don’t have the heart to look up my playtime in Final Fantasy XIV, but I’ve almost certainly spent dozens of hours doing busywork quests online while listening to the Giant Bombcast, a podcast about — what else? — video games. (It’s all gaming, all the time for me over here.) Without podcasts to keep my brain engaged, I might’ve gotten too bored with the slow, early phases of FFXIV and missed out on the incredible story it offers in the later expansions.

If I just put on a podcast by itself, I go stir crazy and need something else to do. For example, back in 2014, I wanted to listen to the hosts of the aptly named The Worst Idea of All Time podcast document their experience watching Grown Ups 2 (which, I kid you not, is mostly an ad for K-Mart) once a week for a year. To accomplish this admittedly silly goal, I spent several weeks idly racing strangers online in Mario Kart 8 with headphones on and the Apple Podcasts app at the ready. (I dare you to find a better way to grind through 52 episodes of Adam Sandler analysis. You can’t.)

Had I not combined either of those games with those podcasts, there’s a good chance I never would have gotten through any of them.

There are so many games that fit into that dynamic in my life. Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing are big podcast companion games for me. I’ve absent-mindedly wandered around so many Assassin’s Creed worlds while listening to people yammer about football. I’ve planted virtual flowers in Animal Crossing with hardcore NBA Finals analysis in the background. And I’ve farmed for thousands of experience points in Dragon Quest XI to the tune of wildly insular jokes about Sex and the City 2.

It feels like I’m exercising my brain to its fullest potential by pairing games with podcasts. It’s like doing squats while juggling, except it doesn’t take any skill whatsoever.

Only so many hours in the day

Stardew Valley screenshot

‘Stardew Valley’ is in the podcast companion games hall of fame, for sure.
Credit: ConcernedApe / Steam

I am not unique in this regard. The term “podcast game” regularly gets thrown around in my gaming group chat. Combining podcasts and games saves time, it’s relaxing and, besides, you can only hear Skyrim guards quip about taking arrows to the knee so many times before you’re ready to feed your brain something else.

For me, however, a big reason why I keep doubling up on art forms is that it feels productive. It’s not to say that either podcasts or games are wastes of time, but rather that this method of “double fisting” is the only way I can attend to both hobbies in a timely fashion.

I think most people would agree that adult life could be viewed as a series of boring things you hate to do that exist purely to get in the way of doing the things you like to do. Apartment and job hunting, staying on hold for hours with your bank (only to not solve anything), grocery shopping, and waiting at the DMV are just a few examples of the things that take up our precious time. It’s a sick cosmic joke that work, the biggest time-thief of all, is necessary to fund a gaming habit in the first place.

So, in a way, combining gaming with podcasts is more of a necessity than a hobby. It’s a compromise, sure, but it’s one of the only ways I can subvert the demands of the world around me. 

At least, that’s how I justify the fact that I spent 300 hours playing Mario Kart 8 when I could’ve been learning a new language or finding love, or something.





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