When you pick up a video game, what type of entertainment are you looking for? What is the element that usually draws you in the most? Do you play for the story? Do you play to be challenged? Do you play to pwn n00bz? It seems that we all seek different sort of gratification from the video game medium.
This conversation started when I mentioned the “innovative” game play in Prince of Persia. Why is it innovative? Shamus probably explain this much better in his video:
Reset Button: Most Innovative Videogame of 2008 by Shamus Young
Prince of Persia is innovative because it removes character death from the equation. It’s simply impossible to die in the game. Each time you botch a jump, your sidekick will rescue you and drop you back on the ledge you fell from. Every time, an opponent knocks you out he regenerates some health but you get to stand up, and try again. I haven’t actually play this game yet, but to me that sounds like a grand idea. I can’t tell you how many times I gave up on a game or turned to cheat codes because it was just to frustrating to continue. The truth is that I do not play video games to be challenged. While I enjoy a reasonable challenge, I am ultimately more interested in the unfolding story. When I’m playing a FPS game I want to feel like a bad-ass action hero and do hero like stuff. I don’t want to play memory based puzzle game that forces me to memorize the position of every enemy and trap, and then perform a complex set of maneuvers with flawless timing. That doesn’t sound like fun to me at all. I require a steady stream of new stimuli to retain my attention and keep me going. Repetition bores me to death, and thus I find games built around the DIAS game play model to be needlessly frustrating and boring.
I really get no enjoyment from “mastering” a level or learning how to flawlessly clear some area. I get more of a kick out of beating my enemies by flying by the seat of my pants, and improvising on the fly. If I die, I slightly adjust my strategy and try again. If I die 50 times in a row making only minimal progress in each iteration, I’m hitting up the internet for cheat codes or quitting the game. So a death free game sounds like a great idea to me.
My brother on the other hand is totally opposite. He seems to get off on challenge, and when he heard about Prince of Persia gameplay he could not believe someone would actually pay to play that game. He was surprised and appalled that someone would take out the all the “fun and challenge” out of a game only to “cash in on the casual gaming hype”. This is a strikingly different approach from mine, and I’m actually amazed that we actually like a lot of the same games.
He is more of an RTS person though. Just the other day I saw him re-play the exact same skirmish battle in Medieval Total War over and over again. When I asked him about it, he explained that he tries to learn good strategies against the Mongol horde. So he would sit there and play skirmish after skirmish just to brush up his tactical skills. And it’s not like he was stuck, and needed this training to proceed in the story mode. He admitted that his armies were winning most of their battles but with considerable casualties. He was just trying to discover a the best way to mercilessly pwn the computer with minimal losses. He would invest time and effort in training his skill and work his way through all these scenarios slowly ramping up the difficulty along the way. Why? Because he was getting a kick out of overcoming the challenge. It was not about winning – it was about the way he won, and the road that led him there.
I found this interesting because you would never catch me doing something like this. This actually sounds like work, and a major time investment. I have precious little time to allot for my video game hobby. I want to be able to fire up the game play for two hours and actually make some progress. I don’t want to spend days training and mastering new techniques. I want just enough challenge to keep things exciting, but not enough to actually force me to stop completing quests and achieving objectives. I want to experience the story.
I want to be Gordon Freeman and pretend I’m actually having conversations with Alyx and that I actually understand what the hell is going on in the Half Life universe. I love games like Morrowind and Oblivion which allow me to play my own, morally ambiguous, demented character and write my own stories. I like to sneak into a cavern full of bandits wearing Fin Gleam helmet (permanent night eye) and kill them off one by one by sniping at them from a distance with my magical bow not because the combat element is particularly fun an exciting. I like it because of the story I’m creating there – I’m a magically powered assassin hiding in the shadows, killing without ever being seen.
Most people I talked too enjoyed the original FarCry. I played it on an off for a while because initially it was fun in small doses. I never finished it though because it just kept increasing the difficulty, while using a rather unforgiving checkpoint based save system. Not only that, but it also featured a character I completely did not relate to. I just didn’t like him and I could not buy into the idea of one dude slowly exterminating hordes upon hordes of of trained soldiers and mutated monsters.
I love playing Gordon Freeman because he is a fucking MIT PHD! Not only that, he has no personality to speak off – his personality is mine to define as I’m playing the game. Is Gordon a stuck up jerk? Is he a genuinely nice guy? Is he soft spoken guy, or a brash loudmouth? Does he sound like a PHD – expressing himself in precise scientific manner, or is he blurting out cliche one liners every time he shoots a guy? Does he use the HEV Suit binoculars to zoom in on Alyx’s ass? I think I enjoy imagining my personalized version of Gordon Freeman interacting with the game world in his own quirky way much more than actually paying the pitched battles. When I actually like the characters, I find it easier to suspend my disbelief.
My favorite HL2 moments are the emotionally charged scripted events. I found the huge battle with the Strides at the end of Episode Two inexplicably boring. On the other hand scene in which you fight with the hunters for the first time was the sheer moment of awesomeness. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s when you and Alyx are stuck in a building and you can hear and see the damn things rampaging outside. As you duck for cover behind crates and tables and Alyx tells you she is scared. IMHO it was one of the most memorable video game moments ever.
My brother thinks that if I’m into the plot and story so much, I should just stick to movies. But that is not the point here, is it? Movies are by their very nature not interactive. What I enjoy in a game is the ability to influence plot. I like games that stimulate my imagination and provide immersive experience. This is why can completely lose myself in open-ended sandbox games such as Oblivion and Morrowind but don’t particularly care for the GTA series. Oblivion has a difficulty slider I can move at any time to adjust the game to my needs and lets me create the type of character I can identify with. GTA games are needlessly difficult, usually force me to play some unlikeable thug, and make an excessive use of the DIAS game play mechanic. To this day I have never fully unlocked any of the GTA cities – the games are just too frustrating.
For me, the challenge in a video game is an optional component. It just something that makes the action more exciting – a sense of danger applied during particularly shocking plot twists adds another dimension to the experience. It is a means to an end. However when it is used as an end in and of itself, it becomes pointless and boring to me.
What do you enjoy in video games the most? Do you get a kick out of overcoming difficult challenges like my brother? Or do you enjoy participating in, and creating interactive stories? Do you enjoy immersion? Do you like PVP? Let me know in the comments.