I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about the specific games I enjoy, and also the ones I don’t. What separates the ones that fill dozens of hours of my time, compared to the ones I pick up for a few hours before bouncing right off?
Games aren’t cheap, and I personally do a lot of research before taking the plunge. However, sometimes a brilliantly reviewed game that feels like it should be for me just doesn’t click, and I truly find that frustrating. This is more than made up for, of course, when something does grab me. When I get that feeling that this game and I will spend hours together, either through playing or through a game sticking in my mind long after it’s done.
In a vain attempt to increase the frequency of the latter, and stop the former, I have thus begun to think a lot more about why I, specifically, like gaming.
Reasons I Game
The gaming series that I love have one thing in common: they effectively build a world that I want to get to know better. This can be either in one game or through a series. I love exploring a world or universe and then finding out more about it through articles, blogs and videos.
There are some games that I should hate on paper that get the world building so right that they hook me in. For example, Resident Evil shouldn’t be my cup of tea, I’m a proper wimp, but learning about the different lore has kept me hooked on the series for years. My favourite aspects of the original game aren’t the mid-air dog-shooting (though that is fun), but instead the notes and books left behind by the long (kind-of) deceased mansion inhabitants.
The Legend of Zelda series manages to nail this, too. Each game not only links up, but also creates their own lore and history within each version of Hyrule. I still remember the excitement of traveling beneath the ocean in Wind Waker, and discovering the origins of the Wind Fish in Link Awakens.
These worlds can be ridiculous, cheesy and nonsensical. But that doesn’t matter, the game has left me with something to think about and debate long after the credits have rolled.
Now I’m pretty pants at games, but I do love the sense of completion that finishing a game can give. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much a “normal” gamer – I can capably play very few games on the harder settings. But that doesn’t matter too much to me – what matters is that I have overcome a reasonable challenge. I have faced the adversaries of my avatar, and I have defeated them just as they have.
Whether it was seeing off the megalithic final boss in the recent Doom Eternal, or finally beating Cradle in Goldeneye as a 10-year-old, few feelings match the sense of achievement of watching the credits roll.
With that being said, I want a game to challenge me to an extent, but I bounce off games that don’t get that difficulty level right very easily. Feel impossible, or have bizarre difficulty spikes, and I’m liable to give up (more on that later). Equally, be too easy or don’t offer any kind of resistance, and I will become bored and wander off. Essentially, when I game, I’m not too different from an impatient toddler.
Challenge and exploration are lovely and semi-quantifiable, but wonder is just as important and so much harder to pin down. Journey gave me a truly unique experience, essentially taking me on a magical mountain hike. The SteamWorld series, which I have already written about, is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Mario + Rabbids introduced me to turn based shooters and a bazooka wielding Princess Peach.
Where these fit in is I want games to show me something I’ve never experience before. These are the antithesis to the identikit tower-climbing, spec-levelling open worlds that plague so many games. I love games that give me something nothing else can, whether it’s an example of a genre I don’t usually play or a setting so left-field I have to be dragged in. I want to walk away from a game knowing that I’ll never play something truly like that again.
I know I just insulted “spec-levelling” around five sentences ago. But hey, I’m a hypocrite.
A game with a perfectly managed loop gets me every time. I want the risk then reward, and the hit of serotonin that follows it. I want to physically see my character getting more skilled, having a new shiny thing or holding a bigger gun than they did 10 minutes ago. It’s pathetic, I know. But the loop is a fundamental part of gaming.
Whether it’s Celeste’s infectious challenge, solution, execution combo or the more bread-and-butter Doom suit upgrades I love the feeling of progression. The cheap thrill of knowing you have advanced just that little bit further towards completion. It makes no time feel wasted, and can justify the smallest of gaming stints.
These are some of the base reasons I shell out on expensive whirry boxes every eight years. But there are also some reasons, so key to why others play, which don’t do anything for me at all…
Things I Don’t Play Games For
I play games explicitly to get away from the real world and to get lost in others. I don’t play games to get to know strangers, or even spend time with my friends. I may dabble in the occasional Mario Kart or FIFA session, but these are few and far between. Forming a team, overcoming obstacles together, pulling off that “perfect move” does not interest me in the slightest. Games that are revered but designed to be played with friends will pass me by completely.
I have never touched Overwatch (though the lore looks right up my street), and don’t go near League of Legends. I want to escape from the world, not embrace it further. I love the odd evening of pizza and couch co-op, but online gaming has largely passed me by.
Underpinning why I game I have one simple sentiment – I want to enjoy myself. Games are my safe space, my relaxation, my hobby. I don’t want to feel bad and I don’t want to play the same 15 minutes repeatedly until I somehow get through to the next 15-minute segment.
I am, of course, talking about the “Souls” genre.
On paper I can definitely understand the appeal. I wrote about challenge earlier, and completing these must feel like that times a million. Call me what you like, impatient, inept or just plain lazy. Fine, but on the cost-reward ratio of gaming, Dark Souls and all its frustrating offspring slips just to the wrong side for my personal preferences.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story. My very first point, about being pulled into a world, usually needs a gripping story to do that initial pull. But what I don’t want is just a story. I have films, books and life for that. I want something that feels good to play as well, and if that tells me an enthralling story while being fun then great.
Two of the games considered the greatest of all time are, for this reason, partially lost on me. The Last of Us has an astounding story, and I am excited to see that world as a TV series. What I wasn’t excited about was playing clunky stealth sections, and trying to get some unresponsive controls to angle a brick for the umpteenth time.
Similarly, Red Dead Redemption 2 had a gorgeous open world, and a Shakespearean style character study in Dutch. What it also had was repetitive mission design and third person cover shooting from the early 2010s.
These stories, and these worlds, were incredible. Sadly, for me, the games that surrounded them weren’t.
So…Why Do I Game?
Well, I hope this article has made you think a little about why you game. Unfortunately, despite the above ramblings, I remain as confused as ever. Don’t get me wrong, the above is true, but fails dismally as soon as you put it to the test. I recently bounced off Astral Chain, which had a world and story I should have been dragged into. I fell in love with Celeste, whose repeated punishment should have made me put down the controller for good. Mario Odyssey proved no real challenge, but I still sunk over 50 hours into it.
What I guess I’m saying is there is another, undefinable, character. A certain, and literal, je ne sais quois. I am referring to the magic that just grabs you, that can’t be quantified no matter how hard my analytical brain tries. The real reason I, and I guess a host of others, game.
Oh well, looks like I’ll be wasting money for some years to come. But if that leads to me to another Breath of the Wild, or another SteamWorld Quest, then it’s a small price to pay for that magic.