Thursday, June 25, 2009

Navel Gazing About Video Games


My favourite part of games, I've discovered, are the cut scenes; cut scenes, additional info scenes and personalizing a character. I think this may have something to do with my love of sequential art, comics and animation.

Through fussy toe dipping in the waters of gamedom, I've come to realize that I... don't really want to run around shooting things, slaughtering things, magicking things or collecting stuff to bring to someone else so I can collect more stuff or win a prize. Having written down my thoughts on animation and comics, I think I've figured out that I'm not attracted to gaming at all. I'm attracted to the art.

Which means that when the cut-scenes are over, and the art takes three steps down so the engine can run, I'm left quite, quite cold. Which by the way, explains why I adored Perfect World as the first gaming environment I'd been in where that didn't happen - unfortunately there was still a lot of slaughtering and collecting, no matter the amazing personalization, and I got real bored, real fast. Well, that and attempting to explore the environment and go 'ooh shiny' resulted in me getting the crap killed out of me by mobs four levels above me.

Aside: Who the heck decided to call them mobs anyway? What the heck is wrong with monsters, bad guys, opponents, those freaky looking things? I can't believe I actually picked up that lingo. Where's my vocabulary pride?

Now it's possible that gaming just isn't at the technological level to appeal to me. It's not yet sophisticated imagining plus play. I can't pick a character, have them pick a musical instrument and start wandering around in the virtual world, plying my trade. Or maybe I could, in the SIMS, though I'd probably end up less bard and more rockstar and my avatar would be kind of small, and speak sim-jibberish and yeah - not the Holodeck.

Aside: Clearly Star Trek has warped my mind. I want a Holodeck and I keep demanding a PADD and to hell with that iPod thingy.

But it's not just the art I like. I'm intrigued by the stories. My other unconscious gripe with gaming, I think, is the fact that they aren't books.

They have these glorious set-ups, corrupted world governments/corporations, near or actual apocolypse, colonization in space, the fall of the empire, the rise of the empire - and there's sweeping dramatic music and beautiful architecture and cool looking machines -- *buzzer sound*

And then it's time to go running around collecting things and/or killing things in order to reach the right level, collect the right prize to run around collecting more things and killing more things. And I end up spending time slogging in between cut scenes that finish telling me the story - unless it's Final Fantasy 8. I gave the eff up on that when I got told a sidequest was actually mandatory and I needed to go back. Screw that, said I - and I went online and read the damn walkthrough.

Aside: The coolest things online to do with games are walkthroughs and wikipedia. I can get the whole plot in the five to twenty minutes it takes for me to read.

I'm kind of glad I've figured this out. Because for a while I thought it was some kind of deficient attention span mixed with a hate of having to go through the same thing twice. If I pick a different character I don't actually want to have to go through the same intro, and the same set up and I only have marginally less impatience if it's the same intro and set up thinly disguised by race/class and place.

So for a while I wondered if my attention span only lasted long enough for demos. I can remember slipping into a 36 hour obsession with the Pharaoh Demo and then I bought the game and the shine seemed to wear off after about a week because so much of the game was 'expanded version of the demo'. Of course at the time I didn't realize that. I just thought I was cracked in the head for spending 30 or 40 dollars on a game I got bored with so quickly.

Aside: Right now casual games where I can fall into an almost zen like zone like Match3 etc... (particularly Cradle of Rome. I'm gonna actually buy that some day) seem to fare better. I want more levels in those games because playing doesn't seem like grind.

Of course in the midst of writing this realization and testing out my theory by specifically looking for game trailers and cut scenes, I come across Star Wars: The Old Republic and their promo stuff is claiming actual story development for a MMOG with consequences an cause and effect. And here I blink my eyes, because sure, yeah, if you give me story to tie in why I'm running here and thither and yon, it might make me stick around. But then again, I'm haven't bought GuildWars, despite reccs, because I just don't believe the story will be enough. Now that I know I'm not interested in games for the gaming, I understand that if I'm buying/playing for story, then I won't be happy with shoot/kill/hack/slash with story to the side on a separate plate.

Aside: Leveling. I kind of get it came from D&D and yet... You have to be this level to have this armor which is needed to kill this thing, to get that armor which helps on yonder quest to get that level to... The mechanics bore me. To tears.

I admit I may just have been repeatedly exposed to things with thin/weak story elements. If I didn't know what I wanted, I couldn't very likely be making good purchase/try decisions. And in a D&D game there's character interaction and some story to tie the mechanics together. It's just that hasn't seemed true to me when it comes to MMO or even self contained/single player games. Single player games have felt like books with a lot of slush and drag and effort(on my part) in the middle and MMOG have felt directionless and like one big 'exotic'/ masquerade fight club.

Of course, all these lovely game creation companies aren't going to switch to making movies just to satisfy me - which leaves me to try and hunt down possible tie in books, I guess. I had the idea sometime last year when I was really intrigued by the universe of Hellgate. But I wasn't going to buy the books without some sort of recommendations so I tried my library system - things must have gotten lost and I was too busy to realize the books never showed up.

I still have the wonder if the books will satisfy me or be something only those who play the game will be able to fully appreciate. And was I, am I lucky that Hellgate has books? Do other games with interesting worlds have books? Do they have comic books? Because yes, I love story but the whole reason I end up 'ooh shiny' about a game is the look of the thing, and being awed by details and shadowing and the mechanics of natural or unnatural movement.

Aside: Of course there are universes I would never want to play a demo for, or watch a trailer for, but that would intrigue me book wise. I can handle zombies to read Resident Evil books, if it has books (does it?) because there's a kickass female protagonist. And because it's really easy to put a book down when something disturbs , trying to unsee and image? ...

At least as I try to figure this all out, I can always watch Zero Punctuation & Unskippable.

{Comments Open}


  1. My favorite thing to do these days is lookup youtube videos of cutscenes and game endings for games I never finished. Or reading all the secret stuff from gamefaqs.

    I generally do like games, just once we get past 10-20 hours it's not realistic for me to keep grinding at it.

    Also, have you heard about Nintendo's idea of the walkthrough mode on games?

  2. If you're more a fan of stories and less about the shoot 'em up, I highly recommend the Myst series. The graphics are amazing, the plots are fun and there's not a single thing you need to shoot. The plots open as you being a mysterious person who puts their hand on a book that transports them to a new world. And you basically have to solve various puzzles to solve the plot. (In the following games, you're recognized as the old friend who helped out in the last game.) There are some novels that go further into the background of the game characters. I enjoyed them, though I know of people who didn't.

    Also, while they are shoot 'em up type games, you might want to look into Metroid if you like ass-kicking females. The main character, Samus Aran, is an awesome bounty hunter. The fun bit here is that you play her while she's wearing a large bulky power-suit, so for a while, the game designers didn't tell anyone much about her until a sudden reveal that she's actually a she.

  3. Bankeui:

    Hadn't heard about the Demo Mode at all. I go educate myself now.

    And I nod at your 10-20 hours limit. Mine has varied, especially if I played a demo first. But it still boils down to not enough to hold my interest. I'm hella curious about those who can keep repatively playing. I wonder if it's zen for them.

  4. angel13negra :

    I realized I'd enjoyed Myst after I'd finished it. While playing it, I kept waiting for creepy stuff to happen, or zombies to come jump out at me or something. There were definite overtones of creepy to me.

    I think I own Riven, given as a birthday gift to me, but felt uneasy about the creepiness and didn't load it. I may rectify that very soon.

  5. Well, I see what you mean about the creepy level of Myst. The sons freaked me out too. The sequels have their moments of creepy, but for me, the overall coolness of the worlds and designs they came up with won me over. That and that the games were dependent on me constantly thinking and not just racking up a high enough body count.

    Oh, I loved Riven. That was where they really started stepping up the fun stuff. You interacted a bit more with people in the game and they started stepping up the interaction levels within the game. You're able to click around more and explore just a bit more.

  6. My primary objection to Final Fantasy XII was that they kept interrupting the wonderful movie I was watching by expecting me to play the game, so I understand where you're coming from. (Though, for some reason I can happily level grind for hours in a Dragon Quest game, go figure that.)

  7. I think I have similar feelings to you about games. They have never appealed to me but it's bene quite hard for to put my finger on why, on the surface you'd think I'd like them because I get to play at being a warrior or an archer or somwthing. But you don't really get to be them. You get to play pre-determined moves that revolving around shooting things or finding things and you do it over and over and over and over again.
    I'd rather read a book and get the actual story.

  8. dragovianknight:

    I think that's why I love Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within so hard. I didn't have to slog through any gaming to get the story. And I was identifying with the female lead so hard - Heroine to save the day! Her dreams are key!

    Final Fantasy: Advent Children on the other hand, not only does it start up in media res of some longer plot arc, but the gaming parts are clearly in there; fight scene after fight scene where I could practically see a screen menu.

  9. Saranga:

    You get to play pre-determined moves that revolving around shooting things or finding things and you do it over and over and over and over again.

    I think one thing I got from Zero Punctuation was the realization that it wasn't a case of me being bad at figuring out or giving a damn about finding all the other pre-determined moves - most people likely find the one thing that does the most damage for the least among of effort and use it repeatedly.

    It's logical and wasn't some hazy girly failing on my part. And yeah, even knowing not getting a game has more to do with personality and personal interest and experience - the girly still creeps into my mind.

    I've also caught myself thinking it's 'just girly' to question the game design and wonder what exactly is supposed to be fun after the initial novelty wears off.

    I'm currently wondering if anyone's ever done any research into the fact that women who don't like first shooter games have more anxiety (higher levels) than women who do like them and then polling to see if among the anxious women, how many have had to deal with some kind of attack/inappropriate circumstance. And do men who don't like those kind of games have more anxiety and if so was there violence in their pasts.

    But that gets into my bizarre theory that groups of men who are near violently homophobic to the point of being against visibility or gays being affirmed their rights (which are due all citizens) are really rebelling against living a life of higher anxiety.

    While it's true that being gay won't make a gay male jump another man. I think it's a case of that group of men acknowledging how often they don't take no for an answer and being freaked out at the thought of being on the recieving end of that and further freaked at the thought that if gay men are accepted, then retaliating with violence will be frowned upon and thus gay men will 'get away' with the inappropriateness those hetero men already do to women.

    Homophobia as misogyny - of course phrased that way, I realize now it's likely not a new theory and uhm, kind of far away from navel gazing at gaming, except perhaps tangentially via gaming as male bonding.

  10. Have you tried the Silent Hill series at all? I'm a big fan of them because they have pretty heavily character-driven and psychological aspects to the whole thing, including the gameplay and level design. (They're also creepy as all get out.)

    They're also generally standalone, so you don't necessarily have to play them in order. I recommend trying 2 out, if you haven't. (It does have creepy sexism, but it's specifically there to be creepy and wrong, rather than the casual background stuff in most games. And, of course, the whole thing is pretty weirdly whitewashed. :/ )

  11. Furikku:

    Based on things I've heard about Silent Hill, I'm not sure if it's something I'd want to see and be able to unsee.

    BUT, I have heard lots of good things about the game play. I do not see the word 'grind' popping up with Silent Hill (except maybe for the newer ones - or maybe I'm getting that confused with lack of originality).

    That said, I think it's something I could read a book for as paranormal mystery.

  12. There's a set of comics out on it, but they've pretty awful- straight-up cliche horror stuff, with none of the awesome writing of the games. :/ The movie was all right, but similarly lacking.

    The series kind of peaked at 2; 3 was pretty fun, but most of them after that get a little too wrapped up in the combat thing and not the storytelling (Homecoming in particular was kind of disastrous there).

    I would really love to see more comics with the kind of elegant subtlety and storytelling of the games, but apparently most horror comics people just want to do splatterfest things. :/

  13. furikku:

    The pain of not being average is forever being told 'You're a niche market - and you don't pay well'.