My favorite thing to do in a game is to explore new places and cultures.
It's the same with books and movies — apart from getting to know new characters, and watching a plot unfold, I love getting used to unfamiliar customs.
I just finished reading The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It tells a grandiose first-contact story in which a future society, far-diverged from our own, discovers intelligent aliens for the first time. Reading the book, I got to learn about mankind's current (ie. future) civilization, their past (ie. slightly less far-flung future), and an entirely new species' culture and history.
Reading this book, I couldn't help but compare it to Mass Effect. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if writer Drew Karpyshyn had read the sci-fi epic. Mass Effect is, for me, more about meeting new, wonderful, and repulsive alien peoples than about shooting them. My favorite moment in Mass Effect 2 was finally meeting the quarian Migrant Fleet — they are, by their reclusive nature, mysterious and alluring.
TV series The Wire was set in the real world, but its people were all alien to me. I got to know police, gangsters, dock workers, teachers, and news reporters. The story of who's shooting who wasn't as engaging as getting to know the different worlds of Baltimore.
Grand Theft Auto 4's Lost and Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony episodes did the same thing as a new Wire series — shifted the focus to another variety of life in the big city, letting me see how somebody else lives.
This is why I'm bored of modern military settings. I've had all the Oscar Mikes, tangos, and ten-fours I need. I'm used to American World War II soldiers too. The Korea to Vietnam period could do with some exploration, but I doubt it'd take too long to get old.
Nevertheless, I understand the appeal of setting your first-person shooter during a military conflict.
So here's my proposal — let me join a different army. I could fight in the Mexican Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, or one of the many African conflicts of the last century. I know almost nothing about these wars, or even these cultures, and a game would be as good a place as any to get to know them.
Even though almost every game I play stars Americans, and Call of Duty sales are as strong as ever, I don't believe gamers are closed-minded enough to automatically dismiss something because it's unfamiliar. Hell, even if five of the six most popular XBLA games are remakes, the most popular one this summer was Limbo. We're comfortable with the familiar, but the weird will always be enticing.
Maybe it's a morbid thought, but which wars do you want to experience in games? Which cultures do you wish game developers would explore more of? Share your ideas in the comments.