If you are friends with me on Xbox Live you will notice two things. My last name is censored, because my entire family is disgusting, and secondly, if you are online when I am, you’ll see I am playing one of four games: Mass Effect 2, Pinball FX 2, Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012, or Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
One of these games is not like the others (more on that shortly), and I am playing each of them for very specific reasons. Well, not so much Mass Effect 2, which you may be surprised to find that I am enjoying the least. Not that I don’t enjoy it, it’s just that, for lack of a better term, it’s very “video-gamey.”
Of course, the entire industry is based on “video-gamey-ness.” Indeed, other industries, particularly marketing, are adopting some of the key elements of video-game design. As a result, we have the world’s most disgusting word: “gamification.” All this says to me is that many people and corporations are using the mechanics of a hobby that has enthralled millions to alter behaviors of the unsuspecting masses…to buy shit they don’t need or otherwise wouldn’t want, naturally.
OK, so it’s unfair to lump Mass Effect 2 with such terrible ploys, as it is a fine game in its own regard. Indeed, it may (arguably) be the best of this generation. And while the game provides a very complex and complete universe, it is a reality I have very little interest in. So much so that the design elements — main story, loyalty missions, inventory, morality, and relationships, to name a few — appear as constructs of immense artifice. Fortunately, shooting things in the face, and the character progression that results from face shooting, is fun in and of itself, so I am getting through the game. Slowly.
As for Pinball FX 2, it’s pinball. It’s very good pinball. Other than some physically impossible mechanics, it’s true to real pinball. I’m not playing it because it is a video game. Nay, if I could have a dozen tables in my basement, I’d be more apt to play those instead of Pinball FX 2. However, this is impossible due to a variety of reasons, including market supply, cost, space, and a desire for marital harmony; if I want to play pinball, I have to resort to a video game.
Likewise for the cumbersomely titled Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012. I extracted myself from the money pit that is collectible card games back in '96. I had a brief relapse with the Lord of the Rings: CCG during the release of the Peter Jackson films, but I've otherwise kicked the hobby.
That said, I still love collectible card games and always read with envy whenever I catch a mention of them in my other nerdly pursuits. The latest Magic release on XBLA is a fine substitute for the real thing. While it does eliminate the most fun element of Magic — deck building — it also eliminates the worst — spending hundreds of dollars on pretend spells. Much like pinball, this video game is merely a convenient replacement for a real activity I would pursue were the barrier of re-entry not so prohibitive.
Which takes me to Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Like Mass Effect 2, it is very video-gamey. I would assert that I probably enjoy its mechanics equally as much as those in Mass Effect 2. So why am I still playing after I completed it months ago? It certainly isn’t the multiplayer — I have never tried that mode.
What Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood does is this: It lovingly recreates, with some liberties, an ancient world filled with life that could otherwise not be explored except in the depths of our own imaginations. It speaks to my love of archaeology and history — in the latest installment of the franchise, you can explore 16th-century Rome, which is filled with structures that were ancient even then.
All the science fiction, conspiracy theories, and modern-world activities play second fiddle to the game’s recreation of Rome, and I was immensely disappointed with the final level, which apparently took place in Tron.
While I did complete the game, I left many tasks incomplete, and I have returned to the medieval streets simply to explore. This is partly for its own sake and partly to quench my excitement for the upcoming installment.
It has become increasingly apparent that what attracts me to video games are not the video games themselves. It’s not the fantastical worlds, the impossible creatures, nor the far-flung technologies. It’s the medium’s ability to provide experiences based in reality that I cannot otherwise experience due to their respective barriers to entry. Perhaps it is an unintended response to gamification: the realification of video games.
Ugh. Did I just coin a word that’s uglier than gamification?