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Like many game enthusiasts, I peruse dozens if not hundreds of news stories and forum posts a day. Anything that catches my eye or seems important in some manner gets read. The most important ones get bookmarked to go back and look at later. Every once in awhile, one of them makes me want to do a post of my own. Today, I read one of these posts.
It was a forum post on Giant Bomb and it discussed the repetitive nature of video games and the author’s complete inability (his words) to understand why we keep making and playing the same games over and over again. After I read it, I asked myself: why do you play games? I took a long, hard look at my reasons and this is what I came up with.
I like to play games with an interesting world. From the lush, sprawling expanse of Cyrodil to the desolate insanity of Pandora, game worlds can be a very different reality from our own. These worlds spring up entirely in the minds of their developers, writing out the history and designing every little nook and cranny for players to explore. Dystopian futures. Unbelievable fantasy worlds. A Japanese high school. These are worlds that I would never get to experience (at least, I certainly think not) but am at least able to get a glimpse of through video games.
When those worlds come with interesting storylines, I am even more pleased. Story in video games is admittedly still trying to find its way, trying to branch out from the standard “you’re an unstoppable badass who needs to save the world” mold. Giving players choices that actually have meaning in the story is a lot of work but I feel it is the next big step needed in storytelling. Even still, I have so much more investment in a story that I’ve taken a part in.
What good story would be complete without great characters? Video game characters are some of the most diverse and ludicrous characters I have ever seen. Where else would you get to meet characters like Mordin from Mass Effect 2, a singing alien who must come to terms with a nearly disgusting moral choice? An alien that also kicks ass and you get to fight alongside? Guiding a character to the destiny they have waiting for them, even if that destiny is defined outright by the developer, feels leaps and bounds better than simply watching them or reading them do it.
Another area where I feel video games shine is in their artistic merits. Movies and television shows can try to create a brand new world but the reality is always visible. There are literally no limits to what a world could look in a video game. Impossibly large insects or alien races that don’t look at all humanoid (as many in television and movies do) can be created with a bit of imagination and effort. Breathtaking landscapes can be crafted just for the purpose of making the player stop and appreciate it.
Also worth mentioning are the different art styles a game can incorporate, from the paint-brushed style of Street Fighter IV to the cel-shaded beauty of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Our reality is unchangeable; it will always look the way it does. As long as video game creators still have that spark of creativity in them, video games will always have the potential to look more interesting.
Music in video games has resonated with me more than music in any other medium. Whether it’s due to the emotional impact of the music paired with the particular moment in the game or the endless repetition of certain tracks burning them into my brain, some video game tracks are permanently locked away in some crevasse of my brain, ready to creep out at any moment. To Zanarkand is quite possibly the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard and I somtimes come close to tears with just how beautiful it is, something I've never felt about any other piece of music.
How about the incentives? Leveling up, shiny new pieces of loot, or getting to the end of the game are all examples of incentives that video game developers use to make me endlessly addicted. I know I’m addicted but I don’t care; I just want the next piece of loot or one more level. Incentives in video games hit a pleasure zone in my brain unlike anything else. Leveling systems in particular are particularly tantalizing to me; when it’s done right, I’m right onboard.
Here it is. A few of the reasons I play games. Well, probably all of them. I hope this has been as interesting for you as it has been for me and I ask you to do what I did. Think about why you play games, especially if they’ve been getting you down lately (something I recently went through myself). Realizing why you play games can help you choose to give up and move to a medium without so much repetition (good luck). Me? I’m not stopping anytime soon.