I cried. Six times I cried, plus a sniffle (but that doesn’t count).
Why do we play video games if not to feel some sort of emotional high; be it the exuberance of toiling away at a series of frustrating platforming in Super Mario World only to finally gauge the correct timing, or to struggle with a seemingly simple dialogue choice in Mass Effect with far reaching consequences that makes us question our own morality – and not just regarding a video game?
Does something as mindless as earning a kill streak in Call of Duty preclude it from entering that ubiquitous realm of what “gamers” ask for in a gratifying video game experience, or ostensibly can the raw emotion of pure achievement circumvent those vague, ever-changing notions of why we play video games? And besides, since when did my values become concurrent with yours, or his?
Shouldn’t games be sincerely personal even if experienced with several friends or hundreds of people online? This brings me back to my original inquiry: why do we play games? Well, I can only tell you why I play video games, because I suppose it’s different for everyone else…as it should be.
I play video games because Mass Effect 3 made me cry six times. Plus a sniffle (or two).
So much has changed since the first video game Spacewar (or Pong, if you feel inclined), but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the anticipation for success and the wide range of emotions in between booting up a game and the closing credits. For a long period of time little muddled the journey between start and finish except pure gameplay. Nowadays we have stories, dialogue, multiplayer, modding and a myriad of elements that can be seen as something to either add to the gameplay, or takeaway. This type of thinking is backwards, however, because sometimes it can be the other way around where the story takes center stage and a lack of polish can hind the otherwise engrossing story.
So herein lies the crux of the issue: does story in games take away from the overall product, or does a strict focus on the fundamental mechanics of the game result in a product that feels archaic and incomplete? Santa Monica Studios cofounder David Jaffe expressed his dissatisfaction with the growing importance of storytelling in games and how it ultimately takes away from what should always be the most prominent feature: gameplay.
I do not believe Jaffe was discrediting the idea of stories in games, that would be absurd; but what I feel he was trying to convey is that a retail game in today’s market with the same values as, say a Mario title, is generally financial suicide. For instance, I cannot say how well Rayman Origins sold. What I can tell you is I didn’t think $60 for a platformer was reasonable, and so I waited. I waited until the price dropped to around $25 and bought a new copy and raced home. This wasn’t a game I saw in GameStop and thought, “That looks cool, let’s give it a try.” This was a game I had been excited about for months. As it turned out, after playing it, the game is without a doubt worth the initial price. Sadly, I suspect many approached this title – which had a foundation of multiple games – the same way I did. At the opposite end of the spectrum are games focused on story. Earlier I wrote a review of Papo & Yo and how the story – the experience – superseded any inherent gameplay flaws or technical shortcomings; both Rayman and Papo offered a different set of feelings, so which one is correct? The simple answer, which is hard to explain, is that neither is correct.
At its core, just as it was with Spacewar, gaming is all about experiencing emotion. Originally it was as simple as joy in controlling something on a computer monitor. Nothing has changed except how complex video games have grown and how entitled some gamers have become. If a video game makes you happy, be it through intelligent level design or witty dialogue, that is all the reasoning one needs to justify playing it.
Why do I play video games? Not because I need to escape from the world, but to delve into one. I want to feel the rush of finally beating a level in Super Meat boy, and to laugh at the hysterical amount of times I died on the same saw. I play to reflect upon themes in Deus Ex and how applicable they are. Sometimes I play a game because I’ve had a crappy day and I do want to escape.
I play video games because they offer up an endless amount of emotions to experience, to make me somehow feel more alive than I might otherwise have. I play video games because they are fun.
Why do you play video games?
Anthony is an up and coming writer, he loves games that provide a deeper meaning. You can follow his daily life on Twitter @McScroggz, keep up with his shenanigans on Facebook and all his latest gaming and writing blogs on MyIGN