Sunday, October 16, 2011

Variety is the Spice of Video Games

As a gamer, I have amassed many different gamer friends over the years with many varied tastes.  One of my favorite things about video games as a medium is that a massive audience can enjoy titles for their own personal reasons, but still come together for it.  And that could not be any more true than it is right now.  I've said it dozens of times, but video games have never been any better than they are today.  Developers are always doing new interesting things with original concepts that play off the conventions of what we've established as an industry thus far.  This is why I write today with a message for some of you out there today—go try to play as many new and different video games as you possibly can.

Within my own experience with other people, I periodically come across some who absolutely refuse to even try some types of games.  Most commonly, it’s first person shooters and most often it’s gamers who align themselves with the house of Nintendo (I mean no offense or bias, I was once one of you too).  Usually the major complaints I hear are that they can’t get used to the controls, they aren’t fans of “hyper-violence,” or that they just aren’t good at them.  Sometimes these complaints are valid, but usually they’re just excuses for beating around the bush of trying something new.  First person shooters are mainly a recent invention (in the world of console games), and for the most part, if you didn’t jump on that train early on, you probably aren’t playing them now.  The same thing goes for other genres that have only just started to blow up in the past decade or so—role-playing games, strategy games, rhythm games, and fighting games just to name a few.  For newcomers, sticking to the most popular games may prove daunting and unappealing.  After all, who actually enjoys failing any Guitar Hero song they try or getting beaten in 15 seconds in Marvel vs Capcom 2?  But for every mainstream game like that you can name off the top your head, I can name two in the same genre that have a much lower entry barrier.  But for now, let’s stick to shooters as an example.

Alright, so you tried to play Halo and you didn’t like it.  At all.  That doesn’t mean you hate all shooters.  Before I started playing more modern games on the PS3 and PC, I was the exact same way.  I abhorred the rubber-banding gameplay of Halo, it was more sport than game at a time when I wanted more game than sport.  I was convinced I didn’t like shooters at all.  Then I discovered Star Wars Battlefront, a game I immediately fell in love with.  It was a spinoff of the popular Battlefront node-based shooter that used the famous battles of Star Wars canon as setpieces for the game.  It  was a third person shooter, but also offered a first person option, which I eventually tried out of curiosity.  I was amazed to discover that I still enjoyed the game this way, perhaps even moreso.  It was more intuitive and immersive, a potential benefit of many FPSes (but not all!).  Eventually, more shooters made their way into my life like TimeSplitters and the Metroid Prime games.  It wasn’t until I picked up a PS3 that I learned that while FPSes were some of the most major and interesting games out there right now.  Every time I hear someone complain about the state of first person shooters in the world of modern gaming and how contrived they are, the first place I direct them is towards the games of Valve.  Portal 2 takes our prior conditioning with FPSes as a basis for the control of the game, but the focus is so strong on character and narrative with absolutely none on gameplay that one is tempted to claim it isn’t a first person shooter… but it is!  Valve has a strong focus on design and narrative rather than the adrenaline fueled rush that comes from virtual gunplay.  It makes for emotionally rewarding moments that are up there with the most memorable from games like the Zelda franchise.

Now, there’s no point in trying to play a game that you have zero interest in—I hated the original Uncharted from start to finish.  But always keep an open mind and be willing to try a game that does something well or different—Uncharted 2 is one of the finest action-adventure games I’ve ever played, and appealed to me much more.  In general, games are in the starting stages of some of the most defining stages of becoming an artform.  There’s nothing wrong with buying the games you like to play and those games aren’t holding back the industry at all.  But by shunning away games that choose to dare to even try something new just because of pre-conceived notions, you may be missing out on a good time.  Sports games have absolutely no appeal to me, so it comes as a surprise to people that I love NBA Jam with a burning passion.  And I would’ve never discovered that if I didn’t give it a shot regardless of how I felt about games revolving around throwing a ball back and forth.

You might always have an excuse to avoid playing a game, but there is almost never an excuse for turning down a worthwhile new experience.  Video games have never been any better than they are today, and that’s solely due to the sheer amount of variety they now offer.

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