Why I Play Video Games

There’s a recent article on Vulture examining why some (particularly grown-up adults) choose to spend so much of their free moments playing video games.

As much a past-time as reading, watching tv, or sports, playing video games has always had a negative stigma. That it wasn’t as worthy of our time and effort as the other recreational activities. I assume because it’s thought to be more for kids. Although I can’t fathom then why so many have no issue obsessing over sports… and not even playing but watching sports.

The article tries to justify gaming through several angles… some people make money broadcasting on YouTube! Or it’s a way to experience a world that has rules and goals unlike real life!

But the author (while a self-described gamer) doesn’t seem to fully buy into any rationale. Even stating that writing for a video game is an inferior artform to literary writing.

Of that, I totally disagree. Just because examples of stellar video game writing are far more scarce than books or poetry or whatnot, doesn’t mean it’s not capable of achieving the same heights.

Take The Last of Us. I can’t recall too many novels that caused me to swim in such a deep well of emotions by the end. I put down my controller at the end credits and felt a mixture of awe and devastation for characters that I had come to connect with more than most fictional characters

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We also tend to forget that video games are a relatively new medium compared to other forms of artistic expression. Music and writing are about as old as human existence. Television has even been around for almost a century.

Video games, starting off severely limited by technology, have only really recently begun to venture into the waters of art and storytelling. More complex stories, professional voice (and mo-cap) actors, and music conductors, are all becoming as vital to video game production as the level designers and programmers.

Back to my own gaming journey, I spent a hefty amount of my childhood playing NES and SNES games, only to fall off around college, thinking that yes, indeed video games are just for kids.

I missed entire generations of consoles such as the N64, Gamecube, Playstation 1, and Playstation 2.

I finally found my way back after being intrigued by the concept of the Mass Effect trilogy. That there’s a series of games that allows you to craft your main character, to make decisions that have actual effects in not just the game you’re playing but subsequent games too. That video games were now much more epic and cinematic than when I was running around on 8-bit and 16-bit levels.

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Even now, I have friends and girlfriends who look at me a bit sideways when I reveal that I spend a significant amount of my time gaming. It’s still viewed as a waste of time. Especially at an age and time where so many other things should take priority.

My simplest explanation basically breaks down to how video games are much less passive than watching tv or movies. And video games are as immersive as books, but have visual stimulation as well.

Being able to control a character, guiding them through a story or a puzzle or a battle, allows me to have agency and investment.

I won’t deny the sense of satisfaction when beating a tough boss enemy or solving a puzzle obstacle or the pleasure of killing an obnoxious online player. But that’s not what keeps drawing me into gaming. There has to be a story. There has to be character. There has to be emotion.

Recently on the way in to work, Life is Strange‘s main theme came up in my phone’s shuffle mode and I had a flood of feelings hit me. I felt a sense of missing Max and Chloe and their heart-warming, heart-breaking journey.

This is a grown-ass man going to an office, fighting back emotions for a video game about two teenaged girls.

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Now, I know that people play video games for different reasons. I’m all about the story. But I recently found out that my cousin only likes to play online shooters and skips any cinematic just to get to the action. I found that mindset completely baffling. But to each his own.

Personally, I don’t play games for profit, popularity, or even as an escape from my real life.

I just like that as a form of entertainment. Like going to see a film or listening to music. Video games have just as much value to me as any of those.

Hopefully soon, there will be less stigma whenever I admit to someone that I like to game. I’ve definitely had the urge to sit people down in front of a game to show them that things have progressed very far from Super Mario Bros.

Here are some of my go-to games to express the potential of the medium:

The Last of Us
No brainer. The prologue might play a little too long for some people’s patience but it’s a hell of a display of the power of interactive story-telling.

Journey
A very different type of experience. Most people are caught off guard by how restrained it is. Usually, games come off as loud amusement parks. This game is more like a monastery.

Limbo
This one tends to be a bit easier transition for people since most are at least familiar with side-scrollers. But the art direction and the stellar adherence to minimalism is always impressive.

Life is Strange
As mentioned above, this game really gets its hooks in you emotionally. It’s a bit of a tough sell though since it takes a good amount of time before the appeal kicks in.

The Walking Dead
I’ve come to love/hate Telltale games but this is a good one to introduce to people due to the popularity of the show. Plus it does a good job of retaining the show’s brutal no-win scenarios but puts decisions in the player’s hands.

Until Dawn
A great one to pull out for a group gathering around Halloween. The impressive visuals and the Scream-like setup is another good example to people of how games can be just as engrossing as a movie.

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Let’s Tour New York City in The Division!

So I got inspired to do a tour of Manhattan in The Division after watching some guys who live in San Francisco play a beta of Watchdogs 2 where they roamed around and talked about all the places that were real or weren’t real.

I thought I’d do sort of the same approach with The Division since one of the biggest draws (and subsequent disappointments) was how accurately they depicted New York City (or at least the one borough).

I found it fun to do, but hopefully you guys don’t think it’s pointless and boring.

What I’d Want in a Remastered Mass Effect Trilogy

There’s more and more chatter about EA finally relenting and considering a remastered Mass Effect trilogy for current gen consoles!

A lot of gamers complain that there are too many remasters and not enough originals, which yeah I can agree with, but Mass Effect is one that I’d gladly and without hesitation grab on day one.

Of course, we have no idea what a remaster would actually entail at this point, but why don’t we do some wild speculation! Now, I’m not proposing radical changes to the story, like “FIX THE ENDING!! IT SUXXX!!!!” I have my issues with the conclusion but I don’t believe Bioware is ever going to change anything so a remaster would almost exclusively be cosmetic.

Here are the things that I’d want in my Mass Effect Trilogy Remastered…

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HD graphics and textures.

This seems the most obvious and achievable. I’ve read that Bioware had all the elements at higher quality resolutions but had to downgrade to fit the last gen console requirements. Obviously that’s not a problem anymore and you wouldn’t expect a remaster without a nice new coat of paint anyway.

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All DLC content

Another easy one knock off. Most remastered game do this already so it’d be out of the norm if Bioware didn’t bundle all the extras here. Some of the content was hit or miss, but DLC such as “Lair of the Shadow Broker” and “Citadel” are some of the best moments in the entire trilogy. I’d be pretty peeved if I didn’t get to play those again in a remaster.

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Adapting ME3‘s shooting mechanics and inventory system into the whole trilogy

This might be a lot of work to achieve. Mass Effect 1 barely qualifies as a shooter and could desperately use better gameplay. But it might open up a hornet’s nest such as having to reconsider all the battle encounter stages (to include cover areas) and major changes to enemy AI. Mass Effect 2 was a huge step in the right direction and probably wouldn’t need more than a few tweaks.

That said, I believe the Uncharted Trilogy lifted Uncharted 3‘s shooting mechanics and made them universal to the rest of the games. So it’s not unheard of to do.

The inventory system is Mass Effect 1 is also a mess. It’s probably the biggest thing that keeps me from booting up my Xbox 360 and playing it again. Something would HAVE to be done about it. Seriously. I have nightmares about it.

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Better Shepard customization

One of the things that makes me most jealous about PC gaming is the modding. The custom characters that PC gamers are able to create are gorgeous, making the ones that console gamers have to settle for look ugly and downright weird looking.

If amateur modders can make better facial features and create a wider variety of hair options, why can’t the developers? Modders proved it can be done, relatively easily. Some people simply lifted Ashley’s long hair and placed it onto FemShep with no problem. Call me superficial but I want a better looking Shepard!

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Those are my requests. Again, not looking to “fix” plot issues or make big (if any) changes to any story elements. But these things seem like reasonable, doable features that would make me salivate over jumping back into that world.

Let me know what features you’d like to see!

Most Anticipated Upcoming Games

Final Fantasy XV (Sept 30, 2016)

I was a die-hard fan back in the days of IV, VI and VII but have fallen off the wagon since. I bought XIII but was less than impressed.

I haven’t kept up with every detail about this game so will probably wait for the reviews to come in before committing to this one. But I’m hoping SquareEnix can recapture the magic.

 

Persona 5 (Feb 14, 2017)

I actually haven’t played any previous Persona game (and am still debating over whether or not to buy a Vita just to play P4) but everything I’ve seen of Persona 5 looks like it will be amazing.

The anime aspect, the Tokyo setting, and the bold design style are piquing my interest big time.

I got to play Catherine on last-gen and thought it was a great mix of puzzle platformer and character-heavy story.

 

Mass Effect Andromeda (March 2017)

Easily my most anticipated game.

The Mass Effect trilogy was the highlight of my Xbox 360 gaming experience. I played the crap out of those games multiple times.

The games had major flaws and plotholes, but the Star Wars-esque setting and the interesting characters are what kept me coming back for more.

I’m hoping for more of the same in Andromeda.

 

Other games that I’ll probably end up checking out:

The Last Guardian, just to see what the hype is all about
Watchdogs 2, initially excited about the first one but reality of it kept me from even playing it
Rise of the Tomb Raider, my enthusiasm dulled after having waited so long for it to show up on the PS4

What do you guys think?

Also, I want to do a Let’s Play soon but most of these games on my list are RPGs which aren’t exactly conducive to focused recorded gameplay. I’m thinking I’ll try recording a couple of episodes of Persona 5 and see how it goes. But I’m open to anyone’s opinions.