Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Playing Games Simply for the experience

I've been gaming now for about 2 1/2 decades. Admittedly though, the amount of time that I invest in gaming has greatly decreased over recent years. I still am, however, fascinated by even the concept of video games, so I’ve never stopped paying attention to them. There was a time when I was very accepting of games- all genres, ugly or pretty, the good ones, and even the bad ones. I mean, sure, back then I didn't think that they were bad, but looking back on some of them tells a completely different story. I'm fairly certain that most, if not all of us, have had this experience.

When you're a kid, even the most primitive graphics have the ability to dazzle you. How is that? How is it that our minds at that age can create a wonderland, based on images and experiences that are so simple? I can remember playing Zelda (1 & 2) and being transported to another world. I can remember being completely blown away by Super Mario Bros 1, simply because of the fact that the 2nd level was so visually different from the first. I had never experienced that before. All of the games I had played prior to Mario Bros had levels that were pretty much all identical- Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Kung-fu...  and I'm sure many others that I cannot remember at the moment.

Of course, as you get older, things change. Your tastes develop. Your likes and dislikes tend to be more pronounced, and you become more particular about the things you want to experience. And so, because you are harder to please, the things from which you seek pleasure must now work for you; they must work, like an employee must work. When you were a child, these games didn't need to work. Simply being in their company was enough. Before the days of Nintendo Power, all a game needed to do to get me to want it was have a cool box-art; that was enough. And without fail, I enjoyed every one of those games.

It's funny how gaming can go from something that is done simply because it is a joy, to something that is done mostly because you are addicted. But honestly, as a human being, I don't think it's possible to completely avoid addiction. Addiction seems to be an aberration that has somehow become ubiquitous- a "normal anomaly" if you will. But what is addiction really? I think addiction stems from having a memory of some experience that was so pleasurable that it has forever lodged itself into your brain, and created a marking point, a measuring standard for you to judge pleasure. But that "marking point" is simply a memory, weather conscious or not. And the memory can no longer be the present- but that is exactly what is desired. The need is to relive that peak moment. But now, you're so addicted that even a glimmer of that peak is enough to keep you trying and trying to relive that initial experience. Just the glimmers are keeping you motivated. But since you are no longer enough, and since most games are no longer enough, you demand much more from your games. Those games need to work their asses off to impress you. Things that had you enthralled in years past are now are apt to make you yawn. And after all, these games don't always come as gifts. As you get older, you have to work to get them, so it's only fair that they have to work for you too, right?

It's funny how work has worked =) itself into everything. Gamers often complain that progressing through games often feels like work. So you need to work to get the game, you need to work to get through the game, and the game needs to work to impress you, but not before it has to work to entice you to buy it in the first place! So much work for something that is supposed to be fun! And gamers, in fact, demand games that make them work. Otherwise the game wouldn't be much fun at all! So fun has become confused with work... Work can be fun I suppose. But if they can really be one-and-the-same, how are you able to differentiate what is truly joyful from what is simply a drudgery? The trick, for the developer, is to somehow strike the right balance, through some magical force of nature, so that the 2 (fun and work) become inconsequential, thereby making the player completely forget that they are either working or having fun. And isn’t that what we all really want? To simply forget about everything, and to just be fully engrossed in the experience?

So, is it really fun that you're after? Because as soon as you identify something as fun, you're creating a polarity in your mind. Your brain subconsciously says, ok this is fun, but as opposed to what? As soon as you identify "fun", you are (probably unconsciously) identifying "not fun". This game is fun, as opposed to all of those other shitty games that are vying for your attention. But doesn't the identification of all of those shitty games mar your fun experience?

Anyhow, I may be able to spell these things out, but I still can't manage to fully integrate them. Yes, it's better to be fully engrossed in the experience and completely forget about all concepts of fun or work. But how exactly is that done? Either it's easy for you or it's not. It's easy for a kid, harder for an adult, and nearly impossible for me =). So I now look at games very differently. To a large extent I've let go of the need for my games to be fun. Neither do my games need to be intellectually stimulating *snicker*. All I need, really, is to enjoy the energy of the game, whatever that means. As long as I like the energy and the gameplay is executed reasonably well, I'm ok. And I just play, simply to have the experience; not to have fun, not to work, not even to lose myself. I just play to play…