There’s been a lot of discussion this week about things that make us pick up books, which got me thinking – what makes me pick up a video game? This has been especially relevant to me lately as I’ve been dying to pick up a few new releases that I’d initially been tepid on. So what lures me into a world of pixels?
I’m using this term very loosely to encompass a host of features. In essence, when I log off a game, I want a sense that I accomplished something. In very linear narrative games, that can simply mean I progressed the story forward. But in more open-ended games, that can mean anything from beating a boss to exploring a new area to unlocking a new skill. I love the sense that I went out into the world, I fought and practiced and explored, and now I’m a little bit stronger or I have a little more knowledge. This is why I’m drawn to games like SEKIRO (which I have not played yet but I suspect will be my jam) and HOLLOW KNIGHT (which is VERY MUCH by jam). Even if I don’t beat a boss, I like that feeling of parsing its attacks and movements and feeling like I understand it just a little better. Or if I’ve stumbled around a map for 45 minutes, well now I know what’s in this corner of the world, and I’ve checked some boxes. It’s when I get stuck in the same area with no sense of development that I begin to get frustrated wit a game.
This may seem like an oxymoron, but there is a definite art form to being ridiculous. I delight in games that know they are campy or over-the-top and embrace it. I’m talking about BORDERLANDS, which just throws guns at you with silly names and tongue-in-cheek missions, or DEVIL MAY CRY (another game I want to play) which presents you with a motorcycle you can bash over the head of a demon. Even DARKSIDERS, with weapons as big as a person, has some outlandish flair that leaves me giggling with delight as I pummel bad guys into the ground with a hammer called Van Der Schmash. Sometimes, I just need to turn my brain off and hack away at things.
10 years ago, I lived for the open-ended game, the one that would take me dozens of hours to beat. I scoffed at anything less than 30-40 hours in length. These days, my time is much more limited, and games that I can experience in their entirety in 10-15 hours are a sweet, sweet proposition. I’ve become much more likely to devour UNCHARTED instead of SKYRIM, because it’s a game I can check off and then move on to something new.
Great (Fresh) Story
So when those E3 trailers start coming down the pipeline, I will of course be paying attention to gameplay. But if you aren’t showing me an a world, story, or characters that I’m going to fall in love with, I’m not going to be playing your game. I yawn at news of THE DIVISION or FAR CRY because I’ve seen those games over and over and over. The world has gone bad and there are bad people roaming and you need to go put them down. But HORIZON ZERO DAWN showed me a trailer of robot dinosaurs that you hunted with a bow and arrow. What was happening in THAT world?? That’s the game that gets pre-ordered.
Easy to Play in Small Chunks
Sometimes I buy a game and find myself not playing it very often because of a simple problem: it is incredibly difficult to know how long it’s going to be until a save point appears. Fun fact, I was playing KINGDOM HEARTS 3 the day of the Super Bowl and saw there was about 45 minutes until kick off. Sure, that’s enough time to beat this boss and log off, I thought to myself. I beat the boss in 10-15 minutes, but an hour later I was still sitting there, BEGGING the cut scenes to be over so I could quit out of the game – no save point had appeared in all that time. Because of how short my time is, I need games that I can pick up for 30 minutes (or sometimes less), knowing that I can save and quit in a heartbeat if something comes up. It’s a flaw that JRPGs are very guilty of, and even my beloved HOLLOW KNIGHT can be frustrating if I haven’t seen a bench (save point) in a long while, with no idea of where the next one in a level is hiding.
Those are the things I love to see in video games – what about the rest of you?