I have a confession to make: I didn’t grow up with a game controller in my hands. When I was in high school, computers still took up a whole room and we made Christmas wreaths from these IBM data cards that office workers used. My first computer had a 1GB hard drive and I’d purchased that just so I could play video games. Now, my local hardware store is selling 8GB flash drives in the shape of a monkey. Point is, I’ll admit I may not be the best player on Earth. I love to play; that doesn’t always mean I play well.
Still, it seems worth noting when a game is woefully imbalanced. There is a huge difference between challenge and poor game design. The most recent example of this is the core mission in Bioshock Infinite. Avoiding spoilers as much as possible, this is the only mission in the game which you can actually fail. It is unbelievably hard compared to the rest of the game and, if you die repeatedly, the game tells you that you might want to think about dropping your skill level down. I turned to the forums after dying repeatedly to look for tips and hints and found that many had thought the game too easy, even playing on hard, until they reached this point. They also had to drop their difficulty down to get beyond it. This was obviously not play-tested. A game should never tell the player that they are not skilled enough to complete the game as played up to that point, especially if that point is near the end of the experience.
It seems unfair to criticize the developers at Irrational Games without offering a solution, but I’m not sure I have one. The sky-glide was incredibly fun to use and gear helped make use of it. Adding the songbird was unique. I believe the source of the imbalance to be a combination of wave difficulty and pacing. There were times when I was able to call down a strike but had no available targets. Meanwhile, I couldn’t end the mission until I’d hit the important targets while multiple patriots, which are difficult to kill, had free reign on the target. Calling in the bird to help could mean losing him at a critical juncture.
Yes, I felt clever once I’d found a strategy that worked for me, even if I failed. At least I could see I was making progress. When I finally beat it, I was shocked, but more angry at the imbalance than relieved or overjoyed at my success.
How do you feel about this? Did you breeze through this section of the game? Did you feel the mission fit the rest of the gameplay? What games made you want to throw your controller or break your keyboard? Do you feel empowered when you struggle and finally beat something, as if the challenge were finally worth it? How would you balance this section of gameplay?
Every time a violent act occurs in the real world someone seems to find a link to the violence in video games. It's never just one game, either. Video games, as a media, are considered violent even though we have games like Flower and Journey, Plants vs Zombies, Guitar Hero, Dance Central, and Cooking Mama.
Games are so much more than one aspect of them, even if they include violence. Spec Ops: The Line is violent and a head shot is rewarded with a kill. Your decisions allow you to experience the repercussions of death and war zones without actually having to experience those things in your reality. Likewise, The Walking Dead puts you in life and death situations which we hope never to experience while providing the opportunity to learn what it is like to have to make decisions when there is no right answer.
But, why is violence the only thing the media can point to about the games industry? I've learned the value of stealth from playing Metal Gear Solid and, more recently, Far Cry 3 and Tomb Raider. Red Dead Redemption reminded me that animals are valuable for food and their hides bring needed funds. I've learned to gather plants and make poultices from games like Dragon Age: Origins and all of the Elder Scrolls games.
From games, I've learned the value of persistence, patience, and organization. I've learned that resources don't always need to be hoarded and that a party needs more than just a tank, or a ranger, or a healer; it needs cooperation and leadership. I've learned to strategize and puzzle-solve. While playing you have to run, jump, explore, search, learn, and so much more.
Games allow players to interact with experiences they might not otherwise have. Even if the over-arching setting of the game is violent, the experience the player has may not be. That experience has more value than any one action. When we are violent in a game, there is usually a reason for it given or perceived. Perhaps you are acting in self-defense or immersed in the center of a war in which you are told you are on the side of right. It is rarely a police action in which you are harming innocents such as the airport scene in Modern Warfare 2. I've yet to play a game that makes me a terrorist, shooting or creating bombs for a cause or grudge.
Games are experiences, not simulators. They're interactive, but not real. Occasionally, the lore in a game will draw you to look into things outside of the game. Some of those things might be real such as historical events or the culture of an Asian religion. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, for instance, may have given some players the interest in looking into the real history of Sir Francis Drake, just for fun and knowledge. But this aspect of the medium is rarely discussed.
So, how about it? What games have made you think? What games have caused you to look into some form of reality further, in a positive way? Do you only play games for fun or have they ever been something more? And, if they're not "something more" then do you agree that violence has any more sway than any other game experience? I look forward to your comments down below.