I'm an actor living in Los Angeles who likes videogames. Go figure.
My ten favorite games are currently:
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
Super Mario Galaxy
The Last of Us
Kingdom Hearts 2
Mass Effect 2
Well, not quite. Let me elaborate (Bonus: This is a spoiler-free article, please read it):
I really do believe that it’s almost impossible to pick one game as your favorite PC game, especially when you consider the overlap shared by console titles. There are just so many games to choose from and as most gamers know, truly great games tend to feel incomparable. There’s nothing quite like your own “FPS of choice” (Half-Life 2) or that “classic Lucas Arts adventure game” that still melts your heart (Grim Fandango). Games can be incredibly personal experiences; something I will elaborate on later. That’s why when trying to select a singular title, I began by first narrowing my list down to individual genres.
Though these days there are almost as many genres as games, I can say with no equivocation that my favorite genre, on either console or PC, is the RPG genre. Western? Eastern? Far Eastern? Doesn’t matter. Before you “people who don’t like 80 hour games” stop reading in disgust, let me explain my reasoning. For starters, on a very superficial level, RPGs really appeal to that OCD side that I think we all have, where we just need to get everything, do everything, and see everything that a virtual world has to offer. They operate under similar principles to Metroidvanias, MMOs, and Skinner boxes. There’s always one more piece of gear to get, one more level to climb, and one more hidden area containing riches…or certain doom! In short, there’s something about that steady sense of progression mixed with rewards that can be ferociously satisfying.
When we wade into the deeper end of the pool, however, RPGs can also provide a unique storytelling experience that other games can’t quite, in my opinion, match. It’s the same reason that most films have more complex and rewarding storylines than most television shows and why most books outmatch both; they have more time to tell their story. I’m one of those rare birds (that isn’t “Angry”…pun) that almost always forgives poor gameplay if the story is solid. Wait! Wait! Put your torches down! I still think that “fun/interactivity” trumps all, but how often in life do we get to play both actor and playwright? Hindsight is 20/20, but even so, I think there’s something about that sense (even if it’s just an illusion) of directly controlling the fate of the players as the events unfold that speaks to heart of the human condition: Choice. More than any other gaming genre, I would contend that RPGs highlight the importance of choice. “What do you do when forced to choose between those who will do the wrong thing for the right reasons and those who will do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Or is not choosing its own choice?” (To find out, play The Witcher!) These are the kinds of experiences that RPGs offer. But wait, there’s more!
RPGs also tend to provide (for better or worse) intensely memorable characters. Think of that one “whiny androgynous male” that almost made that one JRPG unplayable (Vaan) or conversely, the one “trusted ally” who’s always watching your back in those seedy space cantinas (Wrex). Whether or not we share the same faces for these characters, if you’re a seasoned gamer then somebody probably did pop into your head pretty quickly. I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case for many other genres. I’m just continually amazed by how rich and intimate the characters can make these games. Their level of reality increases the world’s and, in turn, your investment in the given circumstances of the game. In short, choices that effect people (real or not) that you have become invested in, are, by their very nature, more compelling. Why do we become so attached to these Quina Quens and Jansens? I think length of time spent with the characters probably has something to do with it. We grow accustomed to their smiles and their frowns, their ups and their downs (Watch this and culture yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HroAq_E075Y). I think strength of writing also carries quite a bit of weight. This brings me to the part of this short novel that actually matters: my favorite PC RPG, or RP(C)G.
My more perceptive readers have probably deduced that I wasn’t just lauding the virtues of a genre, but was simultaneously laying the foundation of my love for Planescape: Torment (PT from here on in). Let’s review: RPGs are great because of their capacity for compelling choices, rich narratives, satisfying gameplay, and memorable characters. Let’s build on that: PT is, in my opinion, the game that best exemplifies these qualities and, therefore, is my favorite RPG (and thusly, my favorite PC game). Make sense? No? Too bad because I’m going to keep on moving with this blog.
To keep things spoiler-free, I’ll condense the storyline of PT (for those who don’t know) into the following sentence: You play a nameless amnesiac, who awakes in a morgue and quickly comes to the realization that he is immortal and someone wants him dead. If you want a more specific idea, imagine Memento crossed with Lost Odyssey and seasoned with Groundhog Day. Your companions include, among others, a demon, an angel, and a talking skull. The talking skull does participate in combat. He fights with his teeth. If you’re not already on Good Old Games picking this up, then there’s probably not much more I can do to convince you…despite that, I will continue to try…
Thematically, PT deals with some of the most difficult and foundational questions of human existence. What does it truly mean to live, love, and die? What is the cost of knowing the “truth” and is that cost ever too high? What, if anything, can change the nature of a man? Again, should all games tackle these questions? No! But it’s really awesome that a few games try to and I believe that this is one of the very few to have done so successfully. PT is a very flawed game and it’s certainly rough around the edges. There are definitely aspects of certain quests that feel incomplete, the graphics are a bit dated, and the combat can be kind of wonky. Despite that, it has one of the most intriguing and fully realized universes I’ve ever encountered and- Ok. It’s done installing. Talk to you later.
P.S. – If forced to pick my favorite PC game of the last ten years (since “relevancy” and everything) I would say Mass Effect 2 because that game is SICK!