I watch myself getting older and my backlog getting bigger and bigger. While this happens, the excitement about gaming in general dwindles at an alarming rate. Perhaps not that alarming a rate as I still burn a lot of time in front of the screen and waste whole nights with playing co-op games (wasted) – but that might be due to an addictive predisposition and my inability to break a habit.
So I still think that I caught the gaming ennui. Oh no!
Now I pondered a little about what exactly has fuelled my original excitement about the medium, what triggers the tingling sensation that makes you think about certain games even if you are not playing. What makes you plan your Terraria-mansion or your Final Fantasy Tactics setup while doing boring stuff, like work for instance. What makes you remember a boss-fight after years and decades of abstinence.
You all know that sweet pain. YES YOU DO!
It's my party and I cry if I want to
Since establishing categories is of the utter importance for whatever you do, I tried to establish categories for what makes a good game. Since establishing categories and sorting things accordingly is also one of the most boring activities imaginable the following might look like an incoherent mess. That's because it actually is an incoherent mess. Please forgive me. Let me indulge myself in self-referential reveries for once. I try to convey an idea, I just have a vague idea of. That's kind of difficult but it feels so good.
- the novelty:
games and concepts which are new to you tend to leave a deeper impression…obviously. Even if it is just above excremental by today’s standards I have special place in my heart for Battle Arena Toshinden 2. And I always will call dibs on Chaos, don’t you dare.
The first 3d-arena-fighting game will be dear to you till Alzheimers finally erases the very memory of the good old Hidou Drill itself (B, DB, D, DF, F, Kick).
Part of the novelty effect is the light bulb moment.
I mentioned it before: press button B in order to run faster… is secret lore. During my formative years I had a lot of that aha-experiences. That might be due to the fact that I never bothered about reading manuals back than (except to prevent me from smashing the TV).
When you start playing videogames these moments are legion. You simply don’t know what a game wants from you. You painstakingly learn that you run from left to right and suddenly Battle of Olympus demands backtracking… that crazy world of videogames.
Bare-knuckle-pro-gamers like us crave these moments of course (in remembrance of the first fix or something) and with the rise of indie-games there is still hope for those who can handle surprise and a challenge.
Elegance both in aesthetics and narration are important factors, at least for me.
I never owned Totally Rad for the NES for example, I played it for about 15 hours in total but still I remember the strange graphics, especially the phenomenal bosses. The same applies to a more recent example, El Shaddai - never beat the second boss but the memories are vivid nonetheless
Because this game is covered in style. Because ART.
By default the human mind works a lot with story-based principles (as I take it) and is fond of external activation but also gets bored easily. So elegance in story/narration are important as well. I think I don’t have to elaborate on that.
And I won’t mention Journey.
My third point in establishing elegance as a category is elegance in execution. If a game is mediocre concerning every one of the aspects I mentioned above but delivers elegant gameplay I can live with it. Alien Zombie Megadeath for the PSP is a simpleton in every respect but delivers. Anyway.
So I've got two categories so far. Great.
I warned you.
I would say a really good game draws its goodness from all of these categories. And of many others, which I am too lazy to list a/o can't think about in the moment.
When I am completely honest with myself a game could be really good in the sense that it more or less excels in all (two) categories mentioned above...and still...
It could be good according to general agreement and still be forgotten soon after it hits the shelves. Or it could turn out to be a real goldmine and I still won't care (aka The Last of Us).
A really really good game stays a really good game over a period of time, even if it isn’t played regularly anymore. It retains that special aura of relevance, becomes an “important” game. For me a really good as well as important game needs a final ingredient: the Other. Somebody you can share the excitement with – so that the game can build up something like emotional impact. Actually, a game can be really bad and shit on categories worldwide. If it somehow manages to create a bond between yourself and the Other it might well just become such an important game. And by some kind of complicated osmotic process transform itself into a state which at least has the appearances of a good game (especially through the veils of nostalgia). I never actually played the Gremlin-game for the NES but I remember it vividly. Because some kid told me about it in great detail. Gremlins are lilac btw.
To me an indicator for an equally good and important game is its impact on RL. That magic moment when a meme comes into being. When you suddelny start to play Super Mortal Basketball (and your PE teacher invites your parents to visit him at the conference day) and language gets infiltrated by some strange new ideas.
True Pinball is a pinball simulator for the Psone which I hold dear for many reasons. And I am not even very much into pinball. The Vikings-table had so many memorable moments, I still quote them today when talking with friends who played it too.
"Let’s see how much you Vikings can drink" and the sound-effects of the multi-ball-pig-rally are both part of my everyday communication. Not to speak of "Hadouken" and "Finish him!"
Puzzle Quest is a nice little game too…in versus-mode I spat and cried because of the Mana-Burn ability (which a certain someone used to use all the time). Now I think back to it fondly and just throw a fit when a certain someone whispers “your hero is near death” into my ear.
MANA BURN. I HATE YOU.
The same applies to Super Puzzle Fighter, the best puzzle game mankind has seen up to this point. I don't know what "Yohizee!", "Brotzeit" and "Karij Karij" actually mean but I yell these words nevertheless from time to time. Preferably unprovoked. In public space.
I know at least one person with an academic degree that also wants to be in a Parappa/Um Jammer Lammy cover-band.
I did a lot of father-son-bonding via Dr.Mario. The Dr.Mario-OST became synonymous with tedious tasks or repetitive actions. My father (who played it non-stop back in the days) still jokingly (I hope) accuses me of stealing his only source of joy when I eventually packed the NES away. And sometimes he sings the well-known tunes in his “GnaGnaGna”-voice when he deems a chore to be beneath his dignity.
Gitaroo Man is hilarious but gets so much deeper if you can share your fear of Mister Yasuda and his band of costumed musicians.
The Might&Magic-iteration for the SNES had a monster called “Horvath” in it. In school there was a girl going by the same name. She was infamous for various reasons. Until this day my attitude towards breasts is a strange mixture of horror and fascination (more fascination than horror, though). And I always think of Horvath when I see some.
I don't need therapy
Competition and cooperation with friends is influential of course: Doom 2, Rival Turf, Streets of Rage, Bloody Roar, Star Gladiators, Micro Machines, Bomberman, Gunstar Heroes. EDF… all gone, but not forgotten. Alcohol and the ancient art of drunken gaming comes into mind here as well. The demon that is alcohol affects the capacity of reaction, which makes it the natural enemy of the dedicated player of games, yet it enhances the pleasure of playing in a group. Once we repeatedly tried to catch all stars in Mario 64 after reaching a certain level of intoxication. We never made it. But we have managed to get Mario's cap get snatched by one of those vultures in the desert world. I think we will never see it again. We endured so much together. We had a lot of fun.
Online-modes and their social media-appendices perpetuate this idea of interaction with a RL-Other but still feel kind of anonymous and stale in comparison. Dealing with other human players naturally sweetens the competition and enriches the challenge a good bit. What I miss there is the talking part. Shooting COD-kids all night long and yelling obscenities at each other via mic gets old pretty soon. The experience gets so much richer when there is the possibility of all-embracive interaction, for example punching each other in the face.
It isn't necessarily all about immediate interaction though. Not for nothing next-gen-consoles focus on enabling gamers to put their videos online (and get them viral if possible). We all want to share our experiences with one another.
I guess that’s why most of us are here after all..
Not to punch each other in the face but to have a decent chat about games.
The game that you play all by yourself and tell no one about. Does it make a sound? I daresay it does but no one cares. And you won't get past that damned second boss anyway.