Philosophy of the Fun in Gaming
There are many different games on the market that appeal to gamers who have conflicting tastes, and there are just as many philosophies out there as to what a video game is and should be. Some players are not satisfied unless there is a winner and loser such as in a sporting event. For example, fighting games, first person shooter matches and countless indie games have a definite winner and loser. But is that all gamers game for? Are role playing games like Zelda or Persona any less a game because the rules of winning and losing are ambiguous? Is a game of Zelda won when you’ve completed the story? Or is it won when the player has found all the heart pieces and collectables as well as completed the story? Or have you beaten Zelda when you can complete the game faster than anyone else on YouTube?
I believe a playable game has to have some sort of story or a definite goal that can be easily understood by the player. For example, Atari’s Pong had one objective, get the ball past the computer or the other player’s bar to score a point. To win, score the most points by the end of the round. The idea is to have fun and win the game. The desire to win comes from a desire to have fun. It’s a vicious cycle that can only be cured by more gaming. Even I know it can’t be good to work around the clock, so why not take a few minutes to challenge your co-worker to a game of Tetris to see who can get the highest score? It doesn’t matter who wins, cliché as it may sound. All that matters is that you didn’t throw your computer and lunch at each other in a fit of work related rage.
But what if you’re a one player gamer like me, and you want to be told a story through choosing what the main character says and what type of swords he fights with? Is the game won when a story is at its end and the player defeats the final boss, or is the level of completeness up to the gamer at that point? Both a friendly game of Street Fighter and say, a game of Zelda: Ocarina of Time both have clear objectives that can be achieved in order to win the game. The goal of the game fills our lives with some kind of importance. For a few seconds we can be a kung-fu master or an armor clad hero. It is just pretend, but at least we can calmly go back to reality after an intense gaming session.
Its always important to keep the fun factor in mind while playing alone or with others. Facing any online community can be a challenge. Even facing off against an artificial intelligence is challenging and forces the player to create new strategies. Sometimes it’s nice to team up with someone online to play against the machine or others in the online community. Sometimes it is just easier if that person is sitting next to you while taking on a challenge. So, I recently sat down with my dear sweet Mother and played Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. I suppose you could say we had fun, after we worked out an in-game strategy and talked about our individual in-game goals. I had played Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo with my Mom many years earlier and I felt like we were both familiar enough with the game to enjoy it. But Mom needed time to adjust to the updated controller and new game play controls.
Working together with someone toward a common goal is just as rewarding as challenging each other. Achieving a goal with someone else just makes the victory that much sweeter. You also have a witness to help tell the tale to your friends that weren’t there during the big victory. Yeah, you got the trophy for the special achievement, but the story of how you got that trophy is where your gaming partner can help you out. Adventures are just more fun when you have a friend with you to heal you or boost attack strength. Even a seemingly one player game like Final Fantasy or Metal Gear can be enjoyed by more than one person at the same time.
Watching video games being played is nothing new. My parents and I would crowd around the Super Nintendo and take turns shouting out directions and commands to each other. Usually my Mom or I had the controller while my Dad would make suggestions like, ‘have you tried that room? What does that switch do?’ My whole family was interacting with the game on different levels, but still to achieve a common goal. There were many occasions, when the Nintendo 64 and Xbox came out, where a large group of my friends and I would hold a loser-plays-winner round of Mario Kart or Halo. Some of my most memorable gaming moments are moments shared with friends and family playing or watching video games.
A more recent example of spectating video games, even with the option of directly interacting, is ‘Twitch Plays Pokemon’. This was an incredible game event where the Twitch community played the classic video game Pokemon Blue. Players could input directions up down left right or the A B and START buttons in the chat window. The character on screen would then respond after a short delay. ‘Twitch Plays Pokemon’ could also be your favorite spectator e-sport. I had loads of fun watching the poor character dance around on screen, constantly opening and closing the menu as if confused as to what to do next. It is amazing the Twitch community was able to beat the game in the manner they did. Whether you stayed up all night to help get a gym badge or just simply took a few minutes to watch the game being played, there was still fun to be had.
I have come to learn in my 20 plus years of console and PC gaming what makes a game fun and rewarding. There are loads of gaming experiences out there to be had from simulated experiences that blend reality with science fiction to sports games to completely drawn out fantasy stories. There are also a myriad of ways to play. Some may say that the only way to have fun with a game is to play with friends, that it doesn’t matter what you play as long as you play it with the people closest to you. Regardless of your reasoning for buying Pokemon X and Grand Theft Auto 5 in the same sales transaction, just remember—try and keep it fun.
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