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Ever since my dad held me up to a Pole Position cabinet to steer as he worked the pedals, I've been absolutely hooked on games. It just took me 25 years to figure out that I loved writing about them too. I don't have any particular genre biases, I'll play just about anything that involves pressing buttons (that's probably why I shouldn't visit hospitals...). This blog is just the thoughts of a guy who loves games, but is occasionally frustrated when they squander their potential.

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You know, I fancy myself a pretty nice guy most of the time. I call my mom to tell her I love her all the time, and usually it’s not even before I ask for another loan. I donate to local charities regularly. And I always make sure I smile and look homeless people right in the eye before I tell them to stop being lazy and get a job.

But every once in awhile, I see a comment in threads like this:

“I actually WANT easier games where I can stroll through them, see everything, collect everything and then move on having felt I got my money's worth. Basically I want a game that rewards perseverance without demanding skill."

And I'm filled with an uncontrollable rage. There is literally nothing I want to do more than find this guy's address and cave his face in with a baseball bat. Because he is WRONG, and crazy, and the very epitome of everything that’s wrong with games today and I MUST RIGHT THESE CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY. (Deep Breath)

So much hate...Clayton would be proud.

After a few hours and a couple Valium, my nerd rage subsides a bit, and I got to thinking that I've had it wrong all these years. People who say things like that aren't wrong, it's just that they play and interpret games in a vastly different way than I ever have—and I’m beginning to accept that that's okay. I have a theory that there are two types of people. “Gamers” and “Players.”

What the hell am I talking about? Let me walk back a bit. Yahtzee coined what he calls the three-pronged concept of game theory. He surmised that there are three intrinsic aspects within any game that determine it’s quality: Context, Challenge, and Gratification. Every game has varying amounts of all three, and in order to be enjoyable, at least one of them needs to good enough to compensate for deficiencies in the other two. First, there’s Context. Context could be defined as the story of the game—I personally think that motivation is a better word for it. Essentially, Context is that which motivates the player to push through the game to find out what happens next. It could be an intricate (read: confusing as fuck all) story involving dozens of characters steeped in a tale of diplomacy and war like FFXII, or the reassuring simplicity of saving the princess in every Mario game that Miyamoto will release from his money printing factory.

Gratification can simply be described as the Fun Factor of a game. It’s that thing that makes killing the 10,000th zombie in Dead Rising as fun as the first, or the reason I spent hours doing backflips off of everything in Mario 64’s courtyard. Then there’s Challenge. The thing that makes you not give up on that unforgiving Trials HD track even though its 3am, or that giddy feeling you get after surviving an apparent unwinnable gunfight with only a sliver of health remaining. It’s a constant fear that you savor, and the wave of satisfaction that rides over you after being driven to wit’s end by a tough boss. And it’s also the element that differentiates Players and Gamers. Now I should get this out of the way first and say, this is not about being hardcore or casual, a Player could be a guy whose been a faithful RPG fanatic since Colossal Cave, and a Gamer could be the dudebro whose copy of Madden never leaves his 360.

This isn't exactly what I meant when I said Gamers and Players...

Players are the type of um…players(I really should have picked a better term, shouldn’t I?), who enjoy advancing through a game at a steady pace. They like having a smooth, authored experience without too many bumps in the road. They like to see much of what the game has to offer without being stretched outside of their comfort zone. In other words, Players want their play to feel like just that, play. Gamers, on the other hand, welcome a worthy challenge, and dying for the 99th time in one place just means they’ll try 100 times. To them, facing adversity in a game just makes their experience all the more memorable, and their own.

Players tend to feel like their time is a commodity, and that if they invest enough of it into a game, they deserve to see the ending. Hindering progress according to an arbitrary requirement of skill feels like a book slamming shut before they get to the end. Gamers, on the other hand, are the exact opposite. They have no desire to see a compulsory ending. To them it feels like a participation medal you get in kindergarten; it's worth nothing. Actually it's worse than that, it's worth less than nothing. An ending that isn't earned feels like an insult to a Gamer's time and efforts. Unlike people who have given up on games like Dark Souls for being punishingly hard, on more than one occasion I have actually quit and shelved games for being infuriatingly easy. I’m looking at you, Mario Galaxy.

Oftentimes, I've seen Players label Gamers as elitist assholes who are obviously compensating for something for wanting challenging games. What the hell is wrong with you, they say. Who wants to be challenged during their leisure time! I just want to have fun. As a Gamer, it's really hard to hear complaints like these and not to walk around feeling like a member of the Video Game Master Race.

Have you ever watched a very young child sitting in a racing game arcade cabinet? They'll hop behind the wheel as their dad is at the counter ordering pizza, and they'll sit there, twisting and turning the wheel in every which way, thinking they're playing the hell out of this game. Of course they're not, it's just the pregame demo running on a loop because they didn't put any quarters in the machine. They’re blissfully unaware that their actions have no bearing on what's happening on the screen. But they don’t really mind...they're having fun. I had always felt this was the perfect allegory of someone preferring to play on easy. With a sneer on my lips and contempt in my heart, I looked down on these people.

That kid in the back's powerslidin like a boss.

And it seems many devs don’t think much of easy settings either. The lead designer of Assassin's Creed III, Alex Hutchinson, created a bit of a dust up recently when he commented, "A lot of games have been ruined by easy modes...If you have a cover shooter and you switch it to easy and you don't have to use cover, you kind of broke your game."

It's statements like this that incline me to believe most game designers are Gamers at heart. Think about it: they spend an unspeakable amount of time designing different game levels, enemies, skills, and weapons; balancing them in such a way that the person playing will gradually learn and appreciate the different systems at work. But when a game is made easier, either by an easy setting or from pressure the inevitable sea of complaints that are thrown at any game even remotely difficult, a lot of that thoughtful game design goes out the window. Who needs to learn a complex combo system when you can mash X like it was a win button? Why bother trying to be a stealthy spy when you can kick in the front door and get all Duke Nukem on some asses? Why try any of the dozens of different but uniquely useful guns offered when you can pick a favorite and breeze through everything?

Quite simply, games that let you proceed without failing does not lend themselves to learning. On second thought, learning isn't the correct word here. From the eyes of a Gamer, the problem with an easy game is that it does not require mastery to complete it. Gamers like learning from their mistakes; Players like to be forgiven for their mistakes.

To see how Gamers tick, let’s use basketball as an example. When someone looks for a pick-up game on a court, most people don’t look for middle schoolers to play against. They want an opponent who’s around their skill level or better, they want a Game. When looking up the definition of a game, the very first entry says: A form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck. Gamers have a need to utilize their skills because the source of their fun is directly tied to a sense of accomplishment. They want to win, but not win because the other guy was going easy on them. They want it to mean something.

Kiiiinda abusing your power there, Barack.

I contend that Players are looking for something entirely different in their gaming experiences. Play is what kids do when they play house, or cops and robbers. What they're doing wasn’t really a game per se—but it was definitely playing and having fun. Their sense of fun is very much linked to how much they are having at right now. It sounds like a very shallow way of thinking, but it’s not; Players just like to live in the moment. This is also the reason sandbox games are so appealing: they mainline pure instant gratification directly into your pleasure center, no preservatives added.

Now considering how markedly different Gamers and Players are from each other, it's no wonder that the industry is having fits trying to please both camps. There's a delicate balance between the two, and I believe the market has shifted it's tendencies greatly over the years. Back in the early days of gaming, when 8-bit dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was a Gamer's market. Video games were hard. They were unforgiving, and sometimes you'd swear they hated you. But we managed. With a copy of Nintendo Power in one hand, and a phone dialing a helpline in the other, we persevered, and even enjoyed ourselves.

There was just one problem: games were incredibly alienating for anyone other than kids with unlimited leisure time and masochistic geeks. Over time, games became more and more welcoming for normal people, including Players. Until today, when the balance of power has swung completely in the other direction. So far in fact, that I find myself putting games on “Hard” before I even press start. These are dark days for Gamers everywhere, but there is one glimmer of hope. And that lies in online multiplayer. I'm beginning to suspect that a lot of challenge starved Gamers are getting their fill by competing with others much like themselves. But what about single player experiences? There lies the rub.

I contend that although these sides are diametrically opposed, they don’t have to be mortal enemies. It's not as if you're either a Gamer or a Player and that's the end of the story. Every person that plays video games exists on a continuum between those two extremes. It’s not that Gamers don’t want unhindered, flowing experiences, its just that that’s not all they want. Gamers don't need to be challenged and engaged all the time. Sometimes they may just want to Play too. The GTA series are some of my most favorite games ever purely for the ability for me to blow off the story and goof off for hours. And it would be laughable to think that Players didn't want at least some ability to be challenged and pushed, it just has to be in a way that keeps their fun at maximum and their frustration at a minimum.

Even Indy plays on easy once in awhile.

So what have we learned? I think everything I’ve said up to this point can be boiled down to one statement: Gamers are easily bored, and Players are easily frustrated. Now how do we parlay this information into making better games? I know many of you don’t want to hear this, but I think games need to be harder again. Now remember: there is an important distinction between the distaste of easy games and the desire for hard games; in between those two extremes is a whole lot of ground. Not having a pushover game is one thing, but requiring the Konami Code is another story entirely. If you’re a masochist or looking to perfect your skills, there will always be a Dante must Die mode for you. But as it stands now, there needs to be at least some ground given back to the Gamers. I just played through the new Mass Effect DLC, Omega, and I was literally falling asleep in combat until I bumped it up to Insanity.

I have no earthly idea why the onus is put on the player to figure out if the game is way too easy or not. Every single time I boot up a game now, I have to debate if I’m going to be bored to death on Normal, or if Hard really is going to be tough for a first time player.

Why should you balance the game first with Gamers in mind instead of vice versa? Because the other way around makes for some really lazy game design. For most games, setting a game to Hard mode usually just means your enemies ate their Wheaties this morning and didn’t leave their kevlar vests in the car. As a result, everyone takes entirely too long to die. They aren’t smarter, the level layout hasn’t changed, and you don’t see any new enemies you haven’t seen before. Your biggest concern usually isn’t even the guys you’re shooting at, but whether you have enough bullets to shoot them in their titanium reinforced faces over, and over, and over, and over, and over.

Now if a person does happen to find a game too tough, well then that’s what easy mode is for. Uh oh, I see all the Players out there are readying their pitchforks…but just hear me out! ME3 actually did something very right to placate Players by including a “Narrative” difficulty. Instead of calling it easy, which is a word some Players consider a dirty word, they avoided conflict entirely by clearly explaining the purpose of the mode. Narrative and Casual mode granted Players a relaxed playing experience to see what the game has to offer at their own pace. And from my understanding, a lot of people bump up the difficulty after playing through once anyway. Taking another note from ME3, there also needs to be an option in more games that lets you can change the difficulty at any time. There really is no good reason for people to be getting stuck at one tricky area of a game or on the flip side, finding themselves absolutely bored to death because enemies have decided to hit them with pillows instead of bullets.

Speaking of getting stuck, LA Noire had the great idea to give you the option to skip over any potentially frustrating parts of a game. If skipping over entire sections of a game is unacceptable, there could always be a way to dynamically scale down enemies if the player died too many times in one place. I sure as hell wouldn’t use it, but I’m sure there’s plenty that would.

Where the hell was this when I was in the Water Temple?

Oh, and here’s a biggie: for the love of Zeus can we have more responsible use of regenerating health? There are few ways to more quickly hamstring the challenge and flow of a game than encouraging the player the do the ol’ squat n heal every 30 seconds. There doesn’t have to be a banishment of it of course, plenty of people seem to like it just fine. But can’t we get a little creative with it? I know I’ve mentioned ME3 several times already, but their hybrid approach of regenerating shields and partially regenerating/collectable health worked pretty seamlessly. Or even better, how hard would it be to offer both options in a game? On Normal and Easy you could gallivant around as Wolverine and Marcus Fenix’s bastard love child, and on hard, you’d be forced to grab random health drops from enemies, just as nature intended.

There’s this great TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell that talks about how a similar problem was discovered in the food industry. That there was no perfect Coke, no flawless spaghetti sauce, or ideal cup of joe. “When we pursue universal principles in food, we aren't just making an error; we are actually doing ourselves a massive disservice.”

It was found that people’s tastes seemed to cluster in bunches, and that if you just took the average of those groupings, you would get just that: a samey average product that doesn’t really please anybody. But if you instead concentrated on making the best possible offering for those smaller groups, you got back a much stronger response.

And that’s the crux of the matter; that any attempt to please everyone with a one size fits all approach to game design will surely lead to folly. Either you leave Players out in the cold, forced to walk away from half-finished games stuck and disappointed, or you alienate Gamers by making them feel coddled and marginalized. Gladwell closed his presentation with this:

“That is the final, and I think most beautiful lesson...that in embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.”

4:35 PM on 11.08.2012

A simple wooden door. I've lost count of how many times my gaming adventures have been halted by one of them. In my possession I hold an axe, a crowbar, and my trusty bazooka on my back. But none of these items that are super useful in real life at getting past a two inch locked door will get me past this one. Not unless I find some ancient artifact or keycard or secret password the game demands I must.

You shall not pass.

I feel like Dante knocking on the gates of hades without Virgil to guide me through. And so off I go! Maybe even two hours in the opposite direction to get what is required. That’s just playing the game, right? And playing is what we're all here to do. But sometimes, I just wish for the option to solve this problem more like someone would in real life.

I’m not sure when it started, or when I first started noticing it. That feeling. You know the one, the unease that something is just not right. And no, I'm not talking about the uncanny valley—even though it is related. For nearly a decade now, video games have rapidly approached the age of photo realism—slowly hoisting ourselves out of that seemingly bottomless valley—but it seems as if we are steadily falling deeper into another canyon. Quite simply, the better graphics seem to get, the harder it is to actually tell ourselves that these things happening in front of us are nothing more than a facsimile of reality.

These “glitches” in the Matrix that snap our attention out of the game could manifest as a gameplay element, lackluster AI, or simply a technological limitation. And you know, things didn’t used to be this way.

I never begrudged for mario being able to change directions in mid-air or Alucard for using a well-timed double jump to reach a platform. Was I blissfully ignorant, or did these things just not matter?

In 1985 everyone accepted that a plumber could jump five times his height.

I think the answer lies in the sometimes underestimated power of imagination. You see, sprite-based, or even some of the less sophisticated polygon based games of old—the ones we grew up with and defined us as gamers—were simple looking games. Some of them had color palettes that struggled to reach double digits, and others had models you could count the polygons of on one hand. Because these visuals were so basic, so abstract, they encouraged the full use of the players imagination to make us believe we really were fighting guerrilla soldiers in a lush rainforest or saving the earth from yet another alien invasion in the heart of times square. In this way, a pixellated but charming world like Midgar seems real and alive—and Final Fantasy XIII's Gran Pulse feel like hollow window dressing.

Today, an imagination is hardly necessary for your gaming enjoyment. Thanks to multi-core processors and motion capture technology, games are filled with believable water effects, individually rendered strands of hair, and faces capable of a range of emotions we’d expect from breathing actors. But in this mad-dash towards hyper-realistic visuals, our brains no longer have the job of filling in the blanks to enhance our playing experience, and it gets a bit bored. Since our minds don't particularly like sitting idle, it begins to take note of anything that seems out of the ordinary, finding the seams and faults in every little thing.

Every time your character jumps a little farther than he should, or you set off a bomb in an office and all the papers stay on a desk, or the fact that grabbing a health pack can heal multiple gunshot wounds in seconds, or my character dies instantly in WAIST HIGH WATER (sorry, huge pet peeve)—there's bullshit alarms going off every which way in your head. The very part of your brain that used to enhance immersion is now actively sabotaging it.

Also died in chest high water...but I'll allow it.

It’s kind of funny how so many games are now reducing their UI’s and HUD’s to an almost non-existent level, attempting to gain a movie-like level of immersion, but forgetting the fact that there’s all these...for lack of a better word: “videogamey” elements that never allow us to forget that we are just sitting in front of a TV with a dualshock in our hands.

Simplistic, inconsistent, or just plain bad AI is also a big contributor to the dissonance that can pull a person out of a game. For example, in open world games with a police presence: cops don’t even mind when you do 120 down a one-way blowing every light and having 10 hit and runs every ten seconds. Or when they finally do give chase, they give up in three blocks even though you’ve just robbed a bank. Even better, being able to walk into a police station with an assault rifle with nary a soul batting an eyelash.

That's a mighty fine park job, citizen.

Townspeople are seldom any better. It is extremely rare to get even the slightest reaction out of someone in a car you’ve just sideswiped and rammed into a light pole. How awesome would it be if instead when you cut someone off, they chased you around for ten minutes tailgating you and leaning out the window and flipping you off?(Trust me. In Chicago rush hours, it happens.)

In shooters, it drives me nuts when the AI either stands out in the open standing directly next to suitable cover, or even worse, running directly into the fusillade of bullets I'm throwing across the room, giving the game almost a shooting gallery effect. But games that require stealth seem to be the biggest AI offenders. Ever wonder why some guards have ZERO peripheral vision? You can practically reenact a full Broadway show a two feet from a guard by tap dancing just out of his cone of vision. On the flip side if there’s a level with snipers, sticking out half a joint of your pinky from cover will result in it being blown off from 400 yards at night. If you happen to find a sniper rifle yourself(with a silencer of course), there’s also a tendency for guards to ignore the exploding craniums of their co-workers right next to them, as you slowly pick off an entire facility’s guards.

For some reason these are standard issue for every guard in the history of ever

In driving games, how infuriating is it to be winning a race by several city blocks, only to have a minor collision 100 feet from the from the finish line and have half the field pass you. Gotta love slingshot AI. And then, you have escort/teammate AI. Need 10,000 examples? Go find a copy of Dead Rising or Resident Evil 5. No rush, I’ll wait. Done? Or rather, put your foot through your TV yet?

Then sometimes, there are just flat out limitations on what you can and can't do in a game world because of hardware. Yeah, there are going to be invisible walls around the city limits, or doors to buildings that wont open. But it still makes me a little sad every time I cause millions of dollars in property damage—totaled police cars and charred bodies stretching clear into the horizon—and if I walk around the corner and come back, it's as if I imagined the whole thing. Where there once was a flaming pile of victims to my flamethrower, now sits a lovestruck couple in a cafe. The place I shot that police helicopter with an RPG, now sits an elderly man, feeding pigeons. The overturned bus where I made my last stand is now filling up with commuters, eager to start their workdays. All my beautiful work, for naught!

Officer, if you just walk around the block and come back this mess will be gone. I swear!

How much difference can a little realism injected into games go? All you have to do is think back to the times when you expected something videogamey to happen, and it didn’t. That time when you tried to flee Nemesis by running into an adjacent room but quickly finding out he knew how to use door knobs! Or when a seasoned RPG player who is used to breaking into houses and swiping everything that isn't nailed down tries the same thing in Skyrim and gets thrown in the slammer for weeks. Or the first shooter that you noticed finally allowed bullets to you know, behave like bullets and *gasp* go through walls. I've also always appreciated the game that prevented the hero from carrying several metric tons of weapons, ammunition, and supplies in their infinitely deep knapsacks.

Vidjagames have taught me that this is how every soldier looks in combat. PROVE ME WRONG.

Of course most of the time, the lack of realism in video games is preferable. It is a hobby of escapism, after all. I’ve mentioned before that games far too oftentimes are obsessed with excessive violence and brutality—perhaps the entire problem is how unrealistically most games deal with death in the first place. How often have you to empty half to an entire magazine just to down a bad guy? Then, when you finish an someone off, you get these incredibly gory, exploding gibs that used to be heads, limbs and torsos. It’s so cartoonish in fact, that there’s automatically a disassociation with what's going on onscreen, and what would actually occur in real life. This allows us to shoot pretend people for hours on end without bordering on being a psychopath. Maybe if there was a bit more weight given to death, or guns as RamWar’s blog mentioned, we’d think twice about the amount of digital genocide we were committing.

Just look at the COD level “No Russian”. The game gives you the option of either not participating or simply skipping over the entire scene, and many players have admitted they did just that. Regardless of how you felt about the it's execution, it's hard to deny that there was a weightiness that made a lot of players squeamish and hesitant to pull the trigger that they've pulled hundreds of times just minutes earlier.

It's for reasons like that, that we should be wary of just blindly pushing for a more realistic virtual reality. There’s also a delicious irony somewhere in there—yearning for more realistic games to make escaping from real life more enjoyable. But as we sit on the cusp of a new console generation, one cant help but wonder what new graphical heights games will reach, what fantastic new worlds we will have the privilege to visit. And In the back of my mind, if just for a second I'll ponder: when does Master Chief find the time to go to bathroom in that suit?

Press Start. Such a simple, innocuous command. A directive that lies at the beginning of any player’s journey into a game, that glorious moment when anticipation transforms into reality, and the analog rubber hits the digital road. So why does this moment terrify me? Maybe not all the time, but often enough where I find myself playing old, familiar gems, in lieu of That Hot New Game Everyone Is Talking About. It's always perplexed me why I was this way, so I think it's about time to do some soul searching and get to the bottom of it.

True Horror.

First, there's the paradox of choice. As a gamer who came of age in the 8 and 16-bit eras, I grew up with very few games. Christmas and birthdays were my ONLY opportunities to play something new, short of visiting a friend’s house—who also had a paltry selection—or borrowing a game from a classmate via a clandestine trade under the lunch table. As a consequence, I learned to appreciate what I had. Regardless of what awful, worthless hunk of PCB shovelware masquerading as a video game I got from aunt Mabel for my birthday, I went home, crammed that cart into my system and gosh darn it, it didn’t come out until I started having fun. I wrung every drop of enjoyment there was to be had out of those games, and when I beat them, I hit reset and went back for more.

Of course we wouldn’t dream of this now, with backlogs in the dozens, or even hundreds, and the ability to hear about a game in the street and start the download before we even get home. Fat On Games, indeed. There’s this great TED talk by psychologist Barry Schwartz on the subject of the glut of choices each of us are faced with every day. From hundreds of options of salad dressing in the grocery isle, to the imprecise science of choosing of which cutting-edge cell phone offers the best features. This bottomless pool of options has given us more freedom of choice than we’d ever know what to do with; and therefore the easiest choice to make, is none at all. There's a great quote in that video by Schwartz that has an almost Buddhist quality in its apparent absurdity/simplicity:

“Everything was better back when everything was worse.”

Another reason I’m a bit reticent to fire up a new game—and perhaps one better saved for my therapist’s couch—is my crippling fear of failure. The allure of experiencing an expansive new world and going on a new adventure is only so appealing until I realize I’m probably gonna suck at playing this game for a few days. Of course this is all understandable, and when you think about it, it's a wonder how adaptable gamers truly are. Continuously learning and internalizing complex systems, rules and techniques until they are mastered—or at the very least skilled enough to perform on reflex. Even similarly-genred first person shooters can be played in radically different ways. A Borderlands isn't a Call of Duty isn’t a Bioshock. Approaching these titles the same way would translate into frustration and many, many deaths. And sometimes, you never quite get the hang of things. My recent playthrough of Sleeping Dogs comes to mind. Learning to drive on the left side was like wiping with my other hand; even when you get the hang of it, it still feels weird, and very often things get messy. And let’s not even get started on fighters…there are few games with learning curves as steep. Hell, I’m sure everyone has that one friend who they've been playing Street Fighter with for 20 years, and for 20 years they’ve been furiously mashing on buttons like a toddler on Redbulls and Ritalin—and beating you most of the time too.

There was supposed to be some sort of picture of Sleeping Dogs here, but any image search of that game gets derailed by disgustingly cute doggies.

Which leads to another frustration that is a fact of life of playing practically any open-world game: getting lost and the feeling of helplessness that comes with it. Every new game is like reliving your first day of school all over again: I've got no friends and what if nobody likes me and where do I go for first period and…ARGH! You spend the first ten hours with your eyes glued to the map like a snot-nosed freshman, praying you don’t wander into a high level zone where Bad Men will beat the crap out of you and take your lunch money. Why subject myself to all that stress, when just a click away I can be whisked off to a world where everybody knows my name, and my enemies cower whenever I walk into the room? Where with just a snap of my fingers I can incinerate entire armies in a hail of fire and brimstone? I grinded for that power, dammit. It’s MINE. Why relinquish it so easily?

Speaking of insecurities, there’s the ever-present threat of disappointment that looms over every new game. The press hype, the glowing previews, the glorious sneak peeks that are brimming over with bullshot. You really have to ask yourself, how many times has a game met expectations? And how many times have you been let down? Don't they say whole review industry is fixed anyway? Rife with furtive payoffs in backrooms and promises of sparkling 9’s and 10’s and GOTY awards? Nah, I’ll just play Half-Life 2 again. It's never let me down yet.

Here’s another problem I have: Games starting off e-x-c-r-u-c-i-a-t-i-n-g-l-y slow. I don’t know if it’s got something to do with the death of the instruction booklet and the advent of the opening-level training, but a lot of games seem to be intent on holding the players hand for longer and longer periods. I can't count how many times I've poured five, ten hours to a game waiting for it to open up—only to be turned away like a horny teenager in the back of his mom's Camry on prom night. I understand wanting to spread out a game's best parts for pacing's sake, but it shouldn’t take me half a game to get access to all the abilities that make a game what it is. How many times have you gotten a gun or a power or a move very late in the game, and then everything just “clicks.” You finally see the vision of what the designers had planned for the game, and the entire system makes sense. And you're sitting there wondering, WHY THE HELL DID THIS TAKE SO LONG?!!? I'm sure if Mitt was a gamer, he'd call it Trickle Down Gameplay.

Don’t worry kid, you'll get a real one when you're ready.

Why is a guy like Batman leveling up anyway? Isn't he already the World's greatest detective trained in the ninja arts for decades? And yet you have to jump through hoops to 'learn' how to throw a two bit thug across the room.

Welcome to this expansive, exciting world…and here’s your dunce cap and training wheels for the next 7 hours. Try not to poke an eye out on the pointy end, dumbass.

Gameplay isn't the only element that a lot of the time is postponed until the last possible moment. All too often, the story of a game starts off with a bang, a Hollywood blockbuster-esque spectacle even Michael Bay would be proud of. There's a chase sequence on top of a train, filled with dynamite, and the bridge is out—right over the mouth of an active volcano! You fight through a legion of 700 ninjas(mostly by Quick Time Events), but villain just barely gets away with the princess in a helicopter (It's ALWAYS a helicopter.) You're stoked, hands tightly gripped around the controller and ready for the ride of your life. The hero wakes in the starting town, and what do the designers decide is the best course of action to maintain momentum and keep the player's interest? “Dear valiant hero, the one who is destined to save us all, earth's savior and bastion against all that is wrong in the world...would you kindly go kill the rats in my chicken coop?”

The discovery of this prevented me from subjecting you to another one of my awesome photoshops. Thanks Bethesda!

But you do it. Gladly, even. Anything to open up the next leg of the story right? You can't wait to find out the main character's backstory, or the reason the Bad Guy wants to exterminate humanity, or the reason why there's an ancient dragon living in the center of the planet...and then you get another fetch quest. And then another. And another. By the time you realize whats going on, three quarters of the game is over, and you start to wonder if there is no underlying story to this game, but it's just fetch quests all the way down. I'll never be able to figure out why busy work is considered a valid gameplay element in this day and age. A healthy respect of the player's time and dedication to maintaining interest should always be at the top of the list for any game designer.

But short of any real or perceived shortcomings the next game around the corner may have, there's one reason above all that I find myself playing FFVII for the 27th time, or doing yet another run of SMB3 on a lazy Saturday afternoon, or revisiting my town in Animal Crossing yet again, long after I've paid off my debt to that bastard slumlord of a raccoon. It's nostalgia and familiarity.

Leigh Alexander has a great piece on this effect that says,
I believe one of the main drives that enables people to endure is the power of nostalgia. When we were kids, games fascinated, inspired and intrigued us, acting as windows into other worlds. Simple bits, line art and softly glowing green text were the scaffolding we fleshed out with our imaginations. Every single one of us has at least one story about how a game saved a summer, created bonds between friends, between parent and child. We learned the power of this medium in ways we’ll never forget, and that still motivate us today.

Playing a familiar game is like listening to a song you know and singing along. You know when every drum hit comes, and when its time for that awesome high note or guitar solo. There's a rapport that one can only get from knowing every nook and cranny of a game. When every extra life, every shortcut, every warp whistle is yours to wield. No secrets are held, no boss a worthy challenge. Playing something that you know, know is like seeing the code in the Matrix.

Now is every new game guilty of these problems? Of course not. We are living in the most incredible and exciting time for gaming ever. Am I guilty of complaining about a distinctly #FirstWorldProblem, bemoaning having too many good games to play, clutching childishly to the well-worn blanket of nostalgia? Most likely. Do I have a clinical case of being completely unable to cope with change? Definitely. But whenever I reach for my game rack, and I get that nagging sensation in the pit of my stomach telling me to give that tried and true classic a spin instead of ripping the shrink wrap off that new title, I hesitate. I ask myself what it means, and I've come to the conclusion it all boils down to trust. Trust that I know I'll have fun, trust in my abilities, trust in the memories and experiences which have defined me as a gamer—and that's not a feeling to be taken lightly, right?

7:43 PM on 03.12.2012

Something about that Jennifer Helper interview and the misogynerd flamefest that ensued bothered me. Not because she asked for a combat skip button in games—it's been experimented with before, and even Bioware offers a “combat-lite” option in ME3. No, what struck me was the fact that someone felt the need to ask for one in the first place. Here's what she said in her own words:

Games almost always include a way to "button through" dialogue without paying attention, because they understand that some players don't enjoy listening to dialogue and they don't want to stop their fun. Yet they persist in practically coming into your living room and forcing you to play through the combats even if you're a player who only enjoys the dialogue. In a game with sufficient story to be interesting without the fighting, there is no reason on earth that you can't have a little button at the corner of the screen that you can click to skip to the end of the fighting.

Now after you get over the obvious knee-jerk reaction thinking that no “true gamer” would say this, think for a minute about what she called herself: “a player who only enjoys the dialogue.” Hmm. This statement stuck in my craw for a good while, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. After some time it finally occurred to me why the answer eluded me; it’s because Ms. Helper posed the wrong question. The real elephant in the room isn’t “why can’t you skip combat.” It’s why are violence and video games two such inseparable concepts?

For years, my mom would quizzically poke her head into my room and ask, “who are you killing today?” I would always in turn scoff and roll my eyes, entrenched fully in my belief that 'parents just don't understand', then resume decimating another defenseless legion of henchmen. But think about that for a moment. Gaming, our beloved pastime, looks like an endless buffet of murder to a casual observer. Have you ever had to take a public conversation about a game down a few notches to avoid a situation like this?

One really has to sit down and re-examine their hobby when a casual conversation between two enthusiasts makes them seem like psychopaths to the uninitiated. Now I’m not saying that putting a pretend bullet into a polygonal representation of a human head is anywhere near the same thing as witnessing or participating in actual murder (I have no desire to take on Jim on this) but what I am saying is that as every day goes by, video games are slowly crawling their way out of the uncanny valley, and it’s already getting hard to be able to tell the difference between real and simulated brutality. And what then? Will there be a tipping point where games just get ‘too realistic” and our gamer bloodlust begins to waver? And is it possible that there a separate uncanny valley for graphic violence, one that we will slowly begin to trudge out of until the depictions of violence become too real? Or is it more likely that the slow graduation of graphical fidelity is just subtle enough that we won’t notice when things go too far: like a proverbial frog in boiling water.

Every once in a while we should hold a mirror up to our culture—and more importantly ourselves, to make sure we like what we see.

Lets try an exercise. Try to forget we're gamers for a moment, that we don't have three decades worth of deeply entrenched mores and expectations associated with video games. How to enter the Konami code, throw a fireball, or that plumbers are excellent at resolving royal hostage situations. Now look at this list of games that were released for the Xbox 360 in 2011.

See any patterns there? The vast majority of these games include violence towards people, or at least reasonable facsimiles of them. And half of the few games that aren’t, are sports games. WTF? Is it not the tiniest bit alarming, if not altogether creepy, that our favorite hobby is so enamored with the death, torture, and suffering of incredibly realistic pretend people? Hell, even our driving games are violent now. Murder Simulators, indeed.

As my favorite Salarian biologist would say: Chances of survival...slim.

Critics of this view inevitably roll out the same platitudes every time. “Of course it isn’t real” “They’re just games anyway” and the like. Now this is all fine and good, until you have to reconcile the fact that games have been trying to transcend the “just a game” stigma for a very long time. Practically every other title released today tries to reach some part of your humanity, to make you believe for even the most briefest of moments, that those avatars on your screen are real—people with hearts and souls, dreams and desires, entities deserving of your love. If this wasn’t true, people wouldn’t talk about how Aeris’ death made them shed real tears, or how Celes’ leap from that cliff still sticks with them to this day. And if Red Dead Redemption didn’t affect you in any way—you may already be one of those innumerable zombies you've mowed down with a shotgun.

Isn't it weird though? That we aren’t supposed to care about those people on the other end of our cross-hairs? These motion captured, intricately detailed computer representations of human beings? It wasn’t so bad in the old days; when you could shoot a bad guy and he would crumple to the ground, only to flicker and disappear moments later like a flame in a brisk wind. Today, you’ve got designers that dedicate their lives to making those pixels on your screen move and sound as real as possible--some even beg for their lives as you kneecap them and slowly walk up them, in a writing heap, and execute them in the most brutal way imaginable.

So lemme get this straight: during cutscenes gamers are supposed to open our hearts, exposing ourselves to the intricacies of love, loss, and sacrifice; and 30 seconds later we’re supposed to be stone cold harbingers of torture and death, reveling in every kill as the mutilated bodies stack to the ceiling. The cognitive dissonance at work is deafening. Yes, most games require a degree of suspension of belief, but should we also be required to leave bits of our humanity outside on the coat rack, every time we power on our PS3's?

Another argument I seem to hear a lot is that games are really about “escapism” and “wish-fulfillment.” That we play games to do things we only dream we could do, but could never get away with. To that I say: is that really what people walk around wishing they could do all day? Aspiring to eviscerate every living thing within arms length? Honestly if it is, we’ve got some far more pressing issues within our culture to address than who lives and dies in a computer game.

"...as games get ever more immersive and lifelike, it starts to feel less like healthy play and more like unsettling aspirational fantasy to me. And as the economic competition around the genre heats up, the push for bigger-bloodier-more seems especially opportunistic and shameless. I don't understand the continuing appeal; I don't understand the unquestioning audience." – Leigh Alexander "Who Cheers for War?"

But it is obvious that wish fulfillment is definitely an aspect to games, as people have long yearned to be rock stars and they responded to the arrival of Rock Band by filling their houses with hundreds of dollars worth of plastic instruments. So yeah, people can have fun without needing to kill things--it just feels like we forgot how. Is there any wonder why non-gamers have such a tendency to gravitate towards violence-lite console choices like the Wii and DS? Most people--especially women (not all, of course. shout-out to all my lady fraggers!) do not enjoy playing bloody gib-fests to relax after a long day at the office. As long as gaming remains the domain of mindless brutality and careless violence, what's keeping the average person from continuing to assume gaming is only for immature teenage boys?

Is there any wonder that games, much like comic books, are seen as near-impenetrable to women? But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way. In 1989 there was a groundbreaking graphic novel by Neil Gaiman named “The Sandman” that took the comics world by storm. It stepped forth into an industry full of testosterone, capes, overdeveloped pecs and endless violence, and turned it on its ear with thoughtful tales of life, love, and the human condition. And then, a funny thing happened. Women started buying it in droves—eventually becoming half it’s readership and even outpacing Superman(!) in sales.

And I fully believe that video games could do the same thing. The real beauty of it all is the fact that finding a non-violent game didn’t used to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Just a few short years ago we had Grim Fandangos, Monkey Islands, Mysts…games that didn’t require twitch reflexes and an insatiable desire to inflict pain on other people. They relied on things like character development, atmosphere, and imagination to draw the player along. What happened to our sense of adventure? Even though I have an all-around distaste for the Elder Scrolls series, it warmed my heart to see gamers of every kind having so much fun just playing and exploring in Skyrim, creating their own unique experiences rather than just hitting things with swords until all the hit points came out.

“As an industry, I’m ashamed that we explore only a generally tiny slice of the human experience,” he continues. “If we want to reach a broader audience, we need…to make our games about feeling differently from ‘fight or flight’.”--Double Fine's Nathan Martz

There was plenty of killing to be had in Skyrim too, but it wasn't the only appeal. Too often, games that weren't originally action heavy are devolving into balls-out shooters. *coughResidentEvilcough* And let’s be honest, was there any need for L.A. Noire’s action scenes? The controls were stiff and unresponsive, and they were generally very short and uninteresting. Most of all, Team Bondi’s hearts didn’t seem to be in it anyway considering they let you skip them completely if you failed too many times. And I thank them for it. Far too often, games aren’t allowed to simply be what they are—they have to be an RPG, a first person shooter, a driving game, an RTS…with stealth elements.

Here’s another consideration, how about games with just less killing, or even better, more mindful violence? Hideo Kojima seems to be acutely aware of the myriad of issues that war presents, and wants you to too. I’ll never forget The Sorrow from Metal Gear 3. In quite possibly the most non-standard boss fight in history, in a game full of convention-shattering elements, Snake was forced to slog through a swamp of a soldier’s personal hell. Every knife to the sternum, every headshot, every snapped neck you inflicted upon your enemies and forgot about, was thrown back into your face in ghastly detail. You were forced to look every one of those people in the eye, and face the horrors you had inflicted in the previous 10 hours. The Sorrow couldn’t hurt you physically, but by the end of the scene, you almost wish he was launching stinger missiles at your face rather than heat seeking daggers of remorse into your conscience.

After the brief exchange was over, and I was back on my impossible mission to save the world from thermonuclear war, I shook my head and got back to work. The thing is, when I encountered the next generic, army-fatigued solder and pulled out my silenced M1911A1, I froze. For just a second, I thought of all of those “men” I had sent to an early grave. Eventually I did pull the trigger, but I didn’t feel any satisfaction after hearing the hammer’s click launching a bullet into the guy’s skull. Instead I felt an ever so slight pang of regret, knowing that I had sent yet another number to the parade of victims I had just met. It was then that I realized that I hadn’t escaped that tango with The Sorrow unscathed after all; in fact, he and in turn Hideo Kojima, had won. Of course I did finally finish my mission, taking out whoever got in my way, but murder was never quite as automatic as it had been before.

Listen to the voices of the dead...

A game that makes you weigh the consequences of every life you take is quite the game indeed, and any game that allows you to solve conflicts non-violently but still allow them to be fun, should be commended. Why don’t more games allow you to do this? About halfway through my Red Dead playthrough I got bored shooting everything that moved and started disarming and lassoing bad guys whenever I had the opportunity. Sure it wasn’t easy, chasing down some perpetrators for miles in in order to get close enough to rope them, but it added an interesting layer to the gameplay and my character, as I tried to play Marston true to his story, an ex-gunslinger turned family man reluctant to return to his old ways.

It begs the question that after all these years there really has been no police game that focused on apprehension of criminals with minimal collateral damage. The game could make you get creative in catching the criminals, forcing the player to ram cars to cause spin-outs instead of just filling them with bullet holes. Or maybe using pepper spray, tasers, and cuffs in addition to a realistic grappling system like UFC games to bring bad guys to justice. Maybe sometimes you do have to get all Dirty Harry on some asses, but it means you get your butt chewed out by the chief back at the precinct. You're off the case Mcgarnicle! It would certainly be more interesting than what every other game tells you to do:

Now I enjoy violent games just as much as any other John Q. Gamer. I’ve been playing First person shooters since Wolf3D, and I still remember most of the fatalities and the blood code from Mortal Kombat on the Genesis (I'm a blast at parties). And I understand the instant gratification from pulling a trigger and watching something die on the other end of your gun--it's game design 101. What bothers me about all the violence, is the blind ubiquity of it all. The fact that people don’t question it, and eventually don’t even consciously see it anymore. And if you don't like playing these very specific types of games, you don't belong here. Get the hell off our playground.

One reason there are so many violent games, is because violence is one of the easiest ways of stimulating or generating arousal in somebody. I don’t deny or dislike violence per se in games, but I don’t like the use of violence merely to bring about this sense of heightened, excited emotional state in humans. That I don’t like. If the violence is used to make the player realize that violence is a destructive and often negative force, if it is used in a ‘balanced’ way, then I don’t mind violent content in games. So I wouldn’t say I was ‘anti’ violence, I just want to bring so many other elements into games in terms of proper pacing and a better variety of emotional responses…which I think leads to a much healthier gaming scene. – Yasuhiro Wada, creator of Harvest Moon

It sorta reminds me of...porn. We're encouraged to perform these repetitive motions until we're rewarded with a messy, briefly satisfying moneyshot. Aim. Shoot. Splat! Its thoughtless, its mindless, its excessively masculine and gratuitous. It's without context. It strokes our boners for destruction and not much else. No wonder people are always saying “games don't need stories.” Porn doesn't need them either.

I'm aware of the irony here, but Roger Ebert said something about movies that when tweaked, I think translates perfectly to video games:

Many games diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life...they're fun, but just scratching the surface of what they are truly capable of.

Life is full of simple pleasures; those little fleeting moments that make you happy to be alive. Waking up to the smell of coffee in the morning, the thrill hitting all green lights when you’re running late, or the pleasant surprise when you find ten bucks in a pair of old pants. As gamers, we have dedicated a large portion of our real lives living virtual ones. These lives artificial as they may be, are full of countless micro-thrills that make our pastime all the more worthwhile. Below is a list of my twenty-five favorite.

And due to my inability to count thanks to public schooling:

26. The achievementBOO-KAP! Even if I’m not the one playing, I get a little Pavlovian thrill every time I hear it.

25. The double jump - because fuck you, Issac Newton.

24. The fireball – QCF + P simple enough to do on reflex, but engaging enough to still occasionally fuck up and take the other guy’s fireball to your face.

23. The trampoline – don’t ask me why, but the act of jumping on one of these IRL or in a game is flat out fun.

22. The spin dash – tapping B to make your hedgehog (or echidna, or fox) rev up like a muscle car with a big block engine, and then obliterating everything in his path.

21. Active reloading – the ingenious mini-game that makes one of gaming’s most mindless actions fun and vital for your success.

20. The throw – nothing says FU to your turtling asshole of a friend like calmly walking into their face and sending their punk-ass to the canvas.

19. Getting mail in Animal Crossing – Getting a letter from one of my furry buddies is like a mini-Christmas.

18. Web slinging – somehow better than flying, I’ve played some bad games to get my fill of one of the most liberating feelings in all of video games.

17. Ending credits – Yogi said it best. It ain’t over til it’s over.

16. The Melee Kill – It may be the easiest kill there is, but there’s nothing quite like sneaking up and sticking 6 inches of steel into some poor bastard’s Medulla oblongata.

15. The charge shot – The press. The hold. The payoff. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

14. Setting ANYTHING on fire – Whether you’re a flame eating yoga master or a grunt with 50lbs of napalm strapped to your back, burning shit rules!

13. Clearing a line in Tetris – here comes the I block….BAM. gamergasm.

12. The shotgun - the meaty kick of double-barreled goodness can make you forget all of your problems. Shotgun, take me away.

11. The power pill – I can’t think of a game changer more significant than the power pill. Omgomgomg Im gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiee! *CHOMP* Get. In. My. Belly!

10. Stomping a Goomba – whether it’s the first goomba or the 1000th, the satisfying squish of one of these little guys under your feet is the greatest thing ever.

9. Leveling Up – DING! If it didn’t feel so great designers wouldn’t be trying to shoehorn it into everything.

8. The strike out – I can’t think of a better way to make your opponent feel like dirt, and you feel like The Man.

7. The perfect powerslide – Hitting a corner way too fast, easing off the gas, and whipping the tail around before flooring it again. Every turn is a new adventure.

6. The grenade multi-kill – the confluence of perfect planning, timing, and luck.

5. Snake’s neck snap – One of the most brutally subtle and satisfying moves in all of gaming—tap tap tap SCRUNCH.

4. Taking health – let’s be honest: even if you’re at 99%, you’re walking across the room to pick up that health pack.

3. The headshot – a single well placed shot sending your foe to the ground in a bloody heap. Bonus points if their cranial cavity pops like an overripe grapefruit. <3

2. Picking up a teammate – yeah headshots are a blast, but I’d give up ten to save my bro.

1. Pressing start – all of the anticipation, the build-up, the hype, comes to reality with one press of a button. A crescendo of sound confirms what you already know: The game starts now.

Honorable Mentions:
The super combo finish – insult? Meet injury. Lots and lots of injury.
The rocket jump – what’s not to love? It’s like the trampoline, but with explosives!
Hitting a streak with the entire band – for a few brief moments you and your friends are a well-oiled machine of awesome.
Picking up game currency - rings, coins, fruit...who cares if having 77 Wampum Fruits instead of 76 means nothing. I’ve gotta pick it up BECAUSE ITS THERE. *pops a zoloft*
Breaking bricks with Mario – if Nintendo made a game that was just Mario in a dark room with infinitely regenerating bricks...I’d probably preorder it.

Feel free to chime in with some of your favs too, I'd love to hear em!

9:42 AM on 02.17.2012

On a particularly boring and nostalgic night this week I decided to pop in one of the greatest arcade games of all time: The Simpsons Arcade. In the midst of a litany of pithy catch-phrases and indiscriminate henchman whomping, something hit me; things sure were a lot simpler back then. Most games you were given two options of action: jump and attack. And actually, that's all you ever needed. Regardless of the game, from beat-em-ups , to sports games, to RPG's, two to three buttons was all you required to get the job done.

In my day you got one button and YOU LIKED IT

As a result, games back then were extremely easy to just pick up and play. Training levels and and hand-holding popups were absolutely unheard of. You were thrown into the fire in the first level and instructed to figure shit out. This was in part for three reasons: games respected player's intelligence's enough to not treat them like morons, second, most games were usually carefully designed to be very easy to learn, but tough to master and third, even if you were a moron or lost, designers didn't give a shit if their game left size 12 boot marks on your prepubescent ass.

For an industry who's claimed to be striving for “accessibility” this past decade, screens like the one above are increasingly common and are daunting to even the most seasoned of gamers. It used to be that if I person walked in on you playing a game and showed interest, you could hand them the controller and in less than a minute they could be making their way through the game and having fun while doing it. Now a days, you're more likely to see this happen:

Non Gamer: That looks cool, what is it?
You: Lord of Destruction XVII: The Revengence
NG: Can I give it a try?
Y: You're gonna love this, you can even rip out a guy's scrotum and feed it to him!
(hands controller)
NG: So how do I start kicking ass?
Y: You see that guy? Hold L1 to lock on to him.
NG: Where's L1?
Y: It's that little button up top, closest to you on the left. Then you have to use the D-pad to select your Chains of Fury and then press triangle to equip them.
NG: ...d-pad?
Y: Now here's where it gets tricky: You need to rotate the right thumbstick counterclockwise while strafing the guy with the left stick to attack, and then once his health is low enough, click R3 to activate the finisher.
NG: rotate what? Why is my guy running in circles?
Y: Didn't I tell you to keep holding down L1 to lock on? And it's counter clockwise, not clockwise!
Y: Now once you've got the guy by the neck, you need to tilt the controller side to side to activate the motion controls to twist his head off.
NG: dude, you know what? Here's the stick, I'll just watch you play.
Y: Why are you giving up? This game is so much FUN!

It's wonderful that games have reached such a level of complexity and depth that there's a near-limitless amount of ways you can interact with the world, but there's a lot to be said about a game that needs an hour long training course before you're competent in the game's basics. I remember many a time handing a spare controller to my dad or a younger cousin, and them instantly hopping in and enjoying themselves. There were even times when my game-phobic mom would be so intrigued that she would help me clean up the mean streets in Double Dragon. Those days are now long, long gone.

Hell, as a gamer with over two decades of experience under my belt, even I'm sometimes overwhelmed. I was a huge fan of NFL, NHL, and FIFA games as a kid, but after not playing anything for a generation or two, it is quite off-putting to even attempt to learn these incredibly convoluted and nuanced control systems. Every other year without fail I go through the same routine: I download the madden demo when it comes out and I tell myself: “this will be the year I reclaim the gridiron glory I had in NFL2k.” I then proceed to play two quarters(completing maybe one pass), rage quitting, and then dusting off my Dreamcast to play NFL Blitz 2001.

It's obvious that game designers aren't completely blind to this issue. For the past 15 years as game complexity has increased, along with the number of buttons on controllers, difficulty and challenge have been careening down a slippery slope. It's hard to deny that some recent games exist now as little more than interactive cut-scenes. But does that really fix anything? Now all we've got is marshmallow-soft gamers who throw a bitch fit if they die and lose more than 30 seconds of progress.

Shit happens, deal with it.

This is also why EVERYONE seems to be throwing their hats into the motion(and touch)gaming ring. Sure, the industry is always looking for the next hot gimmick, but motion games really did stem from a tangible need. It was painfully obvious that gaming was reaching a saturation point, and desperately in need of an infusion of new blood. What better way to do that than to eliminate controllers completely? Want to swing a sword? Imitate swinging a sword. Want to move forward? Jog in place. It's so easy a grandma could do it. And just like that, The Great Wall of Hypercomplexity had been torn down—potential gamers who were either very young, or very old, or just easily intimidated were now allowed back on the playground.

And yet instead of welcoming a new generation of fellow gamers into the fold, they were met with disdain and backlash. “Where are the core games!?!” they cry. “Casual games aren't for real gamers,” they sneer, while poking out their chests to proudly display their hardc0re g4mer badges. I've got one thing to say to those people. Grow the fuck up.

The “Hardcore” demographic has always claimed to have been the gatekeepers for gate that has never actually existed in the first place. Any game that brings enjoyment to the player, whether it be a macro-heavy RTS, an FPS twitch fest, or a facebook game about clicking kittens can and should be be welcomed into the culture with open arms. Crossover appeal and mainstream success ARE NOT NEGATIVES. Frankly, anyone that says otherwise starts sounding like a pretentious gaming hipster. A “Gamester”, if you will. And no one wants to be one of these: