I often find myself explaining gaming terms and rules to those outside the loop. My parents and co-workers often have no idea what I'm ranting about or miss my references entirely, particularly if they require a deeper understanding of gamer culture. I suppose we are an odd bunch, with our rituals defending pieces of plastic as if we had jobs working for these companies, investing our money into having the "perfect setup" and coining our own terms. A lot of this has to do with specific experiences that we have as gamers be it positive or negative, but it helps if we can put a name on it. For example: Ludonarrative dissonance is a term you will likely never hear or see unless you are a gamer simply because it's an issue with how games are structured vs. how they are narrated, other mediums don't have issues like this.
So when I say something is "gamey" I'm not talking about meat having a certain taste, I'm talking about things like a game implementing quirky mechanics that only make sense in the context of a video games. We all know these prominent ones because they are ingrained into us from an early age: red barrels explode when shot (Doom) There is a secret behind the waterfall (Legend of Zelda) regenerating health (Halo) and power ups in random blocks (also Mario). These are so common that they have become cliche.
Having gamey ideas aren't the only prerequisites, I feel like theme and tone have a lot to do with it. I've always had a soft spot for extreme sports games because they weren't trying to have the most accurate physics or be realistic, they were all about having fun. SSX back on the 6th generation embodied what it was like to be gamey. In one of the video interviews on SSX Tricky one of the developers said "we're trying to be as far removed from simulation as possible." I really missed that in the new SSX, despite having much better mechanics, being much accessible, and in it's own right fun to play, I felt like it had it's personality removed. Sure the characters were still there, and it was still colorful but everything felt suppressed, as it it was afraid to let loose and be the game it was supposed to be.
At the risk of sounding like and old fart, I have to say I miss that about modern day AAA experiences. Now this is not to wax on about the good old days and say how much better things used to be. First off that's not true, but secondly no one wants to hear that. But it is an element that feels strikingly absent from most games and there are a few reasons it's that way.
The biggest issue I see is that there is a lack of software focusing on the middle ground between E and M rated games. Nintendo does a great job at catering to a younger demographic, with bright colors and approachable mechanics, it's easy to see why they have their own corner of the market. But if you'll notice that a lot of their more mature franchises haven't seen much attention. Metroid and F-Zero have been notably ignored, but most people don't talk about how Nintendo used to have a nice selection of these games like Wave Race, 1080 Snowboarding, Goldeneye, and Star Wars Rouge Squadron. Games that were mature enough to respect you as a player without having to feel censored or dumbed down.
Sony and Microsoft consoles feel like they target an adult audience, and in my mind, feel like they force their audience to either grow up quickly or resort to Nintendo's often too young games. I have no doubt that young teens can and do play games like Assassins Creed, Forza, and Madden but perhaps they do so because they don't have enough that caters to them specifically. Yes there are games that come out that do, but they feel to infrequent to be counted on. Gamey games fill in the gaps forgotten by most developers. Games like Sunset Overdrive, Killer Instinct, Uncharted, Street Fighter V, and Tekken do a great job, but I want to see more. At one point Sega and Capcom had catalogs of games like these.
Stands in stark contrast to most modern AAA games
The second reason I feel like games aren't gamey enough is because it's not really the style. Far too many games take themselves too seriously. That is how most games want to appear as a dark and gritty with deep characters and involving plots, but honestly it's okay for game to have video game logic. You won't ever hear me complain about a game being colorful or occasionally having contrived ideas. In my mind that's okay, this is the one facet of entertainment where you can suspend disbelief and have fun. Not that every game has to embrace this logic and throw games like The Evil Within to the curb, but some balance would be very much appreciated.
Finally, I feel like our consoles have lost their way in that regard. One of the advantages to gaming on a console (as opposed to PC or mobile) is that they can be more distinct and more easily offer unique experiences, especially if a console supports this functionality out of the box. You can go on about the screw ups Nintendo made with the Wii U but of the things that makes it such an interesting platform to me is how much potential the gamepad has. I feel like we are only skimming the surface of what can be done with asymmetric play. People love to dismiss these features for being gimmicks (a label that is far too common) but Wii U and 3DS are chock full of gamey features. Not all of these features will be used in every game nor should they be, but that doesn't automatically mean they are gimmicks, they just need the right application. Yes, Nintendo does need to get with the times, but that has more to do with antiquated practices like region locking and friend codes, not with innovations like the gamepad and touch controls.
Perhaps I just don't like how gaming is trying to cater to a larger audience and it is I who needs to adjust my expectations. But I don't think I'm alone in wanting games to feel more distinct. I don't want to just let gaming fall down this path of being performance driven and putting a check next to this list of features that every console needs to support. I want a balanced approach where games can have a broad range of themes and not be afraid to experiment with new ideas. Stop worrying about if a game is 1080p/60fps or if it allows for a female protagonist, and start worrying about what it's offering you in terms of a new experience, has the kind of content you are looking for or most importantly if the game itself is fun. After all, isn't that the point of video games?