Category Archives: Videogames

5 Years, 10 Games

Finishing the game I’ve been playing this week, Hollow Knight, led me to conclude that it is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. This, in turn, made me wonder which games impressed me the most in the past five years. I eventually came to this list:

  1. Nier: Automata
  2. Final Fantasy XV
  3. Persona 5
  4. Hollow Knight
  5. Super Mario Odyssey
  6. Destiny II
  7. The Witcher III
  8. Hearthstone
  9. Metal Gear Solid V
  10. Phoenix Wright: The Spirit of Justice

Of course, I haven’t played all the games that have been released since October 2014. That would be an impossible task for any human being. But I think I played a very representative slice.

In the coming days, I will write a little more about each one…

Nintendo

Playing videogames developed by Nintendo is more than “fun,” it’s a joyful experience.

I wasn’t originally a Nintendo fan, but after SEGA got away from their console business, I’ve discovered that their videogames are fun to play in a way that most others, aren’t. (And in a way that SEGA’s used to be, and to be fair, still occasionally are.)

Most modern videogames are more like glorified task-lists, where you accomplish micro-goals drip-by-drip as you play in a semi-automatic way. They are a bit like driving an automatic car VS a manual gearbox one.

(And I love my automatic car, but that’s because I don’t think there’s any inherent pleasure in shifting gears. I do know a lot of people who get that pleasure.)

Nintendo games are a joy just to play. The interaction between player character and environment is colourful and delightful and kinetic. There are goals, yes, but the enjoyment is not dependant on them – there is joy in the journey from one checkbox to another, rather than in a careful, constant dosing of checkboxes along an otherwise bland path, synthesized in the lab to ensure the optimal amount of dopamine release.

To play a Nintendo game is to delight in being a child again; to play most other modern games is to be a lab rat.

Sure, this art is not exclusive to Nintendo, but Nintendo is the brand that delivers it the most consistently. Bungie, I think might be the other example, but Bungie is a one-game studio. And for some reason, Japanese developers tend to deliver it more often than Western developers. But no-one, east or west, is as consistent as Nintendo.

I have limited time to play videogames, so I pick ones that make me feel genuinely happy as a consequence of the act of playing. 

I can get the joy from progressing on a goal checklist in other areas of my life.

Learning to Walk

It’s easy to forget how video games are difficult for those who are not used to playing them.

Tetris and Pac-Man, the classics among classics –  games that use less than half a dozen buttons to play (or even less, if the game platform has an analog stick) – play, to connoisseurs of the medium, like an act of meditation. You don’t even have to think about how to play: it’s intrinsic, you just grab the controller and play.

But for someone who is not used to them, these games are a mess of light and sound and arbitrary rules to be learned. A new player will struggle keeping up with the game’s pace. The act of playing is anything but intrinsic.

But the solution is not to make current games easier, or to give them “causal” modes. Challenge, personal development, and overcoming an obstacle that once seemed insurmountable – those are important parts of what “playing video games” means. Not to say that they are everything, or even The Moat Important Thing; but they are important components of the overall gaming landscape.

It is important to feel that there is something to achieve, that there is something locked behind the challenge. The burning need to discover what it is, that is the driving force that leads gamers to persist, to improve, to grow.

But there are not enough ways to get there, to forge this mentality of self-improvement, and to develop the dexterity to take on the more common challenges without feeling that you’re hitting a rick wall. 

What we need are more basic games, more games (well-done and beautiful and clever and rewarding) with two buttons, three buttons, and four buttons – games that teach initiates how to walk, before we hand them games that ask them to climb a mountain.

Photo Credit: Skall_Edit Flickr via Compfight cc