Why Do We Even Play Video Games Anyway?By Tom Yeates | December 27, 2011 | Editorials | 2 comments | Share
2011 draws slowly to its inevitable, inescapable conclusion. We’re all a year older, supposedly all a year wiser though I’m not sure I feel any wiser than I did at this moment 365 days ago. Some of us are richer than we were a year ago, some of us are poorer. The end of a year is always a time of reflection, a time of thought and pondering. There are those of you out there who may even consider smoking a pipe during this time of year, purely because smoking a pipe whilst staring wistfully at the ceiling or sky is the image that I think best conjures up a sense of thoughtfulness and general musing. So! In these ponderous times I’ve been doing some reflecting of my own.
Rage. Anger. Frustration. We’ve all been there. We’ve all played a game that’s frustrated us to breaking point, or close to. A game so difficult, or a moment so annoying that it tests our resolve to continue playing. I knew someone that, for reasons I cannot possibly fathom, could not get past the Vulcan Raven tank battle in Metal Gear Solid. Other people, well they get stuck on unfathomably difficult levels in Super Meat Boy. We all play at different levels, and we all have different thresholds of frustration. Some begin moaning after one death on a round of de_dust…or after their first defeat of the day on the Starcraft II ladders. Meanwhile, others seem content to wade through veritable seas of losses, deaths and failures without giving out so much as a sniff of complaint…For me, I almost stopped playing EVE Online after I spent two hours tracking down a target with some buddies, only to be instantly killed upon attacking. Two hours of build up, tension and work…all for naught. I had been outplayed. I logged off, turned off my machine and watched bad horror movies for the rest of the night.
What I am saying is, we’re all different and have different thresholds of tolerance, it’s just the way of the world and I realise now, after I have already begun, that in tackling such a question as “why do we play?” – I can only say why I play…But if you’re anything like me, and boy, am I hoping you are – then you find video games to be one of the most satisfying and intoxicating forms of entertainment in existence. No amount of vilification or teasing would make you stop because, in your opinion (and mine) this is one of the best damn ways to enjoy yourself and who’s to tell what you should and shouldn’t like?
Video games have astounded me for almost as long as I remember. I loved my Dad’s Amiga, I used to play Sensible Soccer, inexplicably playing as Blackburn Rovers despite being a Manchester United fan…I would while away hours playing Dune 2. When my Dad got a PC, I became enthralled by Doom, Doom II and Quake…but I think I, like many others, had my first gaming epiphany, my first real “wow” moment when I played Final Fantasy VII and Sephiroth glided down like a silent shadow to murder Aeris. I realised at that moment that she wasn’t coming back, that she was dead. Sephiroth had killed someone for good and no amount of phoenix downs could bring her back. She was gone. Permanently. I had enjoyed and played so many games before that but it was that moment that made me love video games. It was that moment that got me talking to people about games, I realised that they could be more than just fun – they could be an experience and that others who had played could share in that experience. I realised that each person playing a game has their own experience, their own way of telling the tale or their own standout moment. It’s an exciting feeling, having one of those fabled “water cooler” moments when you get together with another gamer and discuss the things that happened to you along the way.
Now, I’m not saying Final Fantasy VII is the best game of all time, nor am I saying it was the first game to contain such a storyline moment. What I am saying is that it was that particular moment in the game that changed everything for me personally. It was the first time I remember really thinking about what video games could do for the player – it was the first time I realized that video games could be so much more than something you loaded up for a casual thrill – they could be experiences that moved you, that made you care about characters or events in a way usually reserved exclusively for cinema or literature. This was the moment I realised that video games were more than mere games, that they could become interactive experiences.
So now, as 2011 fades to black and the prepatory fade-in of 2012 begins, I think back fondly on all the games I have lived with and loved. I remember the good times, and the bad times. With great pride, I recall my valorous unit of Hastati infantry in Rome: Total War who managed to take the walls of Palma single handedly, fighting tooth and nail for each metre of wall until all of their foes were slain and only 14 of them were left standing. I sent them back home for restoration and re-arming, and I imagined the glorious street parade. Maybe my imagination gets carried away but I loved those damn soldiers and the storming of Palma stood as one of my most celebrated victories, perhaps even eclipsing the capture of Rome itself. Similarly, I remember moments of frustration – failing miserably at defeating Ruby Weapon over and over again until the final triumphant moment of glory when that big red bastard ate Knights of the Round for a final time.
Video games have inspired me throughout my life with their creativity. Whether it’s an amazing soundtrack, beautiful landscapes or engaging characters. There are memories I have that I can honestly say will be with me forever, or at least as long as my mental faculties remain intact. I’ll be a wisened, withered old man and still talking about that time I chose Tali as my romance option in Mass Effect 2 because I felt that she truly loved Shepard and that, if Shepard was going to die at the end of it all, at least he could say that he had felt love before he died. Grandchildren all over the world will be forced to hear time and time again how their Grandparents couldn’t believe how Red Dead Redemption ended and when David Hayter eventually leaves this earth I will have to resist the urge to yell “Snake! SNAKE?! SNAAAAAAAAAKE!” at the top of my lungs.
So if I were to really try and answer the question: why do we play video games? I guess the answer is no way near as simple as I had hoped. We play video games because we can connect with them. To say that video games are mindless is to sell short the work of thousands of talented people around the world and insulting to those of us who have had the pleasure of playing them. We play video games because there’s nothing else like it. We play them because it’s a damn good way to have some fun or be engaged.
Now come on 2012…bring me more games!