The Goods on Gaming


videogaming.JPGI’m a gamer. A pretty good one, too. Good enough to review them for Plugged In, anyway. I just wanted to let you know that I love video games, before I say this:

It’s an established fact that not all video games are created equal. Right? Right?! I mean, just look at all the different stuff you can do in these games.

Maybe you’ve got to unload numerous rounds of ammo into a bad guy (or possibly a zombie). Or you’re racing around downtown city streets in a hopped-up whip for cash. Some games put you on a big fancy quest to save the damsel in distress (and conquer that fire-breathing dragon while you’re at it. You call the right play and score a touchdown. You deliver a knockout punch. Follow the dance moves in the correct order and be a better living room dancer.

But to what end? Why, the next level, of course, earning loads of  experience points so you can make your pixel-generated avatar more buff or unlock better weapons or cooler songs.

And most of them have another goal, too—and that is to keep your backside glued to your couch and your hands clamped down tight on a controller. Sure, some games may have you jumping around in front of a motion-capture camera or waving a magic wand of sorts (be careful not to knock over the lamp), but the hands-clamped-down-on-the-controller idea still applies.

So maybe these things aren’t so different after all.

The video game world offers scads of various themes and scenarios for players to discover. But the why of it all is ultra-simple: Allowing the player to achieve, accomplish and defeat. And that makes you feel better about yourself—even if only for a moment. (Just don’t do it for too long at a stretch!)

So I guess you could say that games are different and the same all at once. How about you? Why do you play, if you play?

Who wrote this?

Graphic Designer for PLUGGEDIN.COM. Cutting his design teeth at Scripture Press/Cook Communications, Kevin brings years of ministry and freelance experience to Plugged In's visual presentation. He also analyzes video games for our reviews and contributes an occasional blog.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  neildown:

I'm kind of edging toward RPG games. I've kind of had this pipe dream for several years now that I might be able to translate a novel I'm writing into a videogame, so that the two might compliment each other. I suppose my main goal in making games would be "fun education." I want people to be entertained, but I want that entertainment to feed them with healthy spiritual, physical, and mental food, to encourage them to live a better life without "imposing" or making it feel forced.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  SEMPER FI:

darksouls? get ready for much rage and an insane number deaths. it's the hardest game to come out in deaths were in the triple digits within 3hrs of playing

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Erik:

Neildown, I think you have at least two options for the kinds of games you want to make, both of which are pretty practical:

1) Design motion-based games along the lines of what Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are pushing.  Get people moving even while they're inside.  (And then the question of how to make those games interesting and complex enough for gamers who prefer playing Elder Scrolls, Halo, etc. ...)

2) Design games with shorter pacing for individual missions or quests or what have you.  In other words, imagine if you were designing an RPG for a portable gaming system.  If you wanted to give a sense of accomplishment to players who don't have a lot of time to play, and a worthwhile gaming experience to players who do have more time, then one thing you could do, would be to design a game with lots and lots of really short missions.  Ergo, I don't have to play for hours to feel like I've done something, but if I want to do so, I still can.  (Some online games have internal or user-determined limits on how long players can play, but the problem with that idea is that when a player runs out of time on one game, he or she can simply hop on another.)

I hope this helps, God bless!  I think the biggest issue going against you, and probably the easiest to work around, is that games like MMOs are quite often drawn out so as to make the user take longer to accomplish something, whether completing a quest or gaining the next level of character ability.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  neildown:

I play for entertainment and relaxation mostly. When I have a friend over it's something to resort to to break the ice if it's a new friend. It's also just something to spend time on - play some virtual matches against someone, chat whenever something pops in your head. If there's nothing much to talk about then you can just concentrate on the game without feeling awkward.

But realistically, most of my gaming time is by myself. Again, mostly for entertainment and relaxation - but when I'm playing it has to be something that engages me, be it on an adrenaline-fueled or philosophical level. It has to entertain me enough for me to want to continue or give me things to think about during or afterwards.

I'm planning on going into the gaming business [developement, direction, programming, conceptual art, something along those lines] and ironically I want to make games that will result in people playing less videogames in total. You can still make good business and not have your consumers playing your products 10 hours a day, and that's something I would kind of like to emphasize.More specifically, I would like to encourage people to get out and be more active both physically and in life in general whilst still maintaining their liking of the product - just not on such an unhealthy level as you see in many, if not all, games today.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Charger:

I like to play to cool off after the day. Being the oldest of 11 and all. Although you dont want games to take the place of God. Now I like to to play the Call of Duty games (MW2, Black Ops and MW3). And the Lego games with my siblings. And RTS games (Real Time Strategy). It gets your mind working on different startegys to beat harder enemies and other players online. And sometimes I play a game because of the story, some poeple watch movies to get a story. I like to play through mine.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Erik:

Loving Skyrim and definitely hoping to try out Dark Souls.  I'm looking for a challenge.  Narrative and challenges, reflex-based and intellect-based, are things that I highly value in my gaming experiences.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  YetAnotherTeen:

I apologize if this pops up twice, a server error killed my message and I don't think it went through...

When I was younger my gaming was limited to playing at my Grandma's, where my aunt put the original Nintendo she'd given to my siblings and I. I never actually beat a game, but I spent a good deal of time just playing them, generally with a younger sibling as player two, though they eventually liked to take over the leadership position themselves. Back then, I think I just played for the sake of enjoying the gameplay, even if I find it poor now. Nowadays, I'm finding that just playing a game for gameplay gets harder, and I instead need one (or more) of three things to actually play a game: A good story, challenging strategy or puzzles, or enjoyable multiplayer I can play with my brother or a few friends. Everything else I seem to end up being done with after I reach the end, if I get the game at all. I think I'm getting old(er)...

Technically, I could add good music to the above list, but lately, if the game's one that just has good music and not one of the above three things, I tend to just listen to the music (either in the game or online) and not play the game after a while.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Anon:

Definitely agree with Smitti. On several levels, videogames function, for me, as a form of relaxation. I barely play at all during school (picked up the controller maybe 3-4 times the entirety of the fall semester), but the instant school's out and I need something to distance myself from finals stress, back to the Xbox I go. I find Assassin's Creed particularly relaxing. Something so freeing about all that climbing.

Then there's the social element. Videogames are, to me, a great way to facilitate interaction with my friends. A friend'll come over, and we'll pop in Halo and hop online for some multiplayer. It's a fun way to bond over a common goal. And every once in a while, we'll get a group of people together, link up our Xboxs (is that the plural form? Xboxes? Xboxi?), and spend the night chatting over whatever videogame we're playing. It's a fun social activity for us.

Like I've mentioned on other similar posts, though, when I'm playing singleplayer, videogames really do function for me as an artistic experience on the same level of a film or novel. My goal is not simply to make my "avatar more buff," but to continue and delve deeper into this artistic experience. When I played Bioshock, I spent much of my time trying to find, not powerups, but the short audio diaries hidden throughout the levels. They added absolutely nothing to my avatar or in-game abilities, but they helped me explore the ideas, themes, and characters in the spectacularly failed humanist experiment that was the city of Rapture. Similarly, my reward in playing Red Dead Redemption was not so much better guns as beautifully written and voice-acted cutscenes and dialogue. I played not because I wanted better ways to shoot outlaws, but because I wanted to explore the ideas surrounding John Marston's quest, the conflict between the West and the modern world and, by the end of the game, the fiction of the West and my reality.

So, playing videogames is not simply an ego project for me. I'm not in this simply to feel better about myself. I'm in this to engage with the artistic discourse that videogames have become. So, I'm a bit annoyed by the suggestion that, on the developer's part, the goal of videogames is merely to keep people playing. Go read some interviews with these guys. Many of the great (in my opinion) minds behind this generation's videogames are in this business because they actually love videogames as an artistic medium. Sure, they want their games to sell, but that doesn't mean they're in it purely for the money. I'm sure Shakespeare wanted his theater full.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  JJM:

I'm 37, married, and father of a 2 1/2 year old. I'm also an avid gamer. Most of my gaming is done in the evenings after our son is in bed. Long gone are the marathon Everquest sessions over the weekend. I'm talking 12-14 hours at a time. Now I'm content with an hour here and there on my PS3 a few nights a week.

Right now it's Skyrim. The last month has seen Dark Souls, Uncharted 3 and Skyward Sword. For a game to hook me it has to have something to keep me interested. Namely a good story and fun gameplay. It's hard to believe after gaming for 30 years that I've gone from simply trying to rescue a princess from a castle (not this one Mario!) to trying to beat a villian to a treasure halfway around the world Indiana Jones style in Uncharted (1, 2 and 3).

Part of the reason I play is to relax. To me it's a form of entertainment, like reading a book or watching a movie (both of which keep you glued to your seat). I think it's unfortunate that video games get unfairly singled out in that way, that they aren't a valid form of entertainment and/or are a waste of time. Someone can just as easily isolate themselves and stay on the couch for 5 hours reading a book as they can playing a video game, but reading a book seems to be the more accepted form of entertainment. But I suspect that those who think gaming is a waste of time, and yet have no problem with someone reading for 8 hours straight, have an incorrect perception of what games are these days. While they still exist, most games aren't like the quarter eaters of the 80s where you just play to get the highest score. Many have deep storylines with complex plot twists. And the game places you in the middle of it in a way a book can't. I hope some day games get the level of respect they deserve as an art form.

Anyway, sorry for that mini-rant. :-)

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  k s:

As a 42 year old mother of a tween and a teen, I play Sims2 to sooth frazzled nerves and regain some of the control I've had to hand over to others (who need to learn a bit more about responsibility).  I play to relax.  I play to escape the 'what ifs' that run through my mind constantly.  Is that bad?