Not too long ago, I was struggling through a replay of Star Wars Republic Commando (an excellent FPS game, in my opinion) and I happened to read through an article on Homestation Magazine about the current trend toward curbing gamers’ frustration with advancing through or winning a game. It made me feel a bit guilty (at first) about not being as dedicated as some hardcore gamers to beating each level sans cheat codes and scoring every possible point and achievement there is.
But the more I thought it over, the more I came to realize that I don’t need to be that kind of a gamer. Certainly, the majority of people playing video and mobile games aren’t. And then I wondered if it wasn’t so much what kind of gamer I was, but what kind of games I’d much rather play.
For me, there’s 5 essential points that a game needs to hit for me to really enjoy myself.
- It has to be fun to play (and replay).
Most video games, in an abstract way, are meant to be fun, whether they’re a first person shooter, an RPG, a puzzle game, or an endlessly repeating flash mobile game like Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. But for me, “fun” is more than the actual content of the game than the style of the gameplay. I’m not the kind of person who will spend hours trudging through an FPS game, getting mowed down by enemy soldiers and racking up kills. I don’t have that kind of patience. I’d much rather jump or fly around the map, tricking enemies or ambushing them in comical ways. I’d rather explore or do something funny (like bash a robot over the head) than get lost in a gritty urban map with a BFG and a horde of enemies.
- The in-game environment should look good.
I’m well aware of the kind of pressure that a lot of game developers are under to release new titles every year, so I can be a little forgiving of the occasional glitch or bug. But what really gets me into a game is how good each map looks, whether I’m in the bright stark white testing chambers of Aperture Science or the grim, mean streets of Liberty City and Los Santos. What I don’t want to do is trudge my way through yet another brown and gray urban environment that’s indistinguishable from a thousand other FPS titles.
- Points and speed don’t matter.
I’ll admit that I’ve spent a considerable amount of hours trying to score achievements in different games, but racking up points and achievements matters less to me than the actual fun I have playing through a game. At the same time, I don’t work well under pressure, which is why timed missions or escorting NPCs are a nightmare for me. Some people have better reflexes than me, so that’s fine if they enjoy such gameplay, but I’d rather be doing something less constructive, like exploring the map or solving a puzzle challenge.
- The soundtrack should be engaging.
Most of the music that you hear in games is pretty standard, from the MIDI tracks of classic Nintendo games to the dramatic orchestral scores of Halo and its thousand spiritual successors. But sometimes, a score is good enough to be enjoyed on its own. It’d be easy for me to name something like Portal as an example, but I can also think of the lovely retro soundtrack of a game like Fez. It’s great when the music really adds to the atmosphere or creates one of its own, even if you’re listening to the tracks without playing the game.
- A little intellectual challenge is good.
Now here’s the part where I imagine a lot of readers going, “But I don’t want to think! I just wanna play!” And I agree with you—to an extent. But we’re talking about my personal style of gameplay and I enjoy a little strategy or puzzle-solving. Nothing that would require a PhD, certainly, but something that would tease the brain without actually breaking it. Some games require you to search and collect several items, and that’s fine, but I’d also like the kind of game where you need to apply either a bit of logic or some imagination to get yourself out of a situation.
Looking at all these points, I suppose I’m describing a game like Portal or any of the Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. There’s enough comedy, action, atmosphere, and puzzles in those games to go around, and when it comes to either of the Portal games, I’ve definitely logged over 100 hours.
None of this is supposed to be taken as some final manifesto of demands to be submitted to game developers everywhere. If there’s a market for games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Fruit Ninja, then who am I to complain? All I’m outlining is the kind of gaming market that defines me—and perhaps a few of my readers, too.
So, readers, what kind of games are your personal favorite? FPS? Puzzle platformers? Open sandbox? Don’t be shy; be proud. Let us know in the comments below.
Edit (9/30/2014): The link to the original HS Magazine article has been removed, owing to the website closing down.