_Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of reading online about gaming, consisting of [but not limited to] the Xeno-verse Study Guide, 1up’s Essential 100, the MetaGame blog, and IGN’s 100 Greatest RPG’s list. I find myself fascinated by all of the differing opinions on gaming going around on gaming. Some gamers ache for truly unique, deep experiences. Others care for nothing but fun. And then there’s the space between, which most video gamers would probably claim to reside, although I’d be tempted to say most gamers are more like a fulcrum, easily swayed by whichever side is currently resting upon their consciousness.
_As you might know, my favorite video game of all time is Xenogears. It will likely continue to be my favorite video game of all time until the day I die for any number of reasons, many artistic, many personal. Xenogears was the first game I ever played that made me think about life differently. Things like the concept of “God,” the meaning of life, my personal insecurities and attachments. I had played many video games before then, even many RPG’s. Not gonna put any other specific titles on blast here, as that’s not the point, but after XG, everything else seemed a bit blander. I not only came to the sudden realization of how shallow the old black and white “Good vs. Evil” stories of games were, but also that incredibly complex and meaningful stories could even be told in the gaming medium. It’s possible that there will one day be a game made that surpasses Xenogears in terms of quality, but that kind of eye opening experience can only happen once, and will forever belong to XG.
_So…after all of that, why do I still love rhythm games so much? I mean, from an artistic perspective, they can’t go far. What possible deep narrative could be told in the medium of “Play notes”? Sure, that’s not why I play rhythm games, but if there’s no actual depth in the game, is all it is empty enjoyability? Maybe…but I almost feel something tangible when I play a rhythm game well. Sure, critics would say “All the hours you’ve put into IIDX/Rock Band/Um Jammer Lammy could have easily gone towards learning to play a real instrument!” To which I would respond “Yes, they could have. And the time I spent learning to play a real instrument could also have gone into learning how to live off of the land.” Which is equally true. It’s hard to explain…playing rhythm games, for me, is like…an extension of my love of music. Playing songs in rhythm games is kind of like a way of enhancing the songs. It’s different from the feeling of sitting back and listening to a song…not to listen to music while preforming another action, but to listen to music as you would watch a movie, with full attention paid. That connection goes to a different place during rhythm games. You’re focusing on the music…but your mind is also somewhere else, concentrating on playing the notes that are scrolling down the screen. You notice things you otherwise might not have noticed, but often only subconsciously. Add to that the rush of nailing dumbfuck patterns in rhythm games, and it offers an experience not really found anywhere else.
_So, again…after all that, why do I enjoy Halo so much? Past the “It’s fun” thing, of course. It’s not deep. The Halo universe is pretty interesting, but it’s mostly interesting in “Not The Story Told in the Games.” Taken from the perspective of what strictly what is told in the games themselves, it’s a competent sci-fi story, with some out of the way intrigues and some nudges to go into the extended universe to find out juicy back-story, such as “Master Chief’s actual character aside from being a pretty quiet bad ass.” So then…why do I still enjoy it so much. Well…because it’s fun. Fun is good.
_An idea I came across in the MetaGame blog was the idea that fun was unnecessary in games. To paraphrase, that in modern popular opinion, “fun” is overrated. I can agree with that, actually, even as someone that likes fun. Who doesn’t like fun things? But “fun” is something that most developers would cite as their goal. “We want to make something fun.” OK…but is that a good thing?
_Allow me for one second to dive into Eternal Sonata a bit. Eternal Sonata was the game that took place inside of deathbed-fever-dream of 19th century composer Frédéric Chopin. Naturally, this concept was met with high praise for fantastical WTF-ery. The game itself is rather wonderful [IMO] …but it’s completely buttfucked by traditional RPG tropes that don’t fit the mood of the game. “Hey, we’re gonna make a game that takes place inside of the maybe-delirious head of a man moments from death, where he sees fictional fantasy representations of people, places and ideas he knew in life…let’s have it revolve around a typical JRPG plot!” Ugh…UGH! Terrible idea! Horrible! The concept is something that hasn’t really been done before, why the fuck shy away from it by building it around something that’s been done repeatedly?!
_OK…now…why did I bring that up when I was talking about fun in games? Because games are made fun for the same reason Eternal Sonata had a generic JRPG plot shoehorned in the game: “Because that’s what people expect.” JRPG based around a theoretical Chopin insanity world? Well, it’s a JRPG, so put a JRPG plot in it. It’s that same idea why things are fun. “Video games are supposed to be fun, so if they’re not, there’s no point.” The artistic design is compromised because of what games are expected to be.
_This is not to say that video games will reach the next level as soon as they stop being fun. An un-fun video game would be kind of like a textbook: The end result may be worth it, but for all of the merits it may possess, is it something you want to do? If you decided you wanted to devote your leisure time to learning about US history, would you go to the nearest college campus and buy the History 101 text? Not that taking a class on US history wouldn’t be a good way to learn, it is, but that’s besides the point. The point is that for the majority of us, video games are a leisure activity. Yes, we want a healthy dose of depth and beauty from them, but if it’s a chore to play, we are more than likely going to not play it.
_…I have more thoughts along these lines, but I think I’m having a hard time putting them all into words. This post is pretty lengthy, so I’ll try to continue another time.