How to Play Games and Win Success Forever.

Last post, if you read it, was about learning to play video games/computer games, and how it makes it easier to learn to play new games. It’s all cumulative, and it gets easier every time. Wow, I just summed up like a thousand words into the space of 2 sentences. Maybe I should be doing this on Twitter.

But this post is about something totally different! Promise. It involves a friend of mine, who we’ll call Bob. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone actually has a friend named Bob, but I can assure you that this guy’s name is not actually Bob. So Bob and I hang out a lot, and we play video games together. Since the whole single-console multiplayer thing has basically all but died, we’re limited to Halo, co-op Katamari, and watching each other play single-player games while absently screwing around with Minecraft on a laptop. Now usually this isn’t a problem, but recently we went in halvsies on a purchase of the glorious Mass Effect 3. Now, I’m not going to talk about the day-1 DLC, I’m not going to talk about the ending, I’m not going to talk about how BioWare is selling out and they’re the new embodiment of Satan on planet Earth (have you even LOOKED at Syria recently? Quit yer whinin’).

I know who *I* think looks more evil and dangerous. Hint: They're on the left.

But what I’m going to talk about is how people play games. Because Bob and I play games in such a drastically different way, that whenever I watch him play a game like Mass Effect, I want to beat my head into MineCraft blocks until I lose consciousness. Every time he gets a new gun, he takes it to the digital firing range to test it out, see how it fares against the different kinds of armor that enemies have, sees how accurate it is at close range, medium range, and long range. He tries his best to work out a strategy to cancel out recoil. Then he picks the best customization for it, decides which ones he wants to load out, how it will affect his combat style, how he’ll be able to use his special abilities in conjunction with his newly-acquired firearm. He then searches whatever town he’s in for new upgrades that might be able to further increase the firepower or maneuverability of this weapon. And this is just every time he gets a new gun.

It’s a methodical, no-nonsense approach to combat preparation, and it has got to be more boring than watching paint dry in Norway (or somewhere else cold where paint doesn’t dry very fast at all, like northern Alaska). For all the people who are in it for the writing, or who are in it for the combat, or who are in it for the cool cutscenes, or whatever, that approach (especially passively watching it) is so unsatisfying that they would probably begin pulling their hair out. I tell Bob that he’s playing the game wrong! He’s overthinking it, he’s working everything down to a science and that’s just idiotic. That’s not how you play a frickin’ game! Especially not one as epically amazing as Mass Effect 3.

But welcome to modern gaming! When you play a game like Pac-Man (my personal epitome of early video games, in case you hadn’t noticed), you have a clear goal, and obstacles to that goal. Your playing style isn’t going to differ that much from the guy next to you, except that you might get the dots in a different order. Or whatever. But as games get more complex and realistic, you find that your options for gameplay are more diverse. In the Megaman series, one can use the regular weapon for the entire game (except bosses), or one can use the special weapons he acquires to make progressing through levels easier. Then games began to have secrets, hidden items, special things that it took insane amounts of skill to obtain, and PRESTO! You begin to have people known as completionists. They obsess over getting every hidden item, and they must get all the upgrades, ALL the extra weapons, ALL the best armors and swords and bows, ALL the secret levels, ALL the optional bosses etc. to infinity.

The completionist's conundrum. It's not as satisfying as you think.

It’s tough and time-consuming. It often involves long hours of discovering where secret items are, and performing incredible feats of hand-eye coordination to actually obtain them. Ask anyone who’s play Super Metriod if they’ve gotten 100% of the secret items. It’s unbearably difficult. But my point is, some people play games like this, and are very meticulous about making sure they got everything, that every possibility is explored. It was the first real divergence in how people played video games. Do you train 6 Poke’mon to unbeatable strength? Or do you try to catch all 150? (Haha, just kidding, there are like 800 now, GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL, SUCKERS! Good luck).

Things got even more complicated in recent, when these games got to be so complex and full of possibilities that it wasn’t just about performing feats of dexterity, it was about exploring whole subplots and sidequests in games that were totally optional, but enriched your experience. Think of the Final Fantasy series. They gave you a thousand thousand things you could do, places you could explore, optional things that gave you a more complete understanding of the world, its history, and its denizens ( which were usually awful evil things that killed you unmercifully but gave you cool stuff if you could beat them). And it was AWESOME! But you had the people who would do ALL of the sublots and side quests, and it just took forever and got to be very tedious.

So where am I in the “Play-the-game vs. Explore-everything” spectrum? Closer to the playing-the-game side, because I think that the meat of what the game developers intended to be played through is in that direction. I try to get secrets when they make the game easier for me, I do side quests and sublots that seem interesting or involve characters I like, but if I hear there’s a sidequest where you have a chance of seeing a UFO fly overhead if you get in a battle in an extremely specific part of this one area, and do it exactly right… then I fail to see the need to go out and do that sidequest. What’s the point? (By the way, there actually is a sidequest like that in Final Fantasy 8. Don’t ask me what happens at the end, I have no idea).

Now as much as I make fun of Bob for playing games the way he does, he illustrates an interesting point: there IS no “correct” way to play games. It seems totally peculiar to me to consider the thought that there are multiple ways to play a game, but that’s the reality. I like playing games one way, he likes playing the very same game a totally different way. They’re both valid. And when there are two paths that end up at the same point, I submit to you, loyal readers, that whichever path you feel like taking is the best path for you. In a game like Mass Effect, you can do things my way (aka. “Kill things until you find yourself unable to kill any more things, get upgrades and repeat”) or you can do things any other number of ways that satisfy you. I know. It’s mindblowing.

As a final example, I’ve included a flash game at the bottom called “Fantastic Contraption,” a game that I think illustrates my point perfectly. The goal is to get said object from point A to point B, using any number of devices and structural supports you want. There are tons of ways to successfully complete the task at hand, but whatever way works for you is the best way. There’s something very zen about this whole thing.

So what about you folks of the blogoblag? Do you trend towards playing a game through without stopping to smell the sidequests? Or do you soak up every bit of extra plot that the writers couldn’t find a place for in the main storyline? Do you play a game through once, or multiple times? I’m interested! Though if you’re like Bob, you might not want to tell me. I don’t need to pull any more of my hair out.

~Another Gamer

Hooray for Fantastic Contraption. PREPARE FOR GLORY!


About Isaac Smith

I write about music, technology, video games, and probably many other subjects that don't bear mentioning here. Either way, most of it's worth reading, and you may even enjoy yourself!

Posted on March 23, 2012, in Flash Games, Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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