Why I Play
With the Champlain Game's Festival coming up, the team and I have been really working hard to make sure Reboot is worthy of player's time at the festival. That's meant a lot of time spent crafting the experience we want our players to have, from finalizing our game loop to lighting our level for maximum ambiance. Discussing how we want our game to play, and the intended experience we want players to have, has made me think long and hard about how I want my games to play. It's also made me think more about why it is that I play them in the first place. After all, my life would be at least a little different if my Uncle hadn't surprised me with a GameCube to play way back in 2003 (I think).
Two months ago, I was having a discussion with a Sister after Sunday mass at UVM's Catholic Center about my college studies and my goals after I've collected my diploma. We got to talking about video games and how difficult they can be to pick up, understand, and play. And she asked me a question that I realized I'd never really asked myself. She asked me why I liked to play games when they can seem so daunting. I knew why I wanted to make games, but I'd never given much thought to why I play them. I've been mulling that question over ever since, and as I get ready for others to play a game that I've worked on, it seems like a more pertinent question than it ever has.
I play games for a number of reasons. One of the reasons I think I've continued to play games, even as the number of games I've played and owned grows, is that many games are their own self-contained learning experience. I've always enjoyed the process of learning new things, and new games often force the player to learn the game's "language" of mechanics, rewards, and consequences, in order to progress through the gameplay or unfold the game's plot.
The Last of Us teaches the player that clickers will hunt you by sound. Then it places you in situations where Joel and Ellie are surrounded by them. So the game then teaches you the tools needed to overcome that challenge. A game I've been playing recently is State of Decay. State of Decay has been a fun and fascinating game to slowly progress through. The is a game steeped in systems that the player has to understand in order to build their community of survivors and keep them alive. The opening hours of the game, while heavily tutorialized are also a bit exciting. It's like the beginning of a good book. For another comparison, it's almost akin to school; the player is being given the tools, and eventually after all the lessons, they will be thrust into the game world with those tools. That feeling of a new, fresh game world with rules to learn and challenges to surmount makes each new game feel like a new adventure. Each game experience is a new toy with a list of instructions on how to play and a playground included.
Games as an experience of applied learning is one of the reasons why I like to experience the medium so much. Another is wrapped in that e word I just used. Experience. It is a overly simple statement, but I play games because I can play them. I play games because they are wonderful ways to transport yourself to another world, another context, or an alternate history and to exist in that place. To play a game is to be given the hands and feet of a digital being or the four tires of a race car, and to move them in a connected dance between the bits on a processor and the tips of your fingers. This means that games, on a grand scale, can whisk you away to new places or steep you in a digital rendition of the familiar world. That games take place in these locales means that players experience them. Players interact with the space and the points of interest within it to such a degree that the hours spent playing a game feel as if you are the hands and feet, and face that appear on screen. You make their choices and become their voice. And in a wonderful way, they become you.
One of the most wonderful moments I've ever experienced was during Halo 3. There is a mission that tasks the player with clearing out Covenant forces in a rocky plateau to call in reinforcements. After fighting you way there, the controller begins to rumble, and the game never takes away the player's control. From the sky comes hurtling the warship Forward Unto Dawn. It cuts through the sky and grows enormous. And it stops overhead. The entire hulking metal mass of a spaceship sits suspended above you as it supplies tanks, weapons, and troops for a renewed assault. And it is jaw. dropping. It's a moment that is more of interactive cutscene than gameplay, but I felt such a connection to the game world in that moment that my teenage jaw dropped in awe.
There are a wealth of moments like this across the spectrum of video games where the line between player and avatar blur. Those moments are big and small, awe inspiring and gut wrenching, sorrowful and triumphant. And I plan to keep playing games until I've experienced every last one of them.