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Origins, genres and all that jazz

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NES was a gateway drug for me. Tiger-Heli, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Track & Field 2, Battle Toads, Super Mario... Good times! Influencing me before I even knew how to read. Then, a few houses from mine a guy opened a place where you could rent VHS casettes, and something else. I soon discovered the beauty of PSX, SNES and his big brother Nintendo 64: friendships were made and broken at that place, kids swarming to compete in Street Fighter, Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye...paying for one extra hour to beat a few more Donkey Kong levels or collect a few more Super Mario 64 stars. Soon a cousin of mine got a PC. Commander Keen, Prehistorik, Alladin, Bumpy, Doom, Wolfenstein 3D! I spent hours immersed in those fascinating new worlds, huge and captivating to a young mind.

Some years later I finally had my own personal computer, a magic box full of possibilities. Wonderful and brutal RPG worlds feeding my wildest imaginations, strategic games teaching me micromanagement principles, FPS bloodbaths sharping my reflexes, racing games laying foundations for a better driving in my future real life. Among the last gaming gems I discovered were adventure games, perfect combination of storytelling and logic. All of these inevitably led to a short field trip through the MMO department in my later gaming years.

What is the point of all this nostalgic rambling? The answer lies in a question; a direct result of a sudden revelation I had a while ago.

What is THE king of videogame genres?

I know what you're thinking. And that is not what I am thinking.

No, no and no, it's not MMO. That double-edged binding-on-equip sword of mental masturbation is a world on it's own.

No, the answer lies not in the end, but in the very beginning of my gaming. Throughout the years I had a few gaming phases. Wannabe hardcore gamer at first (with those oldschool console games you had to... try to be), I was becoming more and more satisfied with a casual experience the new games provided: a little story turning point here, a minor adrenaline rush there... All of the best gaming ingredients were present, but rarely at the same time. Some games even gave a sense of work, relying on mechanics that required a lot of repetitive actions which required barely any effort, except the time spent. The satisfaction of accomplishing something is proportional to the effort put into it. Spice it up with with wonder, and you just might reach the gaming nirvana.

So where is this proportion of effort and satisfaction combined with wonder best achieved?

In platformers. 2D, 3D, 2.5D...

In hardcore platformers, every moment is a decision between making it or failing completely, every second of gameplay a test for our skills. Finishing or even mastering a game like that gives a true sensation of thrill. In casual platformers, the world is filled with wonders, open for exploring its physical and metaphysical limitations.

Beyond good and evil, Psychonauts, Braid, Cave Story, Mario Galaxy; all fine examples the gaming community can do it. It can grow flowers in an industry filled with competitive (first or third person perspective) arenas, hack&slash fireworks of blood and massive multiplayer online drugs. It can confront the majority that almost forgot how to captivate our attention without the naturalistic and over-realistic, without blood and gore, without shock!

Because imagination is always superior to the linear and blatant. Long live the creativity of game developers!

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