Running the risk of sounding rather conceited, I'd like to say I'm a fairly qualified gamer with much experience....when it comes to PC games. I've been playing them for the past thirteen years or so with great regularity, and ever since I started staying up all night playing Age of Empires I really haven't looked back. Yeah, as a little kid I spent my time on Super Nintendo and my Gameboy (while envying those kids who got the Gameboy Color when it came out), but I never really took an interest in devoting myself to games until I got hooked on the PC.
Now, I'm not advocating the superiority of the PC. I'm just saying that's where my heart lies in the gaming world. According to GameSpot itself under my "Game Lists" tab I probably have about 1200-1300 dollars worth of PC games in my personal collection. I don't reckon that is quite accurate, but it at least demonstrates a level of commitment to PC that I believe is admirable. What does all this have to do with GameSpot pulling me in? I'm getting to that.
Perhaps I got lonely perusing and playing so many games without engaging in a community. After so many years I guess I finally reached a point where these games have been a big enough part of my life that I wanted to share that part with other people. Enter GameSpot. About a month ago I was looking up some information on the new Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening and I found myself perusing various discussions and reviews of the game here on this site. Of course, I had been aware of and used GameSpot before, but this time I decided I wanted to contribute to the discussion and commit to being more than the casual observer of such a strong gaming community. So, I made an account. I blogged once, twice, thrice...and this is my fourth. I added a ton of games to my list, and rated a few more. I posted a few times in discussions I had interest in, and followed some people whose articles I discovered through Soapbox. I was hooked, am hooked, and will continue to be hooked. I even got my Raptr account (Raptr tracks all my game playing) so that I could in some sense receive some credit for my gaming commitment. Since I've done that I have been thrust into the new GameSpot Fuse (as of now in beta), and I absolutely love it.
GameSpot for me has brought a platform of expression and interaction in an area of life that I enjoy (and am occasionally somewhat obsessed with), but more importantly connects me with ideas and people of like interest...or very different interests but similar commitment. In the short month I've been here I've seen many facets of community from 'Game Nights' to 'On The Spot' trivia that lets gamers of PC, Xbox, PS3, and whatever console you wish to interact and contribute. I was even able to catch a fascinating keynote address by Sid Meier from the recent Game Developers Conference (I highly recommend you watch it if you wonder what part of your psyche these game developers expertly use to attract you to their games). Suffice it to say, with a little bit of everything I am quite happy with the overall experience.
Just wanted to share that. Thanks for sharing the same experience with me. Keep it up GameSpot.
I've recently been considering the use of video games on big screen tv's. With upgrades in technology we've seen high resolution big screens flood the market, and these upgrades are starting to echo in game development. A few days ago I was visiting a friend who has a 60 inch LCD screen and a PS3 and the newly released God of War III. I was somewhat shocked at the sharpness of the game even at such a high resolution and quality. It was kind of one of those moments in which something you already know is first experienced (like you know recking your truck would suck...but it doesn't actually suck until you actually do it).
Basically, newer games are increasingly supporting these high quality formats--and that, I believe, is a good thing. But, it got me thinking about what such technology is doing. I started thinking about the small screens I played on as a kid...sitting near the screen with Duck Hunt for Super Nintendo, or curled up on the couch with the original black and white Gameboy (I still remember how amazing Gameboy Color seemed when it came out). Are we destroying a gaming dynamic? Is there any inherent quality to gaming that is determined by screen size? Is being able to see every single detail so easily actually better?
I'm not saying big screens are ruining gaming, because I do think they are totally awesome. I'm just worried we are stressing technology that doesn't need to be stressed yet. Big screens are cool, but are we really at a point where we have 'big screen' games? Games for handheld consoles are customized for small screens (less detail, smaller maps maybe, stuff like that). We have big screen technology, but do we actually have games that are being designed for big screens, taking advantage of the visual space? I don't think so. Get on that game developers. I like what you are doing for the big screen, but you still got a way to go.
Guild Wars: Going it Alone
Several months ago I ran across a game that interested me while shopping at a local Target store. It was in the discount bin. I think it was the dragon on the inside of the front flap that hooked me and got me to buy it. I'm pretty sure that's what it was because I told my girlfriend about it later and she made fun me. I remember things like that. The game, of course, was Guild Wars. Yes, I held in my hand an epic adventure which in my mind chalked me up to be a dragonslayer and a medieval superman of sorts. Now I wonder how far off I was. I am not writing this from the position of someone who has beaten the game, but as a fellow traveler in the land of Tyria (the land in which Guild Wars is set for those unacquainted with its lush and barren landscapes). I have not yet seen a dragon, or even heard a rumor of a dragon, but perhaps I do take a cue from superman.
Superman, as an individual, does not have particularly strong social skills. I submit to the reader, however, that this same lonely (or solo, if you prefer) trait of the hero is part of the allure of being a hero. I think that there is a part of each of us that wants to do things alone. Going solo really makes who gets credit for achievement a simple matter. It is also ego boosting. So, when I started my adventures in Tyria I found myself constantly avoiding other players, not because I am extremely bad at team play but because I just enjoy being completely in control of my own fate. It is no easy matter to switch from wanting to say "I did it" to "we did it."
I remember well, wandering around somewhat aimlessly at first (like so many tend to do when they haven't adjusted to a new game). It's lucky that in these first lonely hours the visual beauty of the landscape was still so fresh that I had little trouble taking my time. I guess it's the nature of the wannabe loner...if they can survive the first few hours without running for backup then they are probably the type that can go for the long haul. However, while I enjoyed wandering by myself throughout the Tyrian countryside after about ten hours of game play (time spent doing menial and somewhat pointless side quests) I finally caved in and got some henchmen to follow me around. Why? I think that I wanted to be alone, but not the only 'sentient' presence on the screen at any time. Too many monsters, too few friendly faces.
Going With Groups
This is the crux of the matter: many gamers enjoy playing alone, but even through single player campaigns (on all gaming platforms) there is often the presence of other AI units on screen. If these units aren't interactive in some sense (brainless units to be killed do not count) the weight of 'going solo' strikes. Essentially, it is one thing to not take advantage of multi-player options, but it is another thing entirely to insert that same attitude of wanting to do it alone on an in-game character. Whether we realize it or not, our in-game characters are usually very social. Most games require character interaction to complete objectives. Yet, the gamer still is left with a desire to strike out on their own into the wilderness. Games that somehow balance these two social tendencies, I believe, are in a good position to engage the full range of interaction that gamers seek.
Take Diablo for instance. Here is a game that puts the player by themselves for periods of time in complete isolation (the various monsters/creatures encountered beneath the surface do not count as interaction). Yet, this wandering is augmented by short periods of time on the surface in which game characters must interact. While it may be quick to dismiss this idea of two social approaches to gaming consider whether you go right to multi-player when you get a new game. Most gamers, I believe, do not fall into this category. It is after the player has already started or beaten a game on their own that they go multi-player.
Let's go back to Guild Wars. Guild Wars presents a valid representation of this idea. Through guild formation and teams for missions or PvP battles there is an integral commitment to social interaction within the game, whether this is between you and other players online or between you and an AI unit. No matter how BA we like to think our characters are, in-game they depend on information gained from interaction. We depend on that information to complete the game. When I first started using henchmen in the game I remember thinking how sweet it was. I was still immensely stronger than they were, but it was nice to have other people on 'my side' hanging around. Yet, further into the game I started desiring even more interaction--preferably from hearing the stories of the various characters associated with missions. This turned into a drive to start completing the game so that I could more easily conceive of the entire social structure of the game. Perhaps there is some sort of social completion imagined in completing the game. Later still, I found myself wanting to join a guild....not that I intended on only doing stuff with guild members, but I developed a desire for a deeper interaction. Now, I am starting to look for a group of people to actually do missions with.
I am not a sociologist. Is anything I'm saying making sense? I know that this social model won't apply to all games (really short games don't allow for much loneliness to develop), but Guild Wars is a game of sufficient length and involvement that I wonder if the social interaction element was absent it would even be playable? I know that the graphics are good for a game of its size (size referring to length, price, and time of release) but what if there were no guilds or other players to interact with? I think that the game would suck. I think most games would suck. While not all games are online so that interacting with real players elsewhere is possible, there still has to be somesort of social development in the game. The longer the game, the more socially intricate it should be. It's a social dichotomy of sorts. The two social aspects of gaming. I'm trying to find those intricacies in Tyria...where do you find yours?
Links: Related and Interesting, for the curious