What Makes a Game Worth Playing Or Buying

I consider myself blessed to witness the evolution of video games since their early inception (I had a Pong console tucked away somewhere) up until this era. Back in those days jumping from one console generation to the next one was more than marginally improved graphics; it was everything!

Angry-Birds-metacritic-reviewI still remember the release of the Super Nintendo back in the early 90’s; it just seemed beyond anything I’d played so far. I actually never had a Super Nintendo of my own, so every time I got to play one with a friend or a relative it felt nothing less than glorious.

At the time I couldn’t believe video games could get better than that. And guess what? They didn’t!

  1. Maybe I exaggerated a bit there. My point is that video games have always been awesome and newer technologies have found a better ways to present video games to their audience, but they didn’t make them “more awesome” for doing so.

Of course I like HD graphics like everyone else, but it’s hardly the only thing that matters anymore. Take the resurgence of pixelated graphics and old-school genres on the Indie landscape; it doesn’t mean that video games are going back, developers these days are reengaging with the things that made video games awesome in the first place.

While video games keep growing up and finding new ways to do amazing things, the audience I used to identify myself with (you know, the hardcore gamers) seems to have formed some sort of High Council of Video Games that somehow decides which games can be considered games or not.

Are video games all about having fun? Is it all about the gameplay, the story or the characters? What makes a game a game?

Take Angry Birds, for example. That’s one of the first games I remember people started complaining about “not being a real game”. While they were busy at that, the game was taking not only the mobile market but also the AAA videogames industry by storm.

“Over rated garbage. This game doesnt deserve to even be called a game.”

—some guy on Metacritic.

While the biggest argument against this title is its simplicity, I found the use of physics as its core mechanics charming (it’s a physics teacher dream come true!). I didn’t know games had to be overcomplicated in order to be recognized as a game by the High Council of Video Games, when simplicity has been a core value of video games since their early days.

That reminds me of Tetris; that’s an even simpler game. It is one of the most recognized games of all time, and the one that skyrocketed Nintendo’s GameBoy to be the most profitable brand of the company. Was Tetris a real game?

Minecraft is another of those games that managed to get a lot of people on The High Council of Video Games scratching their collective heads wondering why people liked to play it so much. What they didn’t get is that they were facing a genre they had never seen before. I may have to talk about it next time, but the important thing here is that the others—you know, the casual, the kids, their parents, and everyone else in between—“get it.”´

“I don’t see any elements that appoint this as a game, it’s more like a 3d map editor with disguised monsters and horrible AI.”

—High Council of Video Games Representative on Metacritic.

Not every game needs to have a story, characters, an objective, or any of those elements we see slapped in every game out there just for familiarity’s sake. Minecraft is all about being creative and just having fun with its world. If that’s not your definition of fun, you can look for that somewhere else.

But please, please don’t look to have fun in a game like Depression Quest, that isn’t a game made with “fun” in mind; it’s an educational game made to raise awareness about depression. Because bear in mind not everyone knows how depression works, and still people felt it was their duty to try the game and slander it for not being fun. Or worse, for not having animation or gameplay whatsoever…what else were people expecting from a free, educational, visual novel for browsers?

“I honestly haven’t had a more boring experience in my life. I would hardly say this counts as a game.”

—Guy who gave a 10/10 to Shadow the Hedgehog on Metacritic.

But of course, Depression Quest’s criticism didn’t come just from the people who probably had never seen a Text-based videogame in their lives. It also came from a very toxic corner of the Internet that made this game and its developer the main targets of that harassment campaign now known as #GamerGate.

Gameplay and fun are definitely not everything is a game. For example, not only does Telltale’s Game of Thrones have little in the way of gameplay, but also I can’t say I was having “fun” while playing it. Stepping into its characters made me feel anxious and stressed, as I was forced to lie and keep appearances in order to not getting them into even more trouble than they already were.

There was a time when video game graphics were everything. It took many generations to get almost photo-realistic graphics, and only then the video game community (fans, critics and developers alike) realized that was not the thing we were looking for.

“My friends, we are FUCKED. We are well and truly fucked. The bar in terms of graphics and glitz has been raised and raised until we can’t afford to do anything at all.”

—Greg Costikyan, GDC 2005.

While the video game community is discussing with itself what makes a game a game, those simplistic games (like Flappy Bird and Candy Crush Saga) are the ones bringing in newer and broader audiences into the media, while other not-fun-oriented games (The Stanley Parable or Gone Home) are the ones used by critics to explain the mainstream media how much more video games can deliver beyond mere entertainment.

For those who love the more traditional approach of video games, they’re the one who don’t have anything to worry about, the video game industry will always get their fair share of everything they want (Call of Duty, The Elder Scrolls, and Grand Theft Auto).

Hopefully, for those of us who want to see what else the medium is capable of we can count with keep seeing video games transcending beyond what we thought made a game a game.

How about we tune down the complaining a bit and just enjoy the medium? There are plenty of games for everyone at this point. Let everyone have their fun, even though it is not fun what some of us are looking for.

Daniel Castro

Daniel Castro

Daniel is an engineer, teacher, and freelance writer and translator. He considers himself blessed to be born during the the times video games were created, and has followed their development as an entertainment and artistic media ever since. He loves talking about video games as much as he enjoys playing them, and he's always ready to introduce gaming culture to a newer audience.

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