Confession time: I am bad at video games. I am the person who plays on the easiest setting and still has a fucking impossible time getting past the second-level boss. I get excited any time anyone says a game's combat is "too easy" because that means I can make it through most of it. To be fair, I've only really been playing games for the last four years, so maybe it's okay that I'm on par with an eight-year old. Wait, scratch that. I'm pretty sure my seven-year old nephew can make it past the hard parts on "Ratchet and Clank".
Maybe I'm not cut out for gaming as a hobby, but I keep coming back to it because I like the format. I enjoy the interactive storytelling. But there is nothing more frustrating than getting stuck in the first 20% of a game and having to replay the same unskippable cutscene over and over and over. (I'm sure that frustration is universal, regardless of someone's skill.) I can tell I'm getting better at games in general - I don't spend nearly as much time looking at the sky or the ground as I used to. It kind of makes me wonder - is there anyone else out there who is bad at the hobby they really enjoy?
I recently got my first S Rank in a game for finishing Skyrim. I had labored for a month and a half to finish up all the different story beats and enjoyed most of it (I still would have rather not played the Companions' quests). But as I was reviewing my accomplishment, it dawned on me: finishing Skyrim proved nothing about my video game prowess. All of these achievements were story based - I had accomplished nothing that anyone else couldn't do. My only real "achievement" was being unemployed and having enough unstructured time to finish a game like Skyrim. That realization may say more about the frustrations of continued unemployment than about gaming, but the point remains. I was being rewarded with points simply for my stick-to-itiveness with the story.
I contrasted that with another experience I had playing through Mini Ninjas. I probably could get most of the achievements for much the same thing: being willing to keep playing the game. But one particular achievement prevents me from S-Ranking that game - "Smooth Sailing." This 10-point goal requires the player to navigate his or her ninja down a river without hitting any obstacles. But I cannot get that achievement because I lack the skill to do so. I as a player have to possess some ability to be rewarded with my points instead of merely being present for story beats.
This got me thinking: what is the worth of an achievement? "Smooth Sailing" requires manual prowess, whereas "Dragon Soul" from Skyrim is accomplished after defeating a dragon. The first dragon battle is fought with a company of soldiers, meaning that your character doesn't actually have to do anything except absorb that soul. However, reflecting on the process of obtaining that dragon soul reminded me how incredibly awesome that first dragon battle was. And I mean "awesome" in the literal sense - it inspired awe in me. Paddling down a river did not. Perhaps story-based achievements are worth just as much, especially in open-world games, because that means the user saw the breadth of the world. Finishing Skyrim may not mean I have skill as a gamer, but I did enjoy the content and consumed it in a meaningful way. I originally was planning on arguing that the skill-based achievements are more valuable, but now I'm not so sure you can even compare the two types of achievements' worth. Maybe just having fun and experiencing a game, for skill or for story, is enough.
tl;dr: do you value your skill-based achievements (i.e.: get 20 headshots) more than your story-based achievements (beat the game)?
I was working during E3, and to catch up I turned on G4's replayed E3 coverage to play in the background as I cleaned the house. I'm vaguely familiar with G4's reputation as somewhat of a joke in the serious gaming community, but I'd never actually seen any of their programming. The twenty or so minutes I could choke down were.... enlightening. Jesus, are they serious?
Although it was a shitstorm in its entirety, I was particularly shocked at their covert (and overt!) portrayal of women as vapid eye candy, nothing more. None of their male interviewers struck me as particularly talented (certainly not GB caliber ;) ), but their female interviewers asked the type of questions I would expect from someone who has never picked up a controller before. (Example: a general "so what's this game about?" versus a more nuanced "how is this an improvement on the FPS genre?") What's more, the lady employees were on-screen most of the time during their interviews while male employees' interviews would switch between shots of the interviewer and the interviewee. I didn't care enough about my thesis to actually tally screen time usage, mostly because that would involve watching more G4.
Another thing I noticed was that most of the women were very similar to one another. Andy Allo and Sarah Underwood's voices are both high-pitched and nasal. Their physical features are slightly different, but both are slender and were wearing revealing clothing. Shots of the G4 party were stocked with more-attractive-than average women wearing less clothing than average.
So what's my point in all this? Stereotypes arise or are reinforced when seemingly homogeneous groups are presented. By providing a collection of very similar women, G4 is presenting a prototype for what a "gamer woman" is like: absolutely gorgeous, but unable to appreciate the finer points of gaming. I did find an exception that proved the rule: Morgan Webb. She interviewed a developer for a longer stretch of time, and the questions were more sophisticated (she asked about art direction and the game creation process) and screen time was split as it was for male interviewers. She showed that women are capable of playing games intelligently. If G4 found more employees that were more than year-round booth babes, they might be able to improve their image as denigrating to women.
EDIT: My argument isn't against hot women - sexy ladies exist! My argument is against the homogeneity of women as presented by G4 (that is, most "gamer women" are hot, but unable to be serious gamers). I also understand that G4 is a company trying to make money and that they have a target demographic of casual dude-bro gamers. Again, wanting to make money is an understandable motive. But when they present their demographic with these homogeneous female prototypes, the casual young gamer sees social scripts for appropriate behavior when interacting with gamer girls (i.e.: Tits or GTFO!).
"I swear to whatever textile god you worship, I will take your little button eyes off your corpse and stitch them to my shirt as a trophy!"
In real life, I'm a pretty calm person. But give me a Wiimote and five minutes with Kirby's Epic Yarn and I am throwing down curses to Lord Kirby's future generations. I do get frustrated while playing other less adorable games too, but Kirby has a way of opening a direct line to my wrath channel. It's probably the adorableness itself - Kirby's a game for everyone, including children. If a seven-year-old can do it, I should be able to do it without any challenge, right?
Some of my anger is directed at things I cannot control - the platforming isn't perfect and Kirby and the Prince frequently bump heads mid-air. And interaction elements in the environment are intentionally ambiguous (apparently I moonlight as a tongue twister author), meaning that exploration results in death and loss of beads. Loss of beads results in shame, and shame results in throwing controllers.
That being said, I love this game! The art style is the most innovative I've seen this year and I enjoy a good co-op. I'm going to be sad to beat it, but that just means I have to go back to 100% it. That is, if I can find some blood pressure medicine.
So after watching the Endurance Run of Deadly Premonition (shamefully, most episodes more than once), I got hooked. I'm too impatient to wait for the next Endurance Run, so I started looking for playthroughs with good commentary.
I've been watching Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem on YouTube - I'm a sucker for good horror games. Wait, could we really call Deadly Premonition a GOOD horror game? It was a good horror story. It was weird enough to be a Stephen King plot, although with a lot less euphemisms for "vagina." I was compelled enough to want to experience the story again and to look for clues I had missed the first (and second!) time around. But I was damn thankful I wasn't playing the game myself - the controls seemed awful at best, the combat was tedious, and it looked frustrating overall. Can you be considered an exemplar of "good horror game" if you're missing the criteria of being a "good game"? But we can't forget that this is a $20 game - for $20, it was pretty good. And it was funny as hell, if unintentionally. It was successful as an enjoyable way to pass the time, so does that count as "good game"?
So back to Eternal Darkness. The playthrough I'm watching is entertaining, but the commentary is somewhat.... lacking. It sounds like the player is a fourteen year old girl. Not that there's anything wrong with being a fourteen year old girl - I've been one myself and I see them in my classroom every day. That's probably part of the problem - listening to the commentary reminds me of being at work. And it's not nearly as funny as the Giant Bombers. Eh, I'll keep looking and see what's out there. Worse come to worse, I can just wait til the next Endurance Run.
tl;dr: 1. What makes a good game? 2. Any playthroughers you'd recommend?