Friday, 15 May 2009

Why do I play games?

Back in the days of yore when I played on the Commodore 64 it was always about fun. The escapism to other, badly-pixelated otherworlds was just the sort of food my imagination craved.

It wasn’t long though until I wanted more from these experiences. The ever-evolving Elite - reborn as Frontier - was the perfect canvas for my mind to draw on. This was the game that blended a fantastic space sim with the room to create your own stories. And I did. Every school day became a storytelling session about what my friends and I had done the previous night. Most of it made up and fabricated for dramatic effect! But that was the point – the game positively encouraged that kind of creativity and was all the richer for it.

I don’t have that amount of time to spend on a game anymore, but my desire to have an involving and creative experience hasn’t dampened at all. What’s changed is how much I want the game to tell me a story rather than my imagination.

But just like films I don’t want the same pulp recycled again and again. I want games to challenge me with their story and characters. I want them to make me feel emotions I’m not expecting to when I turn on my console or PC, whether that’s anger, fear or sadness.

This might sound as far away from fun as possible. And that’s perhaps because it is. I still enjoy blasting a few hours away with a mindless shooter but to me that’s the starter to my gaming night. Tackling something that elicits a multitude of reactions is what I really want from a game.

The complex social network and fantastical world of Persona is one game that’s kept me enthralled night after night. Its subtle and realistic characters bring that game to life more so than any big-budget release. The high emotion of Lost Odyssey or the contradictory nature of GTA 4’s Niko Bellic are both games that have flaws, but they have moments of real impact as well.

Sometimes those experiences can be awful – with hammy dialogue and awkward storytelling. Other times it can be life-changing and full of memorable moments that stay with me just as great films or books do. So why do I play games? To use the clichéd phrases when writing about videogames... I play them for compelling story and gripping narrative. The tight controls and solid gameplay I'm willing to trade.

But yes, on occasions, I play them for fun too.

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