What, would you say, are the intrinsic elements of a good video game? If you don’t play video games,
get the fuck off my blog and never come back try to treat this as a learning experience, a window into another culture. You’re an anthropologist!
Anyway, I’m sure there are important elements to the visuals, the noises and how the user interacts with the game, and for now I’m going to exclude the community aspects of gaming, including online games. I submit that the two things, inextricably linked, that truly make a game good are challenge and self-improvement.
Challenge in video games comes in a few forms, but it always inspires that same hackles-raising frustration. The solution could be yet another repetitious trip through the same, mind-numbing dungeon you conquered three times before, just to rack up xp; it could be searching the entire map for the key to that one stupid door; or it could be something else, equally as mundane, drudgerous and time consuming. In any case it is, in part, that feeling of frustration that seems to keep us coming back. You feel like you’re leaving something unfinished, no? To put it another way: I’m pretty sure there is nothing worse than an easy video game. Am I wrong? Isn’t that why we all laughed at that College Humor video ‘If Video Games had Super Easy Mode‘?
Depending on the type of game, one may improve in various ways; further, it may be that one’s character (the representation of oneself in the game) improves, or it may be that the player gets better at the game, learning how to deal with its obstacles better and better as time goes on.
I have often wondered why it is that I would rather spend hours in front of a tv or computer screen struggling with a puzzle made by some nerd in his mom’s basement than struggle with real problems, real challenges that exist outside of fantasy. Both represent challenges that must be struggled with to be overcome; both are rewarding, in that we feel good about our accomplishments when they are completed.
This really seems like an important thing to take note of in our characters: the activity we most associate with wasted time and slacking off is best defined by challenge and self-improvement.
It’s an interesting dichotomy: we’re a species willing to spend mind numbing hours on these hobbies in which nothing is ever truly gained except the ability to say ‘I did it’ (think stamp/ bug collecting, fantasy sports, writing a blog), yet we ignore the challenges that benefit us, like learning a new sport or musical instrument, studying the universe or caring about politics.
I’m not condemning video games, I’m not. I love me a good game… in the right context. For some, though, it seems it’s easy to get ‘having a little fun/ relaxing’ confused with meeting our human needs for challenge, accomplishment and reward.
So think of this the next time getting up and getting food that’s actually good for you seems like too much trouble, or the next time you’re tempted to blow off a workout for a video game: could this desire for challenge and achievement be satisfied in a way that improves more than your score? Does your character really need the xp more than you do?