Greetings! I hope you’ve all had a safe holiday season filled with family, friends, and festivities. In celebrating the coming of the new year with resolving to better ourselves, I find it will be helpful to reflect on a holiday we celebrated a few months ago.
While visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving in beautiful Montana, I flipped through a Christmas catalog. I can’t remember the store, but it was one I was unfamiliar with, and was clearly geared toward an elderly crowd. While skimming the pages, I found this:
Notice the tagline “Can the expensive game systems offer that?” The answer is, of course, “Not for the low, low price of $49.95, they can’t!” But it really got me thinking; is this a legitimate selling point? Just because a “Handheld Arcade Gaming System” has 140 games, is it worth the money? These sorts of deals bring up memories of things like Action 52, an infamous NES game which bundled 52 poor quality games into a single cartridge, and a CD I had as a kid with 1,000 games on it… only a few of which were worth my time. I hate to assume the worst of this handheld, but experience has taught me skepticism. I ended up going deeper; what makes gamers happy?
Will more games make us happy?
The advertising method of this handheld is based on the assumption that more games > less games. It’s the simple principle of more is more. It’s my guess that most gamers would laugh at this style of advertising. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have one well-crafted adventure than to sort through a mound of games that are unpolished. My game collection is not really that impressive in size. I have a handful of experiences that I enjoy playing again and again, and a lot that I rarely, if ever, return to. So, I think it’s safe to say that, “No, more games will not make us happy.”
Will longer games make us happy?
Recently the crew discussed this in an episode entitled What Length Should a Game Be? Many times, in a game review, how many “hours” the game will be is included. This baffled me at first, as many of the games I grew up on could be played through in one sitting (if you were good enough at it), and the joy of the game came from playing it over and over again. One recent example of a great game despite having a very short length is Portal. I beat it in one sitting, but it left such a huge impact on me that, after my first play-through, I put it in my top 20 favorite games. Some games, on the other extreme, are too long and can feel needlessly drawn-out. Will longer games make us happy? No.
Will branding make us happy?
Hahahaha… No. Just because something has a specific title, character, or developer behind it does not mean it will make us happy.
Will quality make us happy?
The short and honest answer is, no. Let me qualify my answer. Of course, everyone has their own taste in genre, and no one game is guaranteed to please everyone. Also, a triple-A developer is probably going to produce a more enjoyable game than other developers, especially considering all of the app store shovelware out there. But just because a game is well-crafted, even perfect, and should, by all counts, appeal to me, does not mean it will make me happy. Take Ocarina of Time, for instance. I love the Legend of Zelda series. I love Majora’s Mask. Ocarina of Time is widely considered one of the greatest masterpieces of gaming, yet it failed to hold my attention. I’ve tried to get into it on several occasions, yet it always fails to suck me in. Mighty No. 9, on the other hand, isn’t that great of a game, and was extremely disappointing, but I find myself drawn to its unique style, fun level design, and interesting weapons.
To me, I only see one universal guarantee to make a gamer happy: give them a memory. In the end, a gamer will not care if a game is good, or balanced, or polished; he will only care if the game gives him a smile thinking back on it. If you start talking with a gamer long enough, you will hear him start to talk about a game he played in his childhood which, even though the game was probably garbage to everyone else, he remembers fondly because it left an impression. For me, some of those games are Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, Electro Man, and other games from my childhood that I remember fondly. I might return to them now and think they’re completely terrible, but the fond memory is something I’ll never lose.
This year, as you resolve to be a better person, make room for a few more resolutions. Resolve to make memories of your gaming experiences, and resolve to remember those games that made you smile.