This weekend, I came upon a curious conversation: a stranger telling a friend of mine if they wanted to play Fire Emblem: Awakening for the "throwaway romantic skits," that they were doing it wrong. And all I could think was: those "throwaway" skits are the only reason I care about that game!
The reasons we play things can't always be boiled down to the parts where you're interacting with traditional game systems. The reasons why we become interested in something isn't always because the shooting/strategy/platforming/neck stabbing looks good, either. Heck, the reasons we might become interested in a game in the first place might be seen as completely stupid, and that saddens me.
Here are a number of reasons for why I'll enjoy or want a game, all of which have little to do with how it plays.
Saving the galaxy from reapers in Mass Effect? Stopping the Risen from... uh, coming out of the portal in Fire Emblem: Awakening? Solving the murder-mystery in Persona 4?
I care less about engaging with that stuff, and more about the people involved. The people involved make the game-parts worth it.
I find that I often play games to learn more about the characters, or to forward my relationship with them. When I'm out there in the battlefield in Fire Emblem, sinking my sword into an overzealous evil lord, I'm not doing it because the game's take on chess is worth sinking the 30 hours I've put into it so far.
The battles are good, but that in of itself doesn't keep me going forward. The characters do.
I'd say that the base game itself—in this case, strategy—still has to be strong enough for me to indulge in romances or characters, but that's not always true. I mean, just how bad was the original Mass Effect for example when it came to the bits where you shot things?
Pretty bad. And did that matter? No! I got wrapped into the lives of my crew just the same!
It doesn't hurt to have a solid game base, but talking about it like this still feels wrong. I think it's a mistake to designate interactions between characters as something that's separate from what makes up "the real game" game, or less important than the other parts of the game. The bits in a game where you get to know a character—we're talking outside of cutscenes and bio pages—are equally 'valid' parts of the game.
They involve interactions and choices, after all. It may not always require reflexes (though they may be timed, like in The Walking Dead), but so what?
Admittedly, some games do a better job of intertwining character development with the rest of a game. Persona famously makes it so that the closer you get to your friends, the better you do in battle. Fire Emblem does something similar, though with less complexity: the more your characters fight alongside one another in battle, the better they can get to know each other outside of battle.
In other games, the interactions between people and the choices you make regarding them are the entire game: that's The Walking Dead, no?
So, yeah: I play the games for the romances and the characters, and I don't think that's "doing it wrong." I think game developers recognize this, too: I'm happy to see that developers are putting more and more effort into fleshing that stuff out. It's almost like our games want to involve actual people, and people are complicated and interesting enough to be on the same pedestal we place, say, shooting things.
This reason is less 'noble,' but is nonetheless a thing that many of us are familiar with: the seductive influence of a Team Fortress 2 hat.
It's amazing how much power a silly hat has. It's enough to make you sink hours into a game, just to look a little cooler. It's enough to make you want to spend actual money on it—purchasing hats, sure.
But purchasing fully priced $60 games just to have a special hat? It's ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. And even so, I'm guilty.
Valve does this thing on Steam where, if you pre-order a game or buy it within a launch window, they'll award you with certain hats or items for TF2. Usually, they're tied to the new game. If you bought it, Deus Ex: Human Revolution had some neat "Deus Specs" for Team Fortress that made it look like you had Adam Jensen's eyewear.
The items that would come with my Deus Ex purchase were enough to convince me to purchase the game on PC instead of on a console, actually.
I've also had cases where I wasn't initially interested in the game until I saw the cool items they came with. This is how I ended up with a copy of Homefront. This sounds like I got burned and made a stupid decision, but I'm happy to note that I got enough out of the multiplayer in that game that I now consider it a worthwhile purchase (even if, big picture, the game wasn't very good).
But it could have been a horrible game that I braved just because I wanted a hat. Yikes. The upside is that we might take interest in something we normally never would—and the game might turn out to be worth our time.
Either way, a hat can make us take a big gamble.
Remember when Borderlands was initially revealed? It looked about as generic as a shooter could get—this was before they redid it with cel-shading/new art style. Had they kept that look, I don't think nearly as many people would have taken an interest in the game.
That's a saturated market, we write-off shooters for the smallest of reasons just to have something less to consider; Fuse experienced a similar fate when my interest dwindled after the art direction changed to become grittier.
We like to tout the bits of a game we interact with above all else, but other things—like the visuals—can make or break the experience too. It reminds me a little of the movie Avatar: the story and the writing weren't so hot. And you know what? It didn't matter. The visual splendor, for me at least, was worth the price of entry alone.
More recently, Ni no Kuni commanded my interest simply because Studio Ghibli had a hand in the visuals. I knew very little about the game prior to purchasing it aside from the fact that it looked good, and that it was an RPG.
And, admittedly, once I was playing it, I recognized that the game has the trappings of generic RPGs—mechanically, that is. But the charms of the writing and the visuals are so fantastic that it's easy to overlook the ways it falls short.
You play and you want to get lost in Ni no Kuni's world. It's not the seduction of a Team Fortress 2 hat, it's more like puppy love.
Fact is, visuals are important. They can change the way you look at a game. That something so small could change how I look at a game could be considered unfair—should I give it a fair shake?—but it's difficult for me to feel remorse.
There are so many games out there. I'm not going to lose sleep over crossing one game off my "to-play" list. I can't even keep up with the games that I do buy.
There are just a few arguably silly things which have commanded a purchase, if not managed to captivate me—and I suspect I'm not alone here.
Perhaps you have arguably 'absurd' reasons for liking or wanting a game? Feel free to share in the comments.