The Pleasure of Gaming

The Games Studies lecture last week was basically an overview of things we covered in level one of this module last semester, this time however we are obviously taking things to the next level. (Bad pun I know but it is late…!) Anyway it was a good lecture and it was good to go over a few things and it was also nice to see the discussion crop up about whether ‘The Sims 2’ is actually a game or not? As it depends on your definition of a game…as the class was rather divided on this, most saying it was a simulation of sorts. Then of course what defines a simulation and how is that different from a game? I think anything can be argued to be a game as the very nature of gaming in general is that you make it up through play and rules and goals emerge from that to make it engaging and have purpose. Each child plays with a doll or toy car and creates games from those objects, not always within the definition that adults would use, but to the child it is still a game. At least those are my thoughts on the matter.

In the mean time we were also given the first task to be completed by next week, or as I write this within the next few days:

Task One

Identify a game (digital or non-digital) and come to class with a list of the different distinct pleasures that you feel that it offers. Replay the game so that you can fix those pleasures in your mind. You must come prepared to explain and defend those pleasures in group discussion. This is not as straightforward as we may think…

Now it’s apparently not the best worded of tasks and the lecturer did go onto explain that in some respects this is asking us to think about the little things that make us play games. That the experience and pleasure of playing does not also have to involve positive emotions and fear. frustration and adrenaline in the right measures creates a pleasurable experience. (Otherwise roller-coasters wouldn’t be popular fair ground rides I guess.) 🙂 Anyway I have to admit I have been thinking about this over the weekend and I am a little stumped for things other than the standard initial responses you would give to a question like this. The lecturer gave and example of a board game that he plays called Hive and that one of the simple pleasures of this are the tiles themselves. They are of a nice size and weight that makes them satisfying to hold and use, the game itself is one of simple complexity. Now I can relate to this as there are board games that I also feel like this about where the pieces have been made well and they are in themselves a pleasure to hold. For example this reminds me of my fathers chess set, the pieces fitted into the hand well and had a satisfying weight to them.

Not wanting to use chess as an my example for this though, as my Dad would always win those matches with that chess set when I was younger it was not a game that is set in my mind as a pleasurable experience. A challenging one and it was a good way to spend time with my Dad, but it always game across as a learning experience rather than a game to play for fun.

Yet this did get me thinking about games that I do play for fun, not ones that are played for story or competitive/co-operative play or in the case of modern games for the satisfaction of trophy collecting. (Which for me is to find new ways to play a completed game or to see the game in different ways – am not as fussed as some over the 100% marker.) Anyway a game, more accurately a certain franchise, that I always end up returning to when I want to play a game for the sheer fun of it is The Legend of Zelda. Though I have to admit to not playing so much of the newer games as I did take slight offence at the direction the games were taking after the popularity of the DS exploded and the games began to be tailored for a different market. As there was something about the older games that seemed to have more heart and soul in them, which when describing a computer game is contradictive, yet is the way in which I have always found myself describing them as they come across and nice well thought out believable worlds.

Now to explain, I am aware that there is a danger of looking at these games though rose-tinted glasses and that everything always looks better when you look back to what are dubbed ‘simpler and carefree’ days of your childhood, so you are merely associating the game with those happy times. However I am not one to only play a game once, and the Zelda games are a perfect example of this, I have played through Ocarina of Time many times, to the point that I can imagine in my head the ride across Hyrule Field while the sun is setting and hear the sound of the Castle Town gate rise as the wolf howls in the distance. I have gone back to play the game periodically over the years, not always to play it through though, sometimes it just gets booted up and I wonder around the areas of the game that are familiar and in a strange way soothing. The first time I played the game it had been out for a while and the N64 was very much near the end of it’s life span and I had not played any of the Zelda games previous to this one. In fact it was one of the first ever games that I played through, before I only had access to a few games on the PC and BBC Micro and had a vague awareness of consoles, but ironically video games had little to no appearance in my childhood. Ocarina of Time was my first true experience of what video games could offer as far as I was concerned, and after playing that for the first time nearly ten years ago I have been playing catch up ever since to see what my childhood self missed out on. 🙂

So I suppose in some respects I am looking at the game through rose-tinted glasses in some respects as I have an obvious fondness for the game that opened my eyes to the potentials of this medium. So I couldn’t really use this as an example of specific pleasures that a game brings without the nostalgia argument overshadowing it.

I have however been playing Zelda: Twilight Princess recently, a game that was released on two very different consoles – and I am lucky enough to own a GameCube copy having bought it on day of release. I have played through the Wii version and sighed at the obvious tacked on motion control, and the only area in which it was fun and worked was the last boss battle. It was also the only section of the game that got me out of my seat and made me play the Wii as it was advertised…Anyway I never played through the GameCube version after completing it on the Wii and it has not been until the last year or so that I find myself booting it up every now and then to slowly make my way through it. (This time I am taking my time as the first time was a rather rushed affair so as not to hear spoilers from my friends playing it through at the same time.)

Now this is something that not many games make me feel like doing, I am purely playing through Twilight Princess for the fun of it and to experience the world that has been created. Not quite Ocarina and not quite Wind Waker the game does sit in a very odd place in regards to art style as it has tried to evolve the N64 graphics but is clearly using the Wind Waker game engine. Something I am all to aware of when I look at certain effects or listen to the sounds of sword strikes on enemies, as they are the same as in Wind Waker.

So what does make this a pleasurable game to play to experience in that rare moment of down time and to also keep bringing me back even after months of not playing?

Sound

Always an important part in Zelda games with some even using sounds and music in puzzles. In this particular game even small things like brining up the menu screen or equipping an item come with their own unique sound, which is rather pleasant and satisfying. This one little extra that will potentially go unnoticed by many makes a big difference for me, as I think if you make even the smallest of tasks within the game or ones that are going to be repeated often just that little bit rewarding in some way it makes the overall gaming experience better. It also helps to add to the ‘realism’ or the believability of the world, one of the simple joys in this game is to sit inside Link’s house as it is quiet aside from the slight crackling of the fire. That sound in one fell swoop creates an association for many people to a warm and homey environment.

Detail

To create that illusionary world to immerse your imagination in the game you need the details to be right. Again using Link’s house as an example the amount of detail that the designers have gone to is sometimes astounding, as it is not only found in the main character’s house but many if not all of the sub-characters homes also. Small little things like washing up in the sink and cutlery left on the side to imply that Link has just dropped what he is doing to tend to something more important. Every home in the starting village has a little touch like this which makes them interesting to explore. I love to find things like this in games as it does add to the game world being a believable place, and that just allows my imagination to be drawn in further and I am more likely to continue playing the game to completion, or even better return to it like I would a favourite place.

 

Depth

Sometimes it’s simple things that allow you to view the game world as you wish or to move around when and where you like that make the game that little bit more special to play. That ability to play the game in your own way or to explore the game world without the pressure of the main story line (obvious area unlocking aside) is something that is occasionally overlooked. In the past hardware constraints did not always allow for players to place and view the camera wherever they liked in a level, as more often than not there was no level rendered outside of the standard camera view. However these days it is common place to have a camera that can view all the areas of the level as seen through the characters eyes. Here is a nice example from Link’s house, that when you look up you can see the light shining through from the skylight to provide light for the inside of the house. Now again this is something that the average player might miss as there is no need for the player to look up while in the house, not to this extent anyway. This is tied in with the level of detail within a game, and it’s that depth of movement and play that provides a gameplay experience that is enjoyable on the first play though and is enticing to be played again.

Characters

Within this game series there are many repeating characters within the story as the idea is that is it’s a fable that is retold and an eternal struggle between the balance of wisdom, courage and power. Yet this means there are always identifiable characters and I think that is what makes these games a joy to play as you know where you stand, you almost know the eventual outcome, the joy comes from finding out how you are going to get there. This also saves time on the story having this all set up within the history of the franchise, well established characters means there is more time for actual game play rather than cut scenes. Games such as Metal Gear Solid and Dragon Age are very character driven stories and have involved plots, and in some respects I think they would make better movies as there is very little game play within them. Twilight Princess is by no means a shining example of character development and game play balance, however the small touches of having different personality types for the non-story characters just again added to that detail and depth of that game world.

These are just a small example of the simple pleasures that this game provides, they are also the simple pleasures that most of the games I enjoy the most also have. From NiGHTS into Dreams… to Ratchet and Clank.

I’m not sure if this answers the question or not, so lets the discussion commence! 🙂

 

Note: All images of Twilight Princess seen in this post are photographs of screen stills displayed on an old TV, hence the poor quality.
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