Rose Tinted Games
April 16, 2008
This month’s Round Table is on the topic of the common themes in our favourite games, or least favourite games. Here are my rather tangential musings on the subject.
Which are my favourite games? It’s a question I struggle with at the best of times, since I have played and enjoyed a great many different videogames, and singling out favourites can be a struggle. But what complicates this matter even further is the uncertainty inherent in asking the question: if I look into my memories and find that, say, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was my favourite game, because of the tremendous fun that I had playing it, what happens when I go and try and play it and find I don’t like it anymore?
And this is exactly what happened last year when I downloaded a SNES emulator and tried to go back to this game – same game, but not as much fun to play as the first time. In fact, I gave up quite quickly and lost interest.
Was it because I had played before and hence there was nothing to be curious about? No. In fact, I couldn’t remember much about the game, and wandered around lost and confused to underline this fact.
Had the technology for games simply moved on too far? Well, yes and no. Clearly that was a factor as I would be much more likely to go and play (say) Wind Waker a second time with some expectation of enjoyment. But on the other hand, I spend a tremendous amount of time playing old Taito arcade games and the like and the step down in graphics quality has simply not been a barrier to enjoyment in those cases.
The problem seems to be that I was wearing rose tinted gamer goggles when I looked back at my play experiences of A Link to the Past. What I remembered was not the game, as such, but rather my experiences of playing the game, which were enormously enjoyable, but in part because I was playing the game with a good friend, at a time when we could just indulge in playing videogames for hours at a time.
Would it be reasonable to say it was a favourite game, based solely upon my memories? Perhaps. But when I think of other favourite games – NiGHTS: Into Dreams, or Impossible Mission, say – I have always been able to go back to the game and enjoy it again, as much as I ever did. One might say that these games were robust enough for me to return to over and over again.
But does that make them my favourite games? Should your assessment of your favourite games be based upon your memories of the experience of playing the game for the first time, in the context of the technology around at the time; or should it be based upon your ability to return to the game? And if so, does this mean that games which lend themselves to replay have an edge over other games in making it to the hallowed status of “favourite”?
These are not questions with definite answers, and I honestly don’t know how I will ever settle this matter in my own head. What is clearer, however, is that I now find I’m reluctant to single out A Link to the Past as a favourite game simply because when I went back to try it again, the nature of the game as it actually was could not match up to my rose tinted memories of its play.
It does depend; those games you enjoy as a child might not be things you enjoy as an adult. Tastes change, and what was once a favourite might be sour today (like your experience). However, they might be still your favourite - that first experience of the story, the setting, the mechanics (which you now suck at...).
Certainly, if you play certain story-based games, they can be very hard to replay. Baldur's Gate I and II are two of my favourite games - but I've yet to get into playing either again (even with tutu: http://www.pocketplane.net/tutu ), and while I know I will enjoy them, they take a lot of effort to play after getting used to 3D RGP games (which have easier controls), and "fairer", less complex rules.
I admit; the rose part comes into "favourite" but some do stand up over time, or hold a special place being favourite games, even if they show their age over time. Most people think "favourite" means what they are playing now, which really helps when describing what you like. I doubt I'll be playing Call of Duty 4 for the next 5 years, but I might be playing Team Fortress 2 for that long - making Team Fortress 2 certainly my favourite FPS at the moment (for instance). I don't think either were as fun as the original Half Life in parts, however, so is that my favourite perhaps? :)
You're right, it's difficult to define, with or without rose-tinted glasses getting in the way!
Posted by: Andrew Armstrong | April 16, 2008 at 01:33 PM
Hm.. Actually, the opening question is merely the precursor to asking you to write about the themes underlying your favorite (or least favorite) games. I guess I should be sure that the core question of the table lies within the first sentence, eh?
Regardless, all is not lost. You singled out a few games, namely Link to the Past, NiGHTS and Impossible Mission. What would you say the draw to those games is/was for you?
Posted by: Corvus | April 16, 2008 at 01:56 PM
Maybe you needed to find that friend to enjoy Link to the Past again? ;-)
Also inherent in this sort of question is the genre question. I mean, I really enjoy Counter Strike a *lot* but is it my favourite game? No - it is my favourite game when I can play it with my friends.
Link to the Past is the first game I will think of from the SNES. Oblivion is probably my favourite RPG, but this comes from having played it recently. I am currently playing Mass Effect - it is better than Oblivion in many ways, but as yet has not eclipsed Oblivion in my mind (though I think it might).
And I agree that sometimes it is the fact that you play a game at a certain time, maybe with certain people that makes the experience one you really enjoy - and ties itself to the game. Maybe the game was pretty average...
This also relates to my needing to play a game fairly close to its release date. I have several friends who prefer the cheaper route of buying games second-hand that are dirt cheap (*usually* this means at least a year old). I used to do this but it left the early-adopter in me frustrated.
I tend to leave games until their initial shine has worn off and then get them approx half-price (eg getting Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect in a 2 for £40 deal recently). I really wanted these games, but not for £40.
But they are still new enough for me to enjoy fully without thinking, "but that new game does this sort of thing *so* much better".
OK, waffle over, I need to go and finish making games for the day so I can go and play games for the evening. w00t etc :-)
Posted by: Neil | April 16, 2008 at 02:39 PM
Andrew: it's certainly the case for me that I can't play videogames the way I did as a kid - both in the sense of my old arcade play patterns (play a game 1-2 times a day for several years) and in my old home play patterns (play a game solidly until it is completed).
The need for shorter play experiences in my adult life has had a significant effect on what I play.
Sorry to infect you with my own uncertainty on this subject! ;)
Corvus: we had a sideline discussion about this over email - I find the question of establishing my favourite games to be so muddy as to make the actual focus of the Round Table beyond my grasp to some degree.
But assuming I field the three games here... A Link to the Past had a sense of *world* that I hadn't experienced before unless you count Elite. World-immersion is important to me, yet the other two games cited don't display it.
NiGHTS just became a thing of beauty after finishing it as I became sucked into the rushgame process of making longer and longer (even infinite) chains - so this paid off on focus-immersion.
Impossible Mission was actually pretty good at world-immersion for its time, but it doesn't stack up too well today in this regard. The rooms were different every time you played, and the puzzle to solve gave a different answer everytime you played - what I liked about this was the two stage gameplay: search for the parts of the code, then puzzle out how they fit together. I don't think I would have played the second game without the narrative framework provided by the first, though. The platforming created the world, but it was the puzzle solving in decoding the password which kept me returning to the game I think.
So looking at these three games, I don't find a common theme at all. And if I throw this open wider and include Nemesis, Tail Gunner, and (say) Tron from my arcade days, or Zoids, Paradroid and Archon II: Adept from my C64 days, or Guild of Thieves and Bards Tale from my Atari ST days it gets even muddier!
What are the themes if I just throw everything in:
ALTTP, Paradroid, Bards Tale,
Impossible Mission (a)
NiGHTS, Mr. Do, Tail Gunner, Tron
Guild of Thieves, Impossible Mission (b)
Assuming I can conflate problem solving with strategic skills (and my research suggests I can), the three themes transpire to be:
- strategic skills
But since focus-immersion is nearly universal and world-immersion is also fairly popular, I'm not sure if this adds anything! :)
As a final check, what have I liked recently: Resident Evil 4, Shadow of the Colossus and Katamari Damacy... 2 x world-immersion, 1 x flow-immersion.
Then there's multiplayer FarCry Instincts (bizarrely) - I guess that could be filed under flow-immersion, but really it's back to the enjoyment of competition that I haven't had since playing LaserQuest back in university... it's strange to see this theme return after so long an absence.
What's fallen out of my recent interests is strategic thinking and problem solving. I think that because I do so much of this at work, I no longer want to do it at home! The last strategic game I've enjoyed (not counting Vector TD) was probably Front Mission 3... and that also hit on world-immersion.
Well, I hope this hits the point you wanted to explore. :)
Neil: yes, I'm afraid we all drag our feet about buying much more than you do. I'm happy to wait to play a game, more or less indefinitely. If it's a solid game, it will remain of interest for a long time. If it's selling on the gosh-wow factor, I'm just not that interested.
Thanks for the comments everyone!
Posted by: Chris | April 16, 2008 at 04:49 PM
So, I'm a youngin' here, so it's hard for me to judge the "rose-colored goggles" phenomenon accurately. (I was 7 when Link to the Past came out) I played a lot of Japanese RPGs when I was a kid/teenager, and in going back to them, however, I've found that most of them stand up very well. I have a more critical eye now, but replaying Chrono Trigger is still a very enjoyable experience.
That being said, I think that there's an interesting, if unexpected, tangent idea buried in this post. A game shouldn't be designed to be fun to play, a game should be designed to create enjoyable experiences. Frequently these co-occur perfectly, but it's a valuable distinction to make.
At least that's what I think.
Posted by: William Monroe | April 17, 2008 at 08:28 AM
William: "A game shouldn't be designed to be fun to play, a game should be designed to create enjoyable experiences. Frequently these co-occur perfectly, but it's a valuable distinction to make."
It's an interesting claim, since clearly a game that is fun to play will create enjoyable experiences - but is an enjoyable experience necessarily fun to play? ;)
I think we can widen this further, actually. Here's my strengthened version of your claim:
'Games need not be designed to be fun to play, but they must be designed to provide engaging experiences.'
This allows, for instance, for games that are unpleasant yet still compelling - such as a game about genocide, or "the Lucifer effect" (c.f. the Stanford Prison experiment). Do we have anything like this yet? I wonder...
Regarding Chrono Trigger, I do wonder: will you still feel this way in twenty years time? See you in two decades for the answer! :p
Posted by: Chris | April 17, 2008 at 01:45 PM
Personally I keep my definition of "favourite" games as per console, and classify a "favourite" as anything that I played a large amount, became really addicted to, and I really enjoyed, all =at that time= as a favourite! Now that makes it a pretty large list though. If I was to try and narrow it down to a much smaller list I suspect I'd encounter the same problems you do though. Hmm.. something to try at a future date when I am less busy. :)
Some people probably feel differently but I do think that a true "Favourite" is inherently time-bound thing though. We're quickly into language games again though & semantics. Would your list of "Classic" games be different perhaps? "All Time Favourites", "Gaming Hall of Fame".. ? etc. You pretty much have to make up your own definition for any of these and stick to it. Well it's what I did. :)
Posted by: Rik | April 18, 2008 at 05:02 PM
Rik: for me, it's not really about time. I've spent more time playing Pokemon than any other game, I think (although not recently) but I wouldn't single it out as a favourite.
Regarding the need for definitions, it's funny: we used to maintain a list of "ihobo approved games" and "consensus classics" on our website - back in the early days when we had time on our hands. ;) There were numerous discussions internally about both, and it was an interesting exercise on the whole (although commercially useless!)
Posted by: Chris | April 18, 2008 at 05:17 PM
As a recovering gamer, I have found that the best games are those that teach me somethign about life, or those that make me bring something home to real life when I have finished it.
RPGs are the perfect example; if you work on something hard enough, you will get better and will be able to defeat things. Furthermore, if you keep training in the styx for ages, you will be able to be any boss: the more difficulties you overcome, the better apt you are at life.
Posted by: Michael | April 19, 2008 at 04:50 AM
I must admit I felt a similar uncertainty that I have had for some time now rise up in me when I read this.
If you were to ask me on the spot which game I would single out I would struggle between Morrowind and Monkey Island. However, I have been back to both of these games and not been able to play them "like I used to".
I think I could have a favourite game for every period I have been through. I remember playing Sensible Soccer on a snowy Christmas morning and it is still one of the fondest gaming memories I have. Yet I could also remember playing FFVII with my mate for hours every day (I swear I can still smell the room we played it in) and it's almost impossible to say which makes me happier.
I think there is no need to have a favourite, maybe just a collection of fond memories of games and reasons why they are so special to you.
I just have to remember that when I played Monkey Island my favourite meal was chicken nuggets and chips. How times have changed.
Posted by: Keith | April 21, 2008 at 10:58 PM
"I think there is no need to have a favourite, maybe just a collection of fond memories of games and reasons why they are so special to you."
Nice sentiment, Keef. :)
Posted by: Chris | April 22, 2008 at 01:46 PM