186: The Hardcore Persuasion

The Hardcore Persuasion

There's a reason why the most compelling games are usually tragic, bloody affairs: The more grim and violent the plot, the more players are motivated to make things right.

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This article is the reason I visit the escapist. I'll be thinking about this the rest of the day now. Thanks, that was great!

"Tetris, while thoroughly amusing, is not a serious extracurricular pursuit."

Are you kidding me?! TETRIS is the original all nighter game. My aunt still tells me tales of half of the class staying up all night to play tetris in the computer room, back in the early '80s. That was when the computer room was call that because "the computer really was the room".

V. thoughtful, especially the part about gamer faces. I was thinking about this the other day, because my girlfriend is always telling me that I look like I'm having the worst time when I play something on the 360. "I don't know why you keep playing Gears of War, you always look so pissed off." And, indeed, I usually am: at teammates, at being 'unfairly' chainsawed, etc. And yet I keep going back, because even though it doesn't LOOK like it to an outside observer, it's still fun. There's a serious discrepancy between my head ('wheee!') and my face ('meeeh').

Also: notice the (non)expression on gamer faces whenever there's a TV documentary about the 'new gaming phenomenon'. They look blank-eyed and dispassionate. No wonder uninformed commentators assume that gaming is a mind-numbing, slightly creepy activity. And no wonder the Wii, which forces you to make a dancing ass out of yourself, is so popular in response.

I enjoyed this article a lot and agree with many major points you give. I think that games that have much tragedy are often moving. However, I think it's easier to be moved by tragedy. Most powerful classical music pieces are in minor keys. It takes real work to impress someone with a major key piece, but when it happens, it's also quite powerful. Take Tchaikovsky's Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet or Rachmaninoff's 18th variation from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Both somewhat hackneyed by now, but unquestionably moving.

When games have stories, they need conflict, and so almost inevitably tragedy enters the equation. But it is the overcoming of adverse conditions that motivates us. It is the foreshadowed triumph that we want. Of course people generally enjoy pathos in their stories, and American audiences are learning to appreciate sad endings to movies and the like, but in general we don't want the main character to fail when we identify with him or her.

Yet, there are more reasons why people are moved to play videogames aside from just fighting evil. Sometimes it's competition with friends or with the game. So I think your slight on tetris may be unfounded. Pathos in games may be the most emotionally moving, but not always the most motivational.

What about Fallout 3? You can make things "right" from a very limited perspective, but you are still living in a nuclear wasteland.

Solid article, and some very interesting points. But i would disagree that for a game to qualify your interest in any serious way (Circa; being worth an all nighter) tha tit has to be a doom and gloom affair, i've quite happily sat up to the wee hours more than once on games like Super Paper Mario, Little Big Planet,Saints Row 2 and yes, these are slightly different from the diner dash example, but it's not about survival against great oppressive force.

I feel that it's the IMMERSION that keeps you going, as you mentioned earlier about the external purpose giving way to the "immediate here-and-now of the game's internal objective" that can make a game keep you playing. But maybe it's just me. violently oppressive games often don't keep me going till the wee hours. I liked your article as a whole, but the whole, "gaming must be oppressive" bit i feel is just unjustified.

edgeofblade:
What about Fallout 3? You can make things "right" from a very limited perspective, but you are still living in a nuclear wasteland.

FO3 was the first thing I thought of when I read the article. I actually grew attached to my role of self-appointed protector of the Wasteland. I even made it a point to blow away any eye bots I came across after my run in with the Enclave, even though they are harmless and don't have and bearing on the game.

Great article, especially the part about the all-nighters. I was one of those who was smiling while reading it, so mission accomplished on that. As far as what you set out to explain, which is the "Hardcore" side of gaming, I think you succeeded. As others have mentioned, my girlfriend also points out that I look way too serious when I'm playing games. In my mind, I'm having a blast, but my expression is a stonewall. A funny thing is, I had a recent conversation with my girlfriend and she had mentioned to me, "I don't want to play with you because I'm afraid you will get mad at me if I'm not good enough to keep up with you." Its interesting how one person says it, and another person materializes it. I'm going to send this article to her, just to get my point across now.

However, I feel that you've made just a tad bit of a sweeping generalization. While some games that contain the utmost doom and gloom are quite compelling, there are still those games that will keep you up for hours on end without any of that stuff. Viva Pinata is a perfect example of this. Harvest Moon anyone? Or just trying to 100% Jak & Daxter, or Banjo-Kazooie.

I personally find the most endearing games (the ones that will keep me up all night) are ones that let you play the game co-op with a buddy. Gears of War 1&2 were played into the wee hours of the morning with a friend of mine. So, you got me on that one, at least...as far as the doom and gloom goes in those games.

All in all though, it was an enjoyable read, I hope to see more from you!

Fantastic article, the truest piece I've read in a long while. I need to show this to quite a few people who don't quite understand what a gamer today is.

Am I the only one who double-taked when I saw the small pic for this? Seriously, go take a look and make up your mind.

Anyway, great article.


yes dont interupt me while hunting...in gaming or real life.

hmmm well it was an interesting article me and my friends do actually smile and just laugh at each other while playing multiplayer.

I do think many people are to intense for my liking.

Its very fun to just stay up and laugh and smile while playing video games.

I do smile when I game!

Granted, it's a evil smile that would have me scurrying of to the local psych ward if anyone saw it, but...it's still a smile! (I usually get it when I'm about to kick someone's ass. Very badly, usually in RTS's or with lots of explosives in FPS's).

Awesome article.

I do disagree on the conclusion that casual or "happy" games have little potential for an all- nighter... I've even had an all-nighter playing the Anaconda minigame of Timesplitters 2 with my friends

Well maybe it's just me

The reason tragedy is such a common genre is that it takes so little talent to write. Look at the movie industry, the artsy critics feel motivated to give EVERY movie with an unhappy ending a good rating and call it "moving" no matter how bad it was. Comedy, mystery, horror, these are hard genres to write, and a writer needs to be REALLY good to avoid being scathed by the press. But tragedy gets a free pass because "True Art Is Depressing."

I view the game industry in the same way. Just about any game with doom and gloom, with everything grayish-brown and stoic heroes learning how to be more stoic, will be popular with the "Hardcore" set, because serious games are somehow automatically deeper and more moving.

I actually hate movies with depressing endings.

Sylocat:
The reason tragedy is such a common genre is that it takes so little talent to write. Look at the movie industry, the artsy critics feel motivated to give EVERY movie with an unhappy ending a good rating and call it "moving" no matter how bad it was. Comedy, mystery, horror, these are hard genres to write, and a writer needs to be REALLY good to avoid being scathed by the press. But tragedy gets a free pass because "True Art Is Depressing."

I view the game industry in the same way. Just about any game with doom and gloom, with everything grayish-brown and stoic heroes learning how to be more stoic, will be popular with the "Hardcore" set, because serious games are somehow automatically deeper and more moving.

what a tragic answer...yet so deep and moving.

Well done.

You're wise.

We (those who do) play the darker, the deeper, the epic and the free-er games because we crave that kind of freedom - to change the world for the better, or to deliver what we see as justice to enemies presented or half-imagined.

We are powerless, bound by legalities and tradition, and so many want more. Adventurelust is hardly new, but virtual worlds outside of lonely imagination -are-.

When millions are starting to show more interest in their virtual worlds, their MMOs, than in their real lives, you might start to suspect something is wrong in Wonderland.

- Jack

This article sums up how I feel when I'm playing most games. Whether it's for survival, or to right wrongs, or to forge my own path in an unknown world, the ideas are just more exciting than my normal life. I do smile sometimes when playing though, but only a smile of satisfaction, a smile that reminds me just how awesome I am, a smile that says "Yes, that was perfect. Impressive..." after blowing apart a boss without being hit once, a well-executed dodge, a perfectly placed shot...

But hell, I seem to even take "casual" games too seriously (see stepmania) for most people, but I've played and enjoyed my fair share of casual games.

But "doom and gloom" nearly always take prevalence.

Christina Jen-Chia Hsieh:
The Hardcore Persuasion

While I could take an easy way out of Purposetown with the Gloomtrain, I have some thoughts on the "gamer face" principle and what surrounds it. I was hardcore when I was little. Hell, who was not? The main thing I remember putting me into the very trance we are talking about was immersion and, to some extent, fascination with the world I delved in. The first game I got was James Pond III, and for those who know of its design, you know it is not exactly gloomy. It was, however, utterly mysterious and captivating in its unfamiliarity. This might have been what got me hooked on gaming, and what enabled me unrivaled focus at what I was playing. Back then, doom and gloom was definitely even more captivating, as everything was, because there was an unfamiliar psychology behind it. I was already back then interested in psychology, and when I got my hands on Shining in the Darkness from some backwater (probably unauthorized) salesperson, I was sold for life.

Growing "old" has unfortunately abated a lot of the joy I could feel from gaming, and perhaps most of this fact should be chalked up to experience. I might be a bit world-weary right now, but I have every hope that it will wear off and I will become that gaming middle-aged uncle (I think I already am an uncle, but you get my point), like my own uncle is, and later the gaming grandpa who can truly enjoy not only simply fun games like Paper Mario 2: The Thousand Year Door, but also immersing and serious games like Mass Effect.

Gamers' seriousness from exactly the kind of responsibility you speak of is indeed quite natural, in that they can not only affect the world they have delved into so deeply (as you can not with books or films), but also know that there is experience and learning in exploring the different possibilities. This kept me going for a very long time with Mass Effect, and, in truth, enables you to live even deeper in the world you play and observe. From experience, we know there are things to be learned about the world in the massive creativity that is possible, and about ourselves in how the human consciousness is explored. This makes virtual experiences both an art and a science.
This very same effect of learning can naturally be achieved in, exempli gratia, Paper Mario, in that when I played it, I found myself sympathizing with some of the various characters and feeling strongly for them, learning about myself. The task ahead of me was just as grim because they mattered to me, and no doom or gloom was needed.

tl;dr: I agree on most points, and doom and gloom is just a simple way of producing seriousness for the sake of conjuring interest and immersion. Many times, other methods would be more effective. Excellent writing! I enjoyed it greatly as it reflected many of my own contemplations throughout the years.

People's faces look very serious when they are reading too, but no one complains about it or thinks it strange.

edit:
I appreciate how the article captures the feeling of playing a game and why we find it engaging.

while i respect the fact the most gamers are just like that described in the article, not all gamers are like this. take me for example, I love a good game just as much as the next person, I will spend hours and sometimes days finishing a couple of levels. but no amount of set backs will ever get me down.

I spent two weeks finishing "the assault on the control room" on heroic before I realised that I just couldn't go in there with a "crush kill destroy mentality" I had to realise that to defeat it I needed to calm down, and ever since that moment I haven't worn any of the "faces". you people need to realise that to beat a game, to really be better at the game, you need to remain calm at all times.

i do understand how a game can really annoy you so much that you are forced to wear a face, but if you just take things a little less seriously, a little less like "real life" and more like what it is (a game), you will be able to keep your cool and you won't ever need to wear this face.

I remember my first encounter with Bioshock as well the first time I saw it and the dev speak that said it was going to be like System shock really got me pumped for it, then I got it...the shine slowly wore off as all I could see is what could have been, after 3 hours I stopped playing because the mouse was broken it was a weak port of game that was watered down for modern casual gaming.... Rest in piece system shock your bastard child has done well but hes a complete bastard still...

TsunamiWombat:
I actually hate movies with depressing endings.

Generally if I spend 2 hours watching a movie it better have a happy ending. Not because I MUST have a good ending but really...every time a movie has a depressing ending these days I leave thinking "That was a waste of 2 hours of my life."

It's the presentation. People think Depressing is inherently creative and they make a storyline that doesn't engage you enough to offset the pisspoor finality of the protagonist.

Great article.

I'm only not smiling whilst playing shooters or puzzle games though. :)

CUnk:

edgeofblade:
What about Fallout 3? You can make things "right" from a very limited perspective, but you are still living in a nuclear wasteland.

FO3 was the first thing I thought of when I read the article. I actually grew attached to my role of self-appointed protector of the Wasteland. I even made it a point to blow away any eye bots I came across after my run in with the Enclave, even though they are harmless and don't have and bearing on the game.

Good to see I'm not the only one!

 

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