Why games

I was recently talking to a friend, listing reasons of why I’m orbiting around the game industry, and decided to make a post out of it.

While I’m not truly an accomplished game developer, meaning I didn’t ship a finished game, I still exist in this world, making engines, playable demos, prototypes and similar things. I respect this medium and defend it, sometimes even too aggressively.

I’ve seen different stances towards games. I know a lot of people, who say they “grew up” from games, and now have to do their Important Adult Things (like hanging around in social networks for hours and drinking). I know game artists, who don’t care about game/movie differences, as one of my friends used to say “both are just media content”. This is certainly not my position.

I know and I’ve experienced things in games, that no other medium can produce, and I find it quite fascinating, and I still think the industry is young and what we see today is far from what it can become. If only people would experiment more and copy successful products less…

Anyway here’s the list. Perhaps I will update it occasionally. Also, note that not every game has these features, but just sometimes in some games they happen.

  • Here and Now. It’s hard to describe, but only in games (mostly 1st/3rd person) I can feel that things are happening right now, and they weren’t prerecorded. You can just stop from following the plot and observe the environment, noticing tiny details, seeing smoke/trees/clouds/etc slowly moving. More realistic games can even provoke smell/temperature associations in my brain. You can just walk around for hours, enjoying the day, without story rapidly moving you somewhere in a narrow corridor. It sounds like it can only happen in open world games, but really I remember feeling this even in HL2, where I could just stay and stare at the sea in some sort of trance, thinking of this world. For me it feels very different from observing prerecorded videos. There’s spatial continuity of my movement, and there’s actually me, or at least some avatar of me, that reacts immediately on my thoughts, translated through a controller, which I don’t even notice after getting used to it. The great part of that feature is that even when player freely moves around, not caring about plot and gameplay, they still read the story through environment observation.
  • Consequence. Only in games you can have a choice. And if you agree with the choice you’ve made, it can feel very personal to you (on the other hand, when all options are crap you wouldn’t choose, it’s quite annoying and breaks the experience). Then, when the game shows you a consequence of your decision, you take it more seriously, comparing to a static narrative. Only games can make you feel guilty, which in turn leads you to review your own decisions, and what made you to select this option (and this can expand to your real life decision-making).
  • What If. The more complex the mechanics of the game, the more creative freedom there is. You can exploit stuff, experiment, try different combinations of options and see how it goes. This is simply pleasing to the brain, and an important aspect of “fun”. It also makes your walkthrough much more personal, and it creates memorable moments (comparing again to a static narrative).
  • Situation models. Sometimes in games you find yourself in a situation, you could be in, but didn’t yet. It’s an interesting exercise to try playing it and see the result. One of my favorite examples is Morrowind: you have a bunch of things to do, you need to find some places you’ve never been to (there’re no markers you could just run straight to, unlike next TES games), and I also had a mod that added hunger/thirst/need to sleep into it. Now manage it! The situation is quite similar to what I later experienced in life, and this past in-game experience made me more confident that I can cope with a lot of things without being overwhelmed.
  • Simply technical awe. Not all people experience it, but I simply love seeing how game tech advances, new techniques used, new cool effects made possible. That may be just my nerdiness, but I’m amazed realizing that beautiful things I see are rendered right now on my GPU, faster than my eyes blink, how is this even possible?!

I’m sure there are more reasons, and I could forget something, but it’s a start. You can suggest me something you like 🙂