Category Archives: Navel-Gazing

Video games are the best on sick days

When you were a kid, did you ever pretend to be sick to miss school, stay home, and play video games? I know I did. I can very distinctly recall doing this to make progress on Link to the Past and Pilotwings, and a lot of other SNES games as well (the only console I had as a child was my SNES). Honestly, it’s fun to play those games, but even better when you know you’re missing school. This tradition continues for most adults as well, I’m sure. I have many friends who I know have called in sick from their jobs on the same day to have LAN parties and 3-day weekend marathons, and I personally did this for the first day of World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion. It’s pretty much a time-honored tradition among many gamers to do this on the release of anticipated games.

Skipping to finish this one was a no-brainer.

What games have you called in sick to play? Were they worth it? I’ve had games that I wanted to play and progress and see what happens, and to do so I’ve skipped classes and put off work. I did this when I was playing through Borderlands the first time, but it turned out to not be worth the trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the game, but it certainly didn’t merit missing a class.

To me, gaming is always about enjoyment and escapism. I’m sure it’s the same for almost everyone else, and I know that I relax best when I think everything can wait a couple more hours/days/weeks. When I missed school to play these things, I did it to get away from responsibilities for a bit and just play the game. I like to turn my brain off when I’m gaming. To me, putting everything off for that day and just playing the game was the ultimate form of escapism, and still is. It isn’t smart or healthy to do often, but everyone needs a break once in a while.

So what I’m getting at here is that even though I know this was a stupid stunt to pull as a child, teenager, and college student, I still look back on those days fondly, because they were really fun. The freedom, the shirking of priorities, and the self-indulgence, I enjoyed that stuff even when I actually WAS ill. There’s a reason is have never thought of a “sick day” as a bad thing, even though the person is…well…sick. It’s a weird connotation to make, I know. Long live the trivial sick day.

The best memories never stand a chance

I’m going to take a bit of a break from Super Paper Mario, and try to talk about things that are fun or interesting. Today, I want to address nostalgia, and its role in both new and old games. Think of your favorite scenes from anything you’ve watched, played, or otherwise experienced. It could be a scene that was profoundly sad, or exciting, or funny, or just notable in it’s uniqueness, but whatever the reason, you remember it, and it will be in your brain forever. Everyone has these, and it’s good to have your own frame of reference. The thing is, these memories will become unfocused over time, it’s just how human brains work. We’ll keep recalling them, and each time we’ll make it seem more significant, or more essential. We tend to build up these memories, past their actual worth. It’s why I still think of the scene from Final Fantasy 7 when I want to recall a sad death, or the scene from Chrono Trigger when I want to think of a joyful reunion. Some musical tracks (like this one from EarthBound) can conjure up an entire game for me, and even the best finales don’t compare to the end of Cowboy Bebop (no, not a video game, sorry!). Read the rest of this entry

The Elements of a Good Game: Characters – Part 2 – Further Characterization

Ugh, I can already tell that this title system is going to get horrible. I’m really sorry for the ridiculously long name, I just felt like I had more to say on the subject of characterization and wanted to get past the basics that I talked about last week. I’ll preface this by saying that most of this advice is pretty subjective, and there really aren’t any hard and fast rules for fictional characters. All I want to convey are general ideas that I’ve gathered from my experience and education.

When I look at characters that I consider to be fully-formed and well-made, I see that they feel like a real person. If you can ever look at someone in a video game (or any work of fiction) and say “yes, they seem like an actual living being that I could meet”, then something about them is clearly working right. At the very least, they need to make sense as a conceit of the setting, even if the setting is too alien to seem like a real place. Read the rest of this entry

Where I’m coming from

I enjoyed writing up Wednesday’s post and thinking objectively about the subject of characters in game design. I still have a lot to say on that topic, and on the other aspects of storycraft, so I thought it would only be fair to share some games that I felt satisfied all the necessary requirements to make a really good game, and then some. Before I continue talking about characters, story, gameplay, and art design, you need to know where I’m coming from. Everyone does lists of Top 5, and while 5 is a very arbitrary number, I think it works for me too. If you want, I can always add a 6th later, and we can pretend that it’s a Pokemon team.

I want to preface this by noting how few old games are in the list. This is likely because of my continuous efforts to try to find and enjoy things that are new. I rarely go back and play old games now, but I did play a lot of the good ones when I was a child, so I don’t believe I am too biased. Anyways, let’s jump into this entirely self-serving list. If you don’t want to listen to me gush about a few really good games, you can skip today. I won’t be offended. Also, I never mail scorpions to people. Read the rest of this entry

The Elements of a Good Game: Characters – Part 1

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what makes various games popular, what makes various games good, and how these two things interact and are related. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t care about what makes a game popular, but I am interested in quality works of creativity. I hate to try to fence quality into neat little categories, but I do tend to think about it in four very broad terms. When it comes right down to it, I think games can be held up and viewed as a competent work only when they satisfy all four of these basic elements. Characters, Story, Gameplay, and Art Design can each prop a game up, but only with them together can a good game be made. You won’t ever see me giving a game scores based on any of these elements, but I like to look at each one and say how the game did, pointing out what was good and what could be improved.

Today, I just want to talk about one of these: Characters. Characters are one of the first things we will care about when put into a game, and often the success of the whole experience will live or die based on the likability of the main cast, and ESPECIALLY the player character or characters. When we’re given control of a character in order to experience a story, it is important that we can relate to them. That doesn’t mean that they have to look or sound like us, or even have much in common with us. What it means is that we need to understand their motivations, their beliefs and goals, and how they respond to situations. Their actions need to make sense to us most of the time, and we should be able to see why they do what they do. Read the rest of this entry