I have always thought of myself as a “gamer,” even though I’m not sure what that means. The community repeatedly asserts, in a number of culturally exclusive ways, that playing games have nothing to do with being a “gamer.” To be honest, I don’t have a memory of a time before video games. My parents purchased an NES before my memory begins, and so I grew up watching Mario fall to his death on an 8-bit landscape. I also have fond memories of shooting both ducks and gangsters with a light gun. Good times were had by all.
Anyway, since that age, I have played games. I was only a couple years behind the cutting edge of video games, and so I hit Final Fantasy 7 when it became a greatest hit title. I played a lot of RPGs badly during that time period. They were hard, and I was horrible at the mechanics.
Sidebar: I’m still piss-poor at reading forms, game mechanic tutorial screens, and assembly manuals.
So that might mean that I’m not a “gamer.” I don’t have many fond memories of ever playing games. Instead, I was wrapped up in the story. Every random battle I had to play in Final Fantasy 8 was just adding two more minutes between me and the next story bit. This often led to my getting stuck on gearcheck bosses in games–I was always underleveled, underequipped, and pissed off that I had to go back to a previous save (or restart the game.)
Case in point: I absolutely hate Demon’s Souls. I understand that lots of people don’t enjoy the game. I understand that many people love it, and laud it for being amazing game design, but I just don’t understand. The story of the world is dry, and I don’t know what it means when I clear out a “level” of the game. I’m sure the world-destroying mist whatever stuff is going away, but I’m really taken out of that every time a scripted dragon flies down and incinerates my character.
I guess I’m making this post because the ludology versus narratology debate has flared up again. The recent attack against Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler has also made me think about this. I might actually like a game that lets me skip the combat sections that I am bad at. I think that I like Dear Esther precisely because it gives me the world and control methods of video games without any of the mainstays of games–not even an interact button, which lots of reviews have pointed out.
So it is rare that I can become enamored with a game because of the beauty of the game design. The careful network of rules and balance that so many people find appealing in games is lost on me. The only time I even think about them, really, is when I become concerned with how control and player activity creates and responds to the game world. For me, the game mechanics are merely mediation between the player and the world/narrative/text of the game.
I say that, and I think of a thousand counter arguments. I contain multitudes on the issue, and I take a perverse, intense, horrifying amount of pleasure (and invest a lot of obsession) into marathon sessions of Geometry Wars 2, even years after it came out. In any case, that’s where I am today.