In Want of Even More & Difficult Games

I play video games to relax, but also to allow my mind to wander. Doing so helps me generate ideas for things I want to read, write, and examine. Not so long ago, a friend of mine shared a Facebook survey determines your gaming style. Usually such surveys are rather shit, but this one seemed to give fairly accurate information.

My gaming style was described as “Calm, Analytical, Relaxed, Gregarious, and Creative.” I don’t know about ‘gregarious,’ but I wouldn’t say I’m a surly gamer. This certainly fits with my preference for PC gaming rather than Xbox/Playstation gaming. I don’t use a controller, I use a keyboard. Like a proper William Gibson fan. But it has lead me to ruminate over what kind of games I play and what kind of games I want to play.

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I’ve written about it in the past, I really don’t like games where nearly every action revolves around killing. Yet it’s difficult to get away from killing or even the most banal violence. So when I say I want games that don’t revolve around killing what I mean is, I don’t enjoy games where the dominate mode of progression and/or interaction is to kill or hurt other players or NPCs. It feels tired and limiting. What I’m not saying is that violent games need to be gotten rid of; what I am saying is that I want more options in gaming. I was glad to see others in the gaming world start to express the same attitude (here & here). 

It’s difficult to find games that have the aspects that I want and the necessary tension to keep me coming back but without the incessant violence. Often, my only options are rather simple or visually clunky. Simulation games are usually a haven, but they can quickly become non-dynamic. I have less interest in playing a sports game controlling players and more in playing as an owner or manager/coach. I love Football Manager. It’s one of those games that keeps me thinking after I play it. It has made me a better fan of soccer and helped to hone my tactical understanding of the game.  

A game that’s fun, addictive, instructive, and encourages creativity is a brilliant game whether it’s violent or non-violent. No one dies in Football Manager. In fact, it can go on forever. But I’m finding myself getting frustrated by it.

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I’m absolutely certain Marcos Rojo doesn’t deserve this kind of abuse.

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But I’m also certain Rojo wouldn’t have been such a child & a manager should have more options

I find myself easily engrossed by simulation games. Playing SimCity and SimEarth was probably where it all started. In fact, I’m still disappointed that SimEarth never really blossomed into a better game or spawn better similar games to it. I tried playing The Sims but found it didn’t have enough tension to keep me interested–there weren’t any puzzles or meaningful tasks, just the opportunity (expectation?) to buy things in-game. When I began to play Sid Meier’s Civilization I was happy to play something that felt like a superior simulation. But it quickly devolved into something that just felt like solitaire writ large (even when playing with friends).

Lately, I’ve been playing Democracy 3. It lacks dynamic visuals or graphics, but because it demands constant attention as I experiment to get the outcome I want, I over look the flaw. Unlike Football Manager, there is death in Democracy 3. Usually it’s me. I’ve been killed by capitalist conspirators, religious zealots, disgruntled immigrants, aggressive leftists, and conservative wackjobs. In fact, my gameplay usually ends in my assassination.

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I wish Democracy 3 could be merged with a SimCity/Cities XL/Anno 2070 and that that merger could be incorporated into The Sims. When I play Banished, I keep finding myself wishing I could zoom in, see and play the lives of those populating my village. 

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Nethermere, a sad village of less than twenty

And here’s how we get into the desire for an open-world sandbox games. I have no interest in playing a game where I just follow a predetermined storyline. I’ve recently played Telltale Games point-and-click Game of Thrones. It’s a sort of ‘choose your own adventure’-lite game. My major problem with it is that no matter what choices you make, you’re funneled toward the same end. While I’m a fan of the television series and books, I’m not a fan of playing this game. I am a fan of experiencing the story because it’s visually well done, the narrative augments the world, and it’s an engaging story in its own right. But as a game to play, I feel cheated.

As such, I find myself running back to the arms of Skyrim. It was playing World of Warcraft (WoW) that reignited my interest in games. After going deep into WoW, I burnt out. The weapons became more ridiculous, although the graphics were quality they were still cartoonish, and the focus of the game seemed to winnow down to PvP and raiding. All I wanted to do was explore, do quests to help people, and make something. I kept wondering why I couldn’t climb mountains; cut down a tree, make a canoe, and go exploring down a river; or build a stronghold or cabin for my character.  

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One of my many Skyrim wanderer characters, Roth

When I left WoW, I was lucky to discover Skyrim and Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) about a year or so later. It was Skyrim‘s Hearthfire add-on that appealed to me. In the world of Skyrim, I could wander and quest of my own accord (like Warcraft), but I could build a home. Unfortunately, I was alone. There weren’t any other players with which to interact, and, even though there was a better crafting system, killing was the primary mode of interaction. I keep thinking about getting into Elder Scrolls Online but I’m worried it’s just be a more graphically realist WoW.  

SWTOR was enjoyable but, again, too cartoonish and too focused on combat. It’s not that I don’t want combat or a violence free game, rather it’s that I want a game that makes creating, building, growing, and forming relationships to be the primary focus. My realist side is always in conflict with the fantasy lover in me. I want a realistic fantasy world that I can inhabit with a character or characters whose story I craft through my interactions with the world and the storylines of NPCs as well as other players. In a way, my best bet for this has been in the zombie survival genre.  

7 Days to Die is my current addiction. But there’s a fundamental conflict with wanting a game that’s non-violent or markedly less violent than many and most and playing a zombie survival game, which is premised on guilt-free murder. But what 7 Days to Die provides is the option to play in an open world, unlimited with no requirements. You explore the post-zombie world collecting resources and attempting to survive and, if things go well, flourish. Tension provided by zombies is an ever-present danger but not one that is malicious or really active. Zombies in this game world are things to be dodged, avoided, defended against when they come in random swarms. You must kill the zombies or run away. Honestly, running is usually the best option. But the world allows for you to create all sorts of structures, it encourages creativity.  

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A rather cool lake castle that a better player than I built. 7DTD is like Minecraft for grown-ups

The handful of times that I’ve played on servers populated by other players, I’ve experienced that typical scenario where the PvP mindset takes over. Instead of building a community to stand against the zombies and let everyone’s creativity flourish, many PvP-ers look to kill. They want to kill you and take what resources you’ve collected. It’s not an unethical stance even if it I find it immoral.

But it’s not really the default stance for this game, there are servers where players were cooperative or neither for nor against you. Such environments are perhaps the most enjoyable to play. A world that is populated, dangerous but urging you to engage it and carve a niche out for yourself. I’ve mostly played solo, a man alone in the world of the undead. It’s lonely, painfully sterile and I find the urge to be generative is even more acute.

What these games have taught me about my own aesthetic, is that I want to combine elements. A vast open world peopled by players and NPCs (each with stories of their own) that asks my avatar to form and re-form its personality as well as the world in which it finds itself. I keep playing hoping to find the ‘perfect game’ but I also keep playing to experience the individual traits I love.

I’m eying some new games: Submerged, Xsyon, Lethis, How to Survive Third Person, Empyrion, Anno 2205, Tug, Crest, Instinct, The Long Dark, Devoured Time, and a slew of 8-bit/16-bit RPGs. We’ll see how it goes.

***

This rambling nonsense in want of even more and difficult games is poor writing, but there are some great game writers out there. A few game-writers and sites I follow on Twitter that have never written anything not worth the time:
@FemHype
@GinnisTonik
@femfreq
@nightxade
@cypheroftyr
@offworld 
@leighalexander 
@girlseeksgame 
@AngelsWhoGame 
@NiallEM

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