I've been thinking a bit about the games coming out now. We have Borderlands 2 and Dishonored getting GOTY versions. I played both of those games. A lot. And yet I am wondering if I'll pick up these new editions. For clarity's sake let's look at the calendar.
We have the fall rolling in(I know because it's finally getting cold where I am) and while this is typically the time when games spew forth from the gaming God's quarters this isn't going to happen quite the same right now. New consoles...Which I think definitely favors Wii U, their games are starting to drop at a good rate while Microsoft and Sony only seem to have a few big titles due. Nintendo's big experiment at releasing separately is probably going to pay off, but let's wait and see how long it takes the people pre-scripting their doom to notice.
So we have a new Assassin's Creed, we have new Call of Duty, a new Arkham Batman title. We have the usual members of the holiday crew. So why are these titles so popular? Because they inherently carry aspects of gaming people know and love. When I dropped off from playing Diablo 3 on console recently I realized that though I enjoyed the game when I took a week off I didn't mind not playing. What I'm getting at is that though the game is fun, and I'll probably drop in pretty soon, it didn't work in such a way that what it was supposed to do really pulled me in.
With a Diablo game you're supposed to be pulled in to the loot binge, not because the loot binge can exist but because it must and you're rewarded for doing it. The action works because the way weapons and items are generated, it's a process that works in the short term(yay, new cape) and the longer term(yay, having fun with friends). Diablo 3 on console greatly advances some of this stuff but in absence I didn't feel like I was missing out on chances to get gear, the updates to the game since it's PC release just can't completely redesign the game. But they do help.
Anyways, what is it that keeps us grinding in games, or keeps us jumping in multiplayer lobbies, or what keeps pulling us into other types of experiences? I think the best games have "cracked the code" of their particular value of choice. As players we often look for certain values and inherently crave these experiences. That's why some people put down Skyrim or GTA once they map the world with others once they get their 100% completion. Though the games I mentioned tackled several values quite well some games might just go for one. Many first-person shooters eschew values like choices or philosophy in favor of, like CoD, generating yearly multiplayer curation.
As games further attempt to advance these design philosophies they're giving us a language we didn't have before. As communities develop around these experiences and people find like-minded mavens games once again get to develop further. It's one thing when people play your game, it's another entirely when they understand what every possible part of a procedurally generated weapon means.
So while that core design philosophy matters so much, which I can't stress enough, now we're in a new territory as community matters as much if not more. From JRPGs that don't get released until years later to MMO forums trying to figure how to be ultrabosses or even comment sections on gaming sites community, and the standards these communities set, is becoming the other major element of play.
Why make multiple ways of completing a mission if not just for the value of the gaming experience but also the shared experience? Choice, and the agency of that choice, lies no longer simply in game but outside this experience.
Ever had a chance to talk about the first hour in your Skyrim game? While the set up is clearly designed to give you subtle and obvious choices you follow or don't actually speaking to people about where and why they went where they did first is eye-opening. Or Dark Souls, while most people recognize one or two paths open to them at first several more choices are open, more if you're not afraid to sequence-break.
The big negative on the communal experience of course is the hype train. Who wants to miss out on the big experience that seems like everyone is supposed to have together? While there's nothing quite like going through a game at the same time as everyone else I think most of my best experiences come from something I played because I found it.
Well that doesn't sound right. When my friends got me into Call of Duty: Black Ops I enjoyed multiplayer, but the zombies mode is what I found my home in. It's staggered level of "if you make it 6 rounds x will happen, if you make it 27 rounds y will start happening" meant that your fun level depended on having a certain amount of communication with everyone else. And the game mode wasn't necessarily the titles biggest draw so those of us who played it began to develop our own community. "This is more than just a side venture," we thought, "but a unique experience subverting this titles traditional multiplayer." Well, in so many words.
While playing games is mostly about our experiences, our quests, in more ways than ever it feels like community is what makes games thrive. But it is a feedback loop on itself, developers have these forums and venues to interact with their fans and hear what they like. Personally I wonder about his part. While it seems like at one point developers and publishers saw a game release and then received reviews and fan mail, maybe fan sites or forums covering their game, now there is so much information from twitter and Facebook to millions of random blogs that I doubt anything but the most basic of issues can really get through.
For years it seems gamers have mentioned, sometimes in not so subtle ways, that they wouldn't mind more female protagonists(and better female characters in general). I think that decisions like this not being pursued might come to the fact that it's easier to decide things based on marketing than just listening to some fans, that might be small in number, make heartfelt requests.
What do we look for in games? I think everyone has a ratio: how much do I play the game because it fulfills a core design value I care about and does it build a sense of community for me? And I think this reality is noted in many aspects of gaming once you recognize it.