The Joys and Sorrows of Being an Almost-Gamer

John Siracusa of Hypercritical has spent the last two episodes, 64 and 65 discussing gaming as an art form. He draws the conclusion that hard-core video games (not, say, Angry Birds) are a form of art but are novel in that they require skill to appreciate. Unlike wine tasting or film appreciation, some people will never have the hand-eye coordination to appreciate games like Portal.

It’s an interesting argument, and I agree with him.

I’ve played a lot of video games in my life, mostly as a kid. I’ve never really considered myself a gamer, though.

John touches on this in the second part of his discussion; he describes how some games, such as Zelda, have a soft ramp-up to get players familiar with the game mechanics. He considers this, in some ways, to be cruel because players of the games who don’t have the skills necessary to beat them are tricked into believing they do. Eventually, the game gets too hard; he said he didn’t know how someone would feel once they get to the part of the game where it’s too hard because he’s never had that experience.

Well I have, and it kind of sucks. In fact, it’s why I stopped playing video games.

I’ve played two-thirds of the way through so many games. I’ve almost finished a dozen Zelda games, almost finished the first two discs of Final Fantasy VII plenty of times, and so on. I’ve purchased a few first-person shooters, but ultimately I only play in multiplayer, or play the same beginning levels on Easy mode until I get bored. I have enough skills to master the basics (and I mean really master them), but have insufficient skills to play the game in a way I enjoy.

This is why I only purchased Portal a year ago: it is a first-person shooter and I am bad at them. I finally caved when Ian said it was about puzzles.

When playing through the game for the first time, I eventually came to the section that introduces turrets and I literally panicked. I put down the game and didn’t touch it for a month because it suddenly became a first-person shooter and I hated it; I was afraid that I’d die, so I avoided it for a long time.

I still play some Mario games and Super Smash Brothers (mostly with my wife), and I really enjoyed Portal and Portal 2, but I’ve never enjoyed playing Halo or Call of Duty. (CoD was fun in LAN parties, but that was more about the social interactions than the game itself.) I said I master the basics, and I really mean master. Take Guitar Hero, for instance. During first year of university, I literally went undefeated. But I sucked at Halo.

I think that marginal improvements in gamer skill at the high-end of the spectrum result in massive improvements to the joy experienced while playing the game. So if I was a little better at shooters, I’d enjoy them way more.

I’m right at the margin of skills where I know the joy of a really good game, but am incapable of experiencing it. It really sucks.

Posted on April 30, 2012