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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I wanna be THE GUY. Or, let's talk about video games...


It's been a while, hasn't it? I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I've been busy lately and haven't really had much time to think about video games, or play them. But I've been reading a lot of of pre-E3 hype, and there's really so much that's stirring in the video game community right now.

I read up on a Wii retrospect thread on NeoGAF (sweet jebas, what a wretched hive of scum and villainy), and found that either there was a good amount of people who actually liked the Wii, or the "vast majority" who didn't had no interest in posting, because there were quite a few supporters there. Most referenced the second coming of Christ (AKA Xenoblade) as one of the main reasons for owning the machine, and I don't really have an issue with that logic. But I began to think a little bit more deeply about what makes Xenoblade and other Wii titles extremely successful. Scratch that, what makes a lot of video games in general successful.

I read another review for Skyward Sword and it praised the game for allowing you to "be the hero". For the first time in a Zelda game, the reviewer felt like he was in complete control of what Link was doing- every sword strike, every deft leap, and every effort to help the many characters in Skyloft made him feel like he was in complete control. He was "the guy". You know who the guy is- he's the guy that you want to be. And any game that makes you feel like you eventually are "the guy" is a good game, in my book. The wonderful thing about the majority of the quality titles for the Wii is that they did just that. I can name a few right now- Super Mario Galaxy, Skyward Sword, Xenoblade Chronicles, Metroid Prime 3, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Epic Mickey, Monster Hunter Tri, No More Heroes... They all let you be "the guy" in some way. Heck, even FPS's and fighting games let you be "the guy," but they let you be him in other ways.

"The guy" is epic. He's the one who you see do something awesome and you wish you could do that too. So when Mario picks Bowser up by his tail and throws him into a spiked bomb, you say "hot damn, I wish I could pick up massive turtles and hurl them into spiky things!" But many of a game's elements factor into the idea of being "the guy". In the example of Skyward Sword, engaging the player with motion-based solutions to almost every part of Link's arsenal (even swimming and freefalling) makes you feel as though you're being the epic one because it's YOUR moves that matter, not the pre-mapped sword combos or generic swimming mechanics. Another example, Monster Hunter, puts you in the shoes of a savage fighter by having an ecosystem and monsters that are constantly reacting and attacking, but also having a number of different ways of confronting foes. The choice of weapon, usage of traps, and heat-of-the-moment actions like rolling or side-stepping or shielding really make you feel as though the role-playing options were entirely formed by you- and you get to smash monsters in the head with giant swords. It's something epic that is done well and makes you feel epic.

Gameplay mechanics are only one part. Story, especially for RPGs like Fire Emblem and Xenoblade, play an important role. To care about the characters and the events going on around them means that the writing has got something that is drawing you in, and we all love to play games with a good story. Now, to sympathize with the main character or characters of a story is one thing, but when certain characters are facilitated by RPG game design to pull off epic maneuvers, they become "the guy" in other ways. Cloud would probably be much less cool if he didn't wield a huge freaking Buster Sword. Ike wouldn't be as cool if he wasn't so damn good at killing things with those lovely stats of his.

And even then, the idea of competition and practice of a game's mechanics can pay off and make us feel like "the guy". Fighting games and shooters make us feel like "the guy" every time we defeat an opponent, thus validating our reason for clocking in as much time as we did studying the mechanics, playing nonstop, and getting our own asses beat by the previous guy.

It seems being awesome is a standard in video games, and that's what they do for us, most of the time- allow us to escape to a place where we can be that epic guy and fight the forces of evil. Some games are more successful in doing it than others, and some genres and franchises do it better. But being "the guy" is something that takes mastery to become- whether it's beating the game, maxing out the stats, or owning all the other players, we need some sort of validation to feel like we're "the guy". And it's the level of challenge that the developer sets for the gamer that determines this, and that usually means that the design of the game needs to be well-balanced enough that everyone who plays needs to put in some sort of commitment in order to reach "the guy" levels. It's the more challenging and engrossing experiences that give the most rewarding levels of validation- VVVVVV's ridiculous challenges, Skyward Sword's intuitive controls, Xenoblade's lengthy and exhausting story, and other games of the sort that allow us to take a step back and say, "I really was 'the guy' there, for a bit." And that's why gamers play games.

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