Why I Love Video Games
Underneath all of the predatory business practices, vitriolic subreddits, and general unpleasantness, there’s something undeniably special about games
I’m off work today for Thanksgiving, and as I sat at home, playing Rocket League on my Nintendo Switch, I reflected upon the simple joy of driving a rocket-propelled car into an enormous soccer ball. It’s a simple, mindless, deeply-satisfying feeling that explains a large part of Rocket League’s incredible success. In may ways, Psyonix’s breakout hit is the perfect video game. It’s easy to understand and play at a rudimentary level, but has enough strategy and deep components to launch a successful e-sports league and vault to the top of the Nintendo Switch sales charts in 2017.
The reason that I bring up Rocket League is that it showcases one aspect of why I love video games and continue to play them. This simple, tactile joy is one of the best arguments I can think of to own a Playstation 4 or a Switch. Of course, there are others as well. Games like Overwatch offer deep, competitive, first-person multplayer, and single-player games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Super Mario Odyssey showcase some of the best narratives and gameplay in the industry.
I think it’s important to talk about the positive aspects of video games because there is so much negativity around these products and their entire industry. Rocket League and Super Mario Odyssey have both garnered near-universal acclaim, but there are plenty of other titles like Star Wars Battlefront that have infuriated fans, critics, and shareholders alike. Games are also brutal to make — journalists like Kotaku’s Jason Schreier have documented the countless tales of games that nearly broke the backs of everyone who tried to make them. Because of all the unpleasantness around games, I’d like to write a reminder of why I think they’re worth everyone’s time. From fantastic gameplay to immersive narratives, I’ll detail just a few of the reasons that I keep coming back to games.
The simple joy of the Nintendo Switch
Earlier this year, Nintendo released the Switch to unbelievable commercial success. I’m part of that success, and I have loved nearly every minute spent with this hybrid console. Early concerns about third-party support and having enough software have long since evaporated, and Nintendo has had easily the most successful year out of the three big game companies. The Switch has gone from an interesting concept to a mainstay of video games.
To me, the Switch represents so much of what I love about games. It isn’t a perfect console by any means — its multiplayer setup and console interface are lacking to say the least — but Nintendo has done an excellent job of making the system fun and easy to use. It functions perfectly both as a home console and a handheld, which is an amazing feat. However, its true beauty (at least for now) lies in what that means for its software library.
The Switch has an impressive array of first-party and third-party games from this year alone, with more on the way, and its hybrid nature means that any game on the Switch is a unique experience in a way that a Playstation or Xbox game can never be. Its hardware allows a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to be an amazing game on a tv or the console itself. This singular feature is worth several posts on its own, but the ways that Nintendo’s first-party games have used it have capitalized on this impressive potential.
Every Nintendo game from this year focuses on creating simple (but still deep) gameplay that feels great and looks good. Zelda and Mario are both extremely light on story mechanics, but make up for this by building interesting worlds that players can experience in a variety of ways. Out of everything Nintendo has done this year, I find this feat the most impressive. It also applies to franchises like Mario Kart and Splatoon — the main draw of each game is interesting, fun gameplay. This has been Nintendo’s bread and butter for years now, and the Switch makes the company’s game-building skill even more marketable in 2017.
The amazing narratives on the PS4
No matter how much I love the Switch, I can’t deny that it will probably never have games that rival the narrative prowess of The Last of Us or Horizon Zero Dawn. I have written before about how Sony continues to funnel some of its impressive cash reserves toward single-player game development, and I consider this fact one of the best reasons to buy into the PlayStation ecosystem. Sony may never have a character as marketable and recognizable as Mario, but the company has created (in my mind) some of the best video game stories imaginable.
The Last of Us is my favorite video game of all time, and my expectations for the second game are already far too high. This high point is not Sony’s only critical success, and review scores for single-player games like Uncharted 4 or Horizon Zero Dawn bear this out. Fascinatingly, Sony still has several more AAA, single-player games on the way. The company has already done a fantastic job of hyping up Insomniac’s Spider-Man and I find the trailers for Days Gone and Ghost of Tsushima fascinating as well (to say nothing of The Last of Us: Part II).
What sets many of these games apart from others is their commitment to incredible narratives and stories. The voice-acting in Uncharted and The Last of Us rival the best performances in movies, and the moment-to-moment writing is nearly flawless. Horizon Zero Dawn ranks high in this category as well, and many upcoming games seem to show a similar focus.
The reason I’ve spent so much time on the PlayStation brand is that I find that an amazing video game narrative is emotionally moving in ways that books and movies can never be. The best moments of The Last of Us and Uncharted are truly phenomenal because of the ways that developer Naughty Dog pulls players into their stories. If I put down my controller, or sold all my video games, I’d be missing amazing stories that I can’t find anywhere else. Because of how great these stories are, and how much time and energy went into them, I love video games.
Because they’re fun and they bring people together
Another way to sum up this long defense of video games as a medium is to say simply that they form an enjoyable leisure activity. Playing Rocket League or Mario Kart is fun. In many ways, these games are fun in the same way that a pick-up game of basketball or football is — this activity allows for competition and the exposition of talent in a controlled environment that is (hypothetically) safe for everyone.
And while that feeling of fun isn’t nearly as significant as the fact that video games often treat women horribly, break the souls of developers, and serve as a platform for companies like EA to milk cash out of a customer base in an increasingly-predatory way, it’s still important. There are real problems in the game industry, and all of these concerns are very real. I have decided not to purchase the new Call of Duty and Battlefront titles largely because of their micro-transactions. I feel terrible for the developers of Battlefront 2, who have seen all their hard work go up in an explosion of anger and corporate justifications about micro-transactions. I also hate how so many games portray women and minorities.
This feeling of fun can’t wipe away the faults of the broader industry, but it is a reminder that there is something real and worthwhile about games. I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing Call of Duty Zombies levels with my brothers over the last five years, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. Games can bring people together in powerful ways, and the narratives and gameplay that make up these experiences are worth talking about.
Over the next calendar year, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will all release high-profile games. Third-party developers, from AAA publishers to indie designers, will join them. Some games will release to critical acclaim, some to commercial success (some to both), and others will provoke the hatred and anger of entire Reddit communities. Behind all the toxicity and predatory practices though, there are real, valuable gameplay experiences and narratives. I’ll continue to play games in 2018 and beyond, and I will continue to think that this is a truly worthwhile pastime.