The primary reason most people play video games is because they get some sense of enjoyment out of them. Video games are meant to be fun, and while not always happy and carefree, they give us escapes from the real world, and engage us in ways that other forms of media cannot. It’s okay to be picky about which games you play and which ones you don’t. It’s okay to play with a critical eye and it’s okay to play for the sheer enjoyment of playing. Whatever makes you happy and is worth your personal investment of time.
But something I’d like to talk about are the moments in any given game when something aligns just right to create a completely unique and individual experience for the player.
When and how these moments occur is entirely dependent on the game. There are some games that lend themselves more easily to this, most notably open-world RPGs. But sometimes, you can be playing something as simple as a platformer, and you’ll be surprised by how different elements engage you and draw out a far different reaction than what anyone else experienced, lending a whole new context to your perspective of a game.
The most obvious example I can give of this is the game Journey, which pairs you up with another player and sends you on a pilgrimage through the desert. You play the same levels every time, you follow the exact same path, but the game feels different every time you play it. You meet different people, and everyone has their own unique playing styles. When these mesh, you get some amazing results. People who have never met and have no other means of communicating outside of musical pings will form bonds, and will do everything they can to see their partner to the end of their journey together. May the White Beings have mercy on you if your fellow player disconnects at a pivotal point, crumbling to sand and leaving you alone in the with the awakened war machines.
So in addition to being a visually stunning game, Journey provides the easiest way to connect with another person and have a truly unique experience, no matter how many times you play the game. But beyond that, you yourself bring different emotions to different parts. People react differently to seeing different areas. For example, the “jellyfish” area of the underground city was very calm and peaceful to me, while a friend who despises jellyfish hated that part and could not get out of there fast enough. In short, no one is every going to have a completely identical experience when playing this game, or any game.
Even something like Spyro the Dragon can bring unique experiences to a player. That may seem weird to say as there is a set way you need to play the game, and a set way you can progress. You’re given enough leeway to pick and choose the areas where you make your progress, and if you want to do the bare minimum, you can easily do the bare minimum, sometimes skipping entire sub worlds in your pursuit of Ripto or the Sorceress. (Yeah, I’m old-school when it comes to Spyro and have difficulty acknowledging the games made after Insomniac chose to sell.) My personal version of Spyro is a perfectionist, and a spiteful one at that. He says “No” to Moneybags as often as possible just to hear his incredulous dialogue, enjoys torching baddies and NPCs alike (not always by mistake), will run around an entire sub world six times over if he’s missing even ONE gem, casually goes for Skillpoints when convenient, and if you take a single hit point off of Sparx, he will END you.
Compare this to my friend’s Spyro, who prances around without any set goal in mind because he didn’t pay attention to the introductory cutscene, skipped the rest of them, and forgot how to glide after ten minutes of playing. Suffice to say, that Spyro never made it to Dragon Shores.
There’s so much more I could talk about. Like the time I accidentally became a werewolf in Skyrim while this person embarked on an epic quest to get his dog adopted. Or how I’ve turned Nathan Drake from a legendary treasure hunter into a man who lurks in tall grass and whispers, “I am a lion of the Serengeti,” every time he moves in for a stealth takedown. Or when Ellie decided to teach herself how to whistle moments after I-through-Joel had found a sleeping Clicker two feet away from him (us) in The Last of Us. And don’t even get me started on Mass Effect 3 and (SPOILER) Thane’s death.
There are just so many layers that an individual player can and will bring to a game, even when that player is on a set path from start to finish. And then there are those moments when things align in a unique way for you and create that singular experience. Like that time when a character scaling a cliff coincided perfectly with the background music, and they came to the top to stand there in the setting sun, looking heroically out at a beautiful landscape as the player slow-panned the camera around them, creating a cinematic effect… No? Just me? Okay, so if you have less of a flare for dramatics and take no joy in watching the sun glint off those beautiful weapons and armor you fought so hard to get, what about all those impossible boss battles you beat for the very first time? The sense of satisfaction that came with them, and all those things you yelled at the screen when the big bad finally went down?
You know you came up with a few obscenities that your friends could never even dream of. Even if you were playing Kingdom Hearts at the time.
And then there are those things that aligned for you that probably never should have aligned in the first place. The times you broke the game and were rewarded with a truly unique experience that left you with a very special memory of a particular game. I have a very, very vivid memory of a specific time that happened to me, but you’ll have to come back next week for that.
For now, suffice to say romance has never been so horrifically broken.