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We don’t play games the way they should be played

posted on December 5th, 2006 by matt

Over the last few years, I have come to realize that I, like many of you, play video games incorrectly. We don’t play them the way they should be played. And this goes double for you RPG nuts out there (I’m looking at you, videolamer staff). I bet that most of you just blaze through games, trying to either beat them as quickly as you can or leveling up to a point where only Cartman and the South Park gang can top you. Well stop it. You’re missing out on an enjoyable experience with your games if you think getting to the ending credits is the reason we play them.

This guy really knows how to enjoy a game.

I remember playing Ocarina of Time for the N64 way back in 1998. I got it the day it came out, and played it for a month straight. It was amazing, but I never just sat back and took in the splendor of the game. The entire time I was playing, I only thought about conquering the dungeons, getting all the items, and saving the day. Take sword fighting, for example. I basically just fought the enemies until I beat them.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when I go back to the game now and fight those lizard men in Dodongo’s Cavern, I try things differently. I mess around with them. I get into the game, trying to think what they might do, and work from there. I’m not just slashing like crazy, hoping I land a hit. I plan my attacks out, and I try to predict what my enemy will do. I get my head into the battle, as if I really were fighting this guy. This may mean strafing or jumping around and attacking him on his side. It may mean going right in and giving him a taste of the ole’ spin attack.

Basically, I forget that I’m trying to defeat the dungeon, and just get into the moment. This is what I mean when I say that we play games incorrectly. Most of us are so fixated on beating the game that we lose sight of what makes it fun in the first place. Once I stopped doing this, I saw a side of OoT that I had never noticed, and it became an even more enjoyable experience. It truly made me feel as if I were interacting with the game in a meaningful way, like I really was a bad-ass sword fighter, waging a war against the forces of evil.

After seeing the folly of my ways and changing my gaming mentalities, I have a far better experience when playing. The first game that really got me was Resident Evil 4. I would have loved it if the first Village battle went on longer. After I told myself that experiencing the game was better than beating it, my $50 felt justified.

I wish I were this into games.

There were many times where I screamed “Whoa!” like I would if I were on a roller coaster ride. Usually, it would be at a point where I just got my ass handed to me, but the experience I was having made me forget about not being able to get to the last boss with as many Green Herbs as I had planned. In this case, Resident Evil 4 turned into an interactive movie for me, where I got to experience all the thrilling and hair-raising sequences that are usually reserved for James Bond. And who can complain about that?

Seriously, making a game out to be a goal rather than a journey defeats the entire purpose. We pay these high prices to have a good time, not to say that we beat Ninja Gaiden for Xbox in less than 45 seconds. And remember, once it’s over, it’s over. You can’t be amazed at something you’ve already experienced before, so make the first time the best it can be.

As I go through Twilight Princess, I’m starting to see myself go back to my old ways. I turn the game into a checklist, rather than the epic adventure that it is. It really started to bore me, and I was all hell-bent on saying TP was a bad game because of it. Realizing that this was happening again, I made myself play the game without going to any of the dungeons or advancing the storyline. I rode Epona and traveled through Hyrule Field. I practiced my sword-fighting skills with those annoying flying creatures. And I went shopping in Hyrule Town Square, seeing if anyone had anything interesting to sell or say. Hyrule then became a real place in my mind, and not a level that some guy designed to block me from getting to the final dungeon.

Get into that character. Think like him or her. Try to place yourself in the same position that the game developers put the protagonist in. If someone runs at you with a chainsaw, you better pee your pants or something. Just try to forget that you are playing a game and enjoy the moment, and your experiences will be far better than they ever were.


  1. Christian said on December 5, 2006:

    Great article matt, and my own experience with OOT was opposite of yours.  Since I didn’t know much about online FAQs at the time, it was a completely pure experience.  Every puzzle, every secret was something I found.  I didn’t know what was ahead of me, so I just did whatever I felt like doing, which was a healthy blend of exploration and dungeons.  When I finally did scour FAQs, I had already won, and was just cleaning up. That being said, I have had games ruined for me by playing them wrong, usually when the completionist in me starts to take over.  I think a large part of the problem is that some games are designed to be played "incorrectly".  For example, what’s the best way to beat a tough boss in an rpg?  Usually it helps to have some real powerful weapon.  How do you obtain it. 9/10 it requires something obsessive compulsive, like talking to a random person 5 times, or backtracking to a quiet town hours later, and if you miss it, you have no other chance later in the game.  That drives me nuts because it pretty much demands FAQ hunting, and no matter how hard you may try to ignore them and play on your own, there are always hints and examples of how much you might be missing by just doing what you want to do.  We need to get rid of this in the future.  My suggestion is to follow Fallout; you never feel like your missing out on anything in that game, because there are so many ways to play and to win that there really isn’t a right way to do it. Just your way.

  2. Matt said on December 5, 2006:

    Yes, I totally agree with you Christian. RPG’s are essentially designed to be play incorrectly. They really need to push the refresh button on some of these games. It essentially turns the player into a QA tester, as well as making the game’s progression feel very inorganic. There’s nothing spontaneous about the experience. So yes, there’s a good helping of player imperfections and designer imperfections.

  3. jay said on December 5, 2006:

    Christian, you hit on something I’ve been thinking of writing about for a long time – some games seem to be designed to be played with walkthroughs. The question is are they actually designed like this or are we just so anal retentive that we insist on getting everything? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Sometimes we are too anal, other times the games demand too much. As an amateur game designer, I can say the RPG I worked on went through a lot to attempt to make the player feel like there was no right way, only different ways. This is what Fallout and some other Black Isle and Bioware games do.

  4. Christian said on December 5, 2006:

    Good example of crappy RPG shenanigans: on the boat in FFX, unless you realize you can play iwth the blitzball, you may end up completely missing out on the Jecht Shot until the very end of the game.

  5. jay said on December 5, 2006:

    I’m not convinced that’s something everyone needs, as opposed to a nice little hidden thing for those who explore more.

  6. TrueTallus said on December 5, 2006:

    Good article.  There seem to be several ways to deal with lots of wierd completionist details in games.  Halo and many like it have tried to eliminate exploration more or less entirely- focusing on the core gameplay mechanics to get people into actually enjoying/playing the game.  Thats cool, but at least for me, that leaves the game world feeling hallow and uninteresting.  And then theres the Fallout way, like jay and Christian mention, of making such a dense minutia that the player has to give up getting everything and take what they can get.  This way often works for me, though ocasionally it backfires when I see all the things I COULD do and end up getting frustrated and overwhelmed wondering which way is best.  A third situation, and the one I most prefer, is having extras/nonstory exploration that can be filled in later – like the system seen in Tomb Raider Legend.  A player can advance through the game at its own pace without the nagging worry of loosing a potential goodie forever.  I don’t suppose this approach would work well for a game without levels, but otherwise…

  7. Christian said on December 5, 2006:

    Jay: You don’t need it, but you also don’t need that super powerful sword.  There’s very little in RPGs these days that you absolutely need in order to progress that is hidden; its the extra stuff mostly.  In any case, the JEcht Shot can make things a hell of a lot easier, but not if you don’t find it.

  8. pat said on December 6, 2006:

    i had a similar experience while playing shadow of the colossus.  i was progressing through the game, looking at each boss as though they were puzzles to be solved rather than reveling in the grandeur of my opponents and my environs.  once i realized i should be exploring and wandering rather than simply moving on, i enjoyed the game much more.    and as a fan of rpg’s i absolutely agree things have gotten a little out of hand in terms of how specific, and therefore difficult the steps can be to find certain things.  i understand there is clearly a place for that (since every final fantasy sells a billion copies) but some other model (never played fallout) where you can’t screw yourself too badly or feel as though you missed out on something terrific would be welcome.

  9. Matt said on December 6, 2006:

    Yeah, I realized that I played Shadow of the Colossus correctly. Thank god for that because that game is amazing. I didn’t think about what was going to happen at the end and speed through it. I made sure to partake in the overall grandeur of the game, and it was very enjoyable. I imagine if I kept telling myself "OK, I’ve killed 12 bosses, there’s only 4 left" the game would essentially be a checklist and it would lose all the magic it had. As for RPG’s, you can create that sense of enjoyment by battling in a light-hearted sense. Don’t use the same attacks over and over, try to win in an unorthodox way, and don’t think you won because of your level. When I first played an RPG, I would barely beat the bosses. Leveling up was still foreign to me, so boss battles were much harder than they should have been. But, because I made sure to get my head into the battle, I still won, and had fun doing it. It felt like I accomplished something, rather than winning because of my higher percentage for winning through leveling up. That’s why FFX was so enjoyable for me. You really didn’t have to level up. I never acquired the Jecht Shot, rarely leveled up, but I still kicked major ass in the game. You could enjoy battles much easier when it’s not based on the ATB system.

  10. pat said on December 6, 2006:

    powerleveling is something i have almost never been guilty of doing.  when i started playing rpgs i had to ask jay why i couldnt beat certain bosses and he told me i had to level. i resisted.  i only ever over leveled on replays, in fact. once trying to save pan in suikoden and once to unlock all the jobs in final fantasy tactics.  you have a point though, i have always enjoyed games when the bosses were tough and i had to struggle and think to beat them.  im not sure i understand your final line though, did you dislike the ATB system, or did you dislike thinking about the game in terms of its battle system?

  11. Matt said on December 6, 2006:

    I just like having a breathing point while playing FFX so I can gain a grip on how to win the battle. My mind is focused on what I’m going to do with my next turn, not when my next turn comes.

  12. GoldenJew said on December 8, 2006:

    Love this article.  Had this same problem with RPGs, and DEFINATELY this problem with MMO’s (12 step program worked for me!).  I can’t count how many times I tried to restart an MMO with the intent of exploring, messing around, doing quests, visiting cities… only to find myself reverting to hardcore mode.I find my problem with FF12 is that I WANT to power level because the license system lends itself to maxxing it out.  Must… uncover…all… skills!  Maybe the problem with focusing on the end and not the journey is indicative of the fact we’re all crazy Americans (or most of us, I think one of you is a brit).  I wonder if other cutures have different attitudes.  Oh wait, only whites and asians play video games!  Ha ha.  Silly Africans. 

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