Sometimes there’s those types of video games that you know are not for you. But you like to hear about them nonetheless. You appreciate them from afar, you get how other people are really into them, and maybe you’re tricked that way into thinking you would actually like them too. But you don’t, you really don’t. As gorgeous looking, well crafted and unique as they are, they don’t hit that box for you. Your needs for fulfilment and joy out of a game just can’t be filled up with these games. But looking at the others having fun with it is still satisfying somehow. I discuss five games that fall into this category for me.
“This game takes your controller and puts it into your anus!” Boom. That was my introduction to Dark Souls. I’m watching a video review of the game, and the critic doesn’t mince words. Dark Souls, the game where every encounter is a boss fight. Dark Souls, where dying ten times makes it so satisfying to succeed at your eleventh attempt. But I guess just not for me. I’m actually not that keen on boss fights; the tenacious hop-scotching around a bullet sponge or seemingly indestructible tank, chipping away at its health like a sparrow sanding off the Himalayas with its tiny beak. Watch me play and you’ll see I can’t be bothered to grind, fail, try again, rinse and repeat. The only way I will bother to try something over and over again is if I can imagine a new way to do it every time. In short: I don’t have patience nor a very large attention span. Plus, with little dialogue and solid story, but emphasis on discovering and figuring out lore instead of having it spoon-fed to you, it’s becoming hard sale for a lover of cinematic storytelling like me. But, I get it. I understand the joy of overcoming a difficult challenge and I understand how beautiful, deep and ambiguous the game world is. How much it makes you emotionally invested and how sharing your experiences with other players create a sense of community. People write books about it, develop fan theories that border with academic level of philosophical depth. These games are definitely something special. I will just happily enjoy listening to others talk about it and keep that controller as far away as possible from any orifice.
I tried these games when they were still called Championship Manager. Back then they were already famously complex and simplistic at the same time. Football Manager is one of a kind. I imagine a copy arriving at the office of a games magazine or website, and being dropped at the desk of that one oddball who actually understands it. “Here, you are the footy nut, go review it.” People that don’t understand it will see little more than an enormous database and gameplay that looks suspiciously a lot like an actual job. The audience for Football Manager is that slim overlapping area in the Venn diagram where nerds and football fans meet. And although there are and have been plenty of footy management games, nothing is such a Valhalla for that niche audience as FM. Because unlike other games in the genre, FM has virtually every club, player and competition in the world. It implements every real life rule, regulation and aspect of football management. Minimalistic in graphics, FM makes up for it with an unprecedented level of detail. It simulates an entire dynamic world of football around your play session. While you are busy managing a club in the second German division, a player in Argentina might break his leg. An injury that will show up in his history if you happen to buy that player three years later in your manager career.
Because the Football Manager world is self-sustainable; you can keep playing for ten, twenty, fifty virtual seasons and beyond, there’s no ending or definite goal. New youth players will be generated, older ones retire, take up manager jobs, etc. I stopped trying to get into it ages ago but I appreciate it for its technical achievement. It’s actually being used by real life football scouts to find and analyse players. Vice versa the game uses crowdsourced input of the community to get authentic details of the in-game players. For rabid football fans it’s heaven, for casual onlookers like me, just a behemoth of numbers and algorithms.
Not often have I been checking my social media channels with such big smile on my face as that time when Tracer from Overwatch was officially, canonically confirmed to be gay. It meant so much to so many LGBT gamers, it was a delight to see how much emotional impact a game can have and how meaningful a character can be to an audience. The same thing happened when I read an article about Symmetra being autistic or when I heard my wife clamouring about how cool Russian powerlifter Zarya is. The way these personas resonate with people is amazing. Overwatch did something truly unique when it comes to design, development and progression of their ensemble cast and the continue to do so with updates, spin-off media and community support.
So how about the game itself? Again, it’s just not my thing. I get bored very quickly with fast paced multiplayer shooters and I lack the perseverance to become really good at it. I feel like I can’t see much of the characters and their back stories during gameplay and I miss the depth and engagement of a single player campaign. But that’s okay; I only need to look at games like Fortnite, Watch Dogs 2 or the upcoming Agents of Mayhem, that this type of character-driven games have the future. More developers are realising that now; how the videogames are past the point of surviving solely on gameplay mechanics, and need a strong cast to really stand out. And when I say strong I mean diverse, inclusive and relatable. Games are there to speak to our imagination, make us emotionally connect to their story and offer us that sweet spot between familiarity and fantasy. Go Overwatch!
The arm chair generals and historic war buffs won’t believe I put this in a list of games I won’t play. And I got to be honest, this one I actually might try. Maybe. I tried before. But I don’t think it’s for me. Even if maybe I want to. The vastness of the battlefield, the pressure of real time action and the complexity and multiple processes make it way too frantic for me to keep overview on and remain calm. But I always love to hear about the game series. What time period are they visiting next? What type of infantry, which factions, what historical battles?
Maybe it’s the way I got used to the less anxiety inducing method of turn based gameplay in my two of my favourite games: Xcom Enemy Unknown and Sid Meier’s Civilisation. Those deliver the strategy and complexity of waging war in bite size bits and let me pause and reconsider whenever I want. Of course they miss the thrill and excitement of huge, epic battles with the challenge of deploying your troops in the most efficient, symbiotic way possible. Optimise the agility of your infantry by supporting their weak defences with a tactically placed ranged offensive. Execute the famous pincer movement and besiege cities. Watching a Let’s Play session already makes me dizzy with confusion thinking just how the hell you manage to execute all these orders and keep somehow a general idea of what’s going on.
Or any other car racing game, to be honest. But that’s not the point. I guess The Crew would make a great example too. They both purvey in the fine art of car porn. And although it’s something completely wasted on me; I understand the level of excitement it brings people that actually like engine propelled vehicles. I don’t even have a driving license in real life, and controlling a car in virtual environments is neither one of my strong suits. Forza and The Crew both tap into that fascination people have with the little tweaks and tunes one can perform on a car to give that extra little edge. Like a Guy Ritchie movie, the games show us meticulous detail of gears, cogs, cylinders and other mechanical things fitting into other things. I imagine if you live for that stuff you feel like Gomer Pyle in that dreadful mid-movie finale of Full Metal Jacket, maniacally beaming over every little bolt and screw fluently fitting in place and smoothly operating to maximum efficiency.
Whenever Microsoft brightens up their presser with an actual sports car being pulled on stage, they usually get a chuckle out of me. Because I know a fair part of the audience is soiling themselves with excitement and another good chunk of fans is furiously live tweeting to tell how unimpressed they are. To me, it always seems kind of same-y, those car racing games. Trickling water drops on smooth lacquered carrosserie, lens flare gleaming through the windshield as roaring engines accompany the sunset over the asphalt ridden arena of these motorised avatars. But I know it’s in the details that I don’t even realise are there. The improved physical realism of rubber tires reaction to bouncing racetracks or other type of cars doing other things on a greater variety of circuits. Cars that I’d crash into the gravel at the first turn and equip with mods I don’t understand because who the hell cares I just want to ride shotgun and look out the window at the pretty landscape.