This article, linked to by BoingBoing, describes why we (well, some of us) can’t resist surfing the web. It’s apparently because we get an endorphin high from viewing new and richly interpretable information. Interesting – because for me it also explains why I like the games I do.
I’m a neophile, which probably just means I’m wired to get a hell of an endorphin kick from new, deep information. But I have terrible coordination and reflexes, and I don’t particularily enjoy conflict or adrenaline rushes, so I don’t get a massive kick out of visceral action gaming – twitch gaming. So the games I like provide me regularly with dollops of interesting (and beautiful) New Stuff which I have to think about in order to keep playing the game.
My favourite game is probably Ico – there’s a bit of fighting but it’s not a problem, it’s mainly just a case of wandering around a beautiful, huge castle solving puzzles. Every new area is a massive endorphin hit for geeks like me; a new wodge of beautiful, inventive worldbuilding I have to get involved in to solve.
Shadow of the Colossus didn’t entirely work for me, because the environment, while lovely, wasn’t deep enough. And the monsters were fundamentally the same fight over and over again – not much new data there. And I was shit at the fights, because of my dreadful coordination.
Portal works beautifully – each new level is a world I have to get involved in. They’re not particularly pretty, but they are very cleverly designed and have to be explored and engaged with in a new way because of the game’s novel mechanic. Also, of course, there’s always a new bit of comedy from GlaDOS waiting for me when I get to a new level, which is a massive hit of new, quality data in itself. But largely I loved it because I didn’t have to jump through too many frustrating time-dependent and coordination-dependent hoops to win the level. I just had to analyse the puzzle successfully, and then put my analysis into practice, with just enough acrobatics to make it require a few tries to get it right.
Now, it seems to me that most games are designed for another sort of person – a competitive person who likes adrenaline rushes, exercising their reflexes and coordination, practicing physical skills. There are currently few games for those of us who get that same visceral kick from thinking and exploration. Oh yes, we’ll play the twitch games because there’s often enough interesting stuff in there to keep us hooked, wading through the combat parts even though they’re a chore.
But where are the exploration games like Ico and Myst now? Why don’t they sell well? Because the article seems to say that everyone, to a large extent, should be sucked in by this sort of dynamic.
Or are most gamers really jocks and not geeks?