It’s all surface level.
With most people it’s as far as my connection goes. Ironically, it’s even more of problem with many people who self-identify as “gamers”. Oftentimes these are people who easily spend enough time playing games to be considered “hardcore” as well, which may or not apply to me. Despite our common interests, often I find that they don’t share the same passion.
Videogames are undoubtedly a defining force in my life and personality, to the point where my Facebook page lists Videogames as my religion (In the name of Miyamoto, Mario, and the Holy Triforce, Amen). I’m joking of course, but it reveals an underlying fundamental truth about me.
I am an arcade soul. I am a scholar. Videogames exist for me on an emotional and intellectual plane that goes beyond being a hobby. I hunger for knowledge of the medium. For me, the measure of a good game is not how much “fun” I’m having, or how quickly it helps me pass the time, but within the quality and density of the experience on a micro and macro level. This can be driven by the atmosphere, tone, themes, but most of all by the relationship of those factors to the underlying mechanics.
As an example, while a majority of players will find a game like Skyrim to be one of the highest marks of the medium, I find Galaga to be a superior experience. Bethesda have created a magnificent world that is easy to get lost in, an achievement that shouldn’t be discounted. However, it all feels illusionary. Those chaps over at Action Button Dot Net do a bit better job of explaining it, but overall when you break Skyrim down to its fundamental parts you find mechanics that feel fundamentally unsupportive to the immersive vision that it attempts to bring. While the experience of getting lost in Skyrim can be beautiful, the act of playing the game itself is unsatisfying. Quests breakdown to tasks of travel, delivery, and killing a handful of enemies. The combat itself lacks meaningful moment to moment choices, and while it definitely requires a certain threshold of skill, more often the stats behind those actions are going to decide the outcome of the battle. You don’t progress through Skyrim by getting better at it, but by simply spending time playing it.
On the flipside we have Galaga. Galaga is a game of the early age of arcades, an experience nearly stripped bare. There are only two verbs in Galaga: move and shoot. You can only move at a limited speed, and you can only have two bullets onscreen at once. While it is complicated by the ship capture mechanic, every action remains significant. Your ship moves too slow to dodge entirely on reflex, likewise with your bullets. Galaga requires an understanding of the mechanics to progress. The deeper the understanding, the further the progress.
At the height of my skill I was able to take on waves of enemies that I had never encountered. I was a step ahead, the pattern and mechanics of the game making their way into my mind and motions. I was one with the machine.
The increasing mastery over the mechanics is what continued to draw me back into the low resolution world of Galaga. It’s the reason I continue to be drawn into the world of SHMUPs and fighting games, despite not having expertise in either. This Arcade Soul those games share ensures that these games are a condensed emotional experience, short and intense. The build up, climax, and resolution are contained within only one play session. Unfortunately, it is the reason why my attention has become so fickle with many other games. In my search for new and intense experiences, games quickly lose my attention when I’ve felt that I’ve experienced the core of what they bring. Unless a game can hook me deeply mechanically, or through a combination of the themes and mechanics, it will simply not hold my attention.
Maybe it seems shallow that I write of so many of what may be incredible experiences, had I only stuck around. I’d argue against that. For me pleasure from a deep understanding and analysis of the medium. Games that don’t offer enough either thematically or mechanically, don’t have anything to explore. They may be a good bit of fun, but they simply don’t seem important.