If I may, I’d like to share a story with you all. It’s a simple one, and I’ll keep it brief for you, but it brought some interesting questions to mind, so I hope it’ll do the same for you.
I recently gave into curiosity and purchased a PlayStation TV. Questionable investments aside, as with any gamer with a new toy, I immediately dug into the depths of the supported software to see if I could unearth any gems. Lo and behold, a little title managed to capture my eye: Madoka Magica Battle Pentagram. Now, to those of you who don’t know me, there is very little out there that captures my interest quite like Madoka Magica (and those who do know me will perhaps accurately see this as a shameless excuse to talk about Madoka Magica, but I digress.) I quickly made the decision to pick the game up, despite knowing absolutely nothing about its gameplay or mechanics.
Now, as a writer, I’ve found myself taking notes as I play games, regardless of my interest in reviewing them. This often leads to pages of (sometimes incomprehensible) notation, with certain titles quickly and easily filling my notebook. When I sat down with Battle Pentagram though, something different happened. After roughly five hours of play, a single hastily scrawled note adorned my page: “This game isn’t very good.” You’ve probably noticed by now that I have a habit of stretching simple concepts to their absolute limit, so such a vague, bare description is a bit of an anomaly to me.
I continued to play, and I continued to note my experience. Ten hours passed, and a second statement echoed the first. It wasn’t until 50 hours had passed, with a grand total of three lines of notes to accompany it, that I realized something was amiss. I had racked up 50 hours of game time, without conjuring up a single positive reflection of my experience. It’s not an unusual concept to regret sinking such a significant amount of time into a game, but when reality dawns upon you so soon into the experience, what drives you to continue on? Perhaps I am just a shameless (or mindless) fan, but I don’t think that quite constitutes reason enough to endure such a prolonged endeavor.
So therein lies the question, and the purpose of this story: why do we do what we do? To pre-empt your questions, I am aware that a vague question begets a vague answer, but that just leaves more room for interpretation. After all, my job isn’t to tell you what’s right or wrong, but to provide personal insight, and in an ideal circumstance, promote independent thought and reflection.
Let’s break this down then: how do you approach an unknown game? I’d wager that most people would begin with research, to help paint the most vivid image possible of the subject at hand. More often than not, this involves critical opinions, such as the work of my fellow Gamer Professionals staff, or myself. While this process may seemingly provide all of the necessary information, there is something that the mental ramblings of others can never provide: an insight to your personal experience.
Now, it’s worth noting that there is no feasible way for anyone to know how everyone could possibly experience any given subject. Such are the limitations of human consciousness unfortunately, but it’s something we’ve learned to work around. However, the impact those individual, subjective experiences can have on the overall enjoyment of a game is beyond enormous. It may seem grandiose, but how you as an individual perceive any and all information presented to you will vary wildly based on previous experiences. It’s such a simple concept, but it’s one I often see forgotten.
So then, you’ve done your research into your game of choice, but critical reception seems to be rather mixed. At this point, objectivity may be thrown entirely to the wind to make a rash, impulse decision. It’s at this point that you can see an interesting reaction in people: they don’t care what others think. If a particular subject exists at the upper echelon of public perception, or in the deepest pits of the social conscious, any decision to the contrary of the existing standard sparks a reaction. Being decidedly mediocre grants a subject a certain degree of lenience in perception, as people seem less interested in how it stands compared to pre-existing standards.
By now, you might see where I’m going with this. We are, by nature, fickle creatures, constantly at the whim of social change. In this constantly fluctuating medium, we see some titles held up as infallible, and others permanently relegated to obscurity. We have two constants, and an ever-so-intriguing realm in the middle where anything goes, and the quality of a game is dependent more on individual reflection than anything else. As gamers, we have everything within this spectrum to choose from; a nigh-endless range of possibilities, of new experiences to partake in. The constant weight of social pressure can and will utterly crush anything that stands in defiance, but why does this need to be? Why hold the few above the many, encouraging a more limited scope of experiences? At least to me, video games are about freedom; the freedom to explore new realms, and perhaps reflect upon my own on the way, so isn’t a restrictive stance contrary to these simple goals?
So maybe The Division is better than Destiny. Maybe the Genesis does what Nintendo don’t, but maybe it doesn’t matter. Whether you play Dynasty Warriors, Sengoku Basara, or Madoka Magica Battle Pentagram, it doesn’t matter. Our value as gamers is not determined by the games we play, but by the experiences we have. I spent 50 hours with Battle Pentagram, and although the quality was questionable, it was an experience I enjoyed, and isn’t that all that really matters? I don’t have an answer to the question I put forward earlier, because I don’t think a single answer exists, but perhaps we don’t really need to know why we play. Perhaps we just need to let our games be games, and let our experiences speak for themselves.