Personal Experience and a World of Judgement (Part I)

Link Eyes

People look for different experiences in their games. In the broadest sense, we can pick up different genres. However, as I continue to play and interact with different games, I realize more how much this concept can be broken down deeper.

It is easy to categorize people as say, RPG gamers and stop there with this broad distinction. Beyond this, we might continue to categorize people in fairly polar buckets until at some point we have a sorted mix of gamers. While this can be beneficial for organization purposes (perhaps for performing a market sizing question in a consulting interview) it can jade our minds into missing a very simple fact. Everyone is different, and everyone is looking for something different in their experience.

Different People Like Different Things:
I first started thinking about these interactions with games and each other when I was young. One of my very close friends was someone that enjoyed doing what he could in a sitting or two and then his interest would start to wane after that. He did not finish a lot of his games, and this was always something I judged as wasteful gaming growing up, as I was the exact opposite. I am a completionist. I beat most games into the ground to their fullest extent and generally love every moment of it (except dodging 200 lightning bolts in FFX, my brother had to do that).

At some point it hit me that this judgement was quite juvenile. Who am I to judge how someone wants to play a game, especially when that interaction has nothing to do with me? Where I valued completion, he valued that new-game-excitement: opening the game and being overwhelmed by those first couple hours of completely novel characters, gameplay, or whatever else stands out in the game. If that was how he derives his value, it seemed stupid to create any kind of negative feeling around that.

Another friend of mine gets most of his enjoyment from watching gaming. He particularly enjoys watching Starcraft and Super Smash Bros. Melee matches online. Though I can enjoy watching a game to an extent and have gotten into some viewer experiences (like switching off playing Heavy Rain with my brother and friends, or helping my mother get through a Castlevania), I generally want to get hands on.

I am quite kinesthetic so to be thinking about strategies or courses of action in a game without actually being able to manipulate the game can start to frustrate me after some time. But again this is just another mind set. While my friend enjoys the tactical game of seeing and analyzing another’s strategy often more than getting hands on. Whatever his reasons, he likes a totally different aspect of gaming than I do.

This to-each-their-own mentality is a clear factor in MMOs, simply because of the vastness of scale. Theoretically, depending on game design, I could make an entire micro game out of small segments of the full thing. I could just focus on a dungeoning aspect, or put more emphasis on professions and the merchant aspect of the game. The infrastructure is there to take advantage of whatever aspects of the game touch me. When I was playing Dofus last year, I was always about dungeoneering. I wanted to push our little guild to see the limits of our strength, where others enjoyed aspects like the professions or exploration more.

Clashing Experiences:
These personal insights in understanding how players enjoy their games differently are all well and good when the experiences are isolated. When someone can go off, play a game how he wants to play it and I can simply accept that they are getting what they want out of the game. But it is most important to understand these insights when other people’s experiences impact our lives.

Back to the MMO example, we see how gaming environments create this interaction amongst gamers. With a fully integrated, diverse world, it is likely that there is someone willing to do or at least help get through the things that you do not really enjoy that much (for the right price I suppose).

I felt how variant expectations can aid in the experience as well as take its toll with my guild in Dofus. There were very conflicting views of what each person wanted out of the game. Sometimes this was good, in that we could leverage different components of the game. Other times it created friction in the group as conflicting expectations at times led to frustration and stagnation.

The next gen consoles are definitely pushing the connected experience. Wii U has tried to push this in-play interaction with comments and conversations, and the PS4 seems to to pushing this even further with video sharing and social media aspects.

Perhaps if my childhood friend had some in-game friends to help grind some levels to get past that pesky boss that got him stuck or whatever made him put down the controller in the first place, he would have been able to delve deeper into the games, or perhaps not. Who knows?

Who else has been trying to solve a puzzle in a game when someone in the room quickly suggests just looking it up? Or how about when you played a great game then looked at critics reviews, and they just don’t give it the rating you think it deserves?

I know these situations well. Beyond simply having the “everyone is different” aspect, critics also have different pressures and focuses. One aspect for example is the constant push for novelty. I don’t know how many reviews I have seen that are something like, “great game, but it followed the formula of the predecessor too much, 6/10” or something along those lines.

As I mentioned in another post, staleness review element was exactly the case with Mega Man Battle Network. For three summers in a row, the fourth, fifth and sixth iterations of the game became the go-to game for my brother and I on summer vacation. We did not care that it wasn’t necessarily breaking the mold; we had built this whole mini culture around the series that we looked forward to no matter what. I’m a creature of habit anyway, so lack of novelty has never fazed me the way it seems to perturb others.

Being Judged for Doing What You Like Sucks:
As a whole I think judgement about play style and how people interact with their games is too abundant. I know I have been judged once or twice for being someone that “overlevels”. What can I say, I love doing quests that make me stronger. I love that thrill of self empowerment, learning new skills, getting new equipment and the tactics that are opened up with additional choices. I’m not going to quelch that experience so that I am less prepared for some uber boss at the end of the game. I am going to fight all the battles along the way.

It’s a combination of that completionist element, the immersion element, and the front loading element I touched on in my Learning Curve article. If I was walking into a super crazy uber awesome dragon’s lair in real life would I want to be underprepared? That just feels silly to me. I personally don’t shy away from difficulty, but will not bend my playing experience to create difficulty. I completely accept people’s choices to try to beat hard challenges at lower levels, or to do challenge runs of games. However, in no way do I think of them as any more of a gamer for doing so.

To Be Continued…
This one is going to have to be a two-parter I suppose. It’s getting pretty long and the title of the post demands it. Let me know how you guys feel. Have you unwittingly judged behaviors that, in hindsight, don’t really impact how you interact with an acquaintance? Or perhaps you feel like you have been wrongly judged for “quirky” behaviors?

Stop by later to check out Part II where I will talk about some more personal experiences outside of gaming. Until then, game on and learn on!

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