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The Problem with Gaming

Posted 2020-08-20 Tags: gaming long holding forth

Preface This essay came about as the result of someone asking, "Scribblenauts: can someone explain what makes it so great? I heard you can basically work around every puzzle with a jetpack." I enjoy Scribblenauts and it got me to thinking about how and why different people enjoy different games.

The Problem with Gaming: There are fundamentally different reasons that people want to play games. For me the core reason to play a game always comes back to having fun - that's the single most important thing to me, and most of the rubrics I use to think about games are measured through the lens of "fun", both for myself and for others that I'm playing with.

For a long time, I thought that most other people looked at games the same way, but that is not the case. There are a number of different core things people look for in video games; while an argument could be made that each of these is a facet of "having fun" I put forth that they are distinct enough from "vanilla having fun" as to be quite different. Maybe I'll categorize my vanilla fun first:

Also, some people do not prioritize everyone who is playing - they may prioritize only themselves, or only a small subset of people who are playing such as their group of friends, clan, guild, or team.

Someone who plays a game to feel superior to others is going to feel differently than someone who plays a game for fun, and they're both going to feel different from someone who plays games for educational purposes. Someone who prioritizes their own fun over all is going to feel differently from someone who prioritizes fun for all who are playing.

Since we are all gaming for different reasons, and considering different things when we are playing, throwing people into games together and expecting them to be some kind of cohesive unit is not a great idea. I used to play a lot of Overwatch, and one of the key things about that game is teamwork, so for me, "vanilla fun" included trying to be a part of a team and doing things together as a team, as the game makers intended, to try to beat the other team. A lot of people don't play like that. They go off on their own, trying to set traps and 1v6 the other team, or they just feed the other team, or they actively troll their own team. They do this for control, or superiority. There are also people who are far more serious, who only play to try to destroy the other team at all costs and who do not value any kind of enjoyment, and do not value allowing people to play roles or characters that they enjoy. This mishmash of motivation means that finding a good group of players to play with is pretty hard.

It also means that finding a review that you can trust is pretty hard. Does the person doing the review value the same things that you value in video gaming?

The Problem with Gaming is that "gamers" are a diverse group, and many of the groups don't play well with each other, and many groups don't understand that games aren't all for them, and are intolerant of other reasons for playing games.

This was a long winded way of getting to answering your issue specifically:

what makes it so great? I heard you can basically work around every puzzle with a jetpack.

It's been a while since I played, but I remember finding that there were items that were very powerful that let you cheese the whole game. Whenever I used them, it was not fun. Part of the fun is finding more and more ridiculous things to try to solve puzzles. Because the game is pretty open ended, and because the library of things you can draw is deep, you can solve puzzles in a huge variety of ways. Part of the joy is finding the weirdest way to solve a puzzle. As with most puzzle games, if you're a completionist and only care about having the solves at 100%, then it's not going to be a good game for you, because you can just look up how to solve the games - incidentally, this is why many people didn't enjoy "The Witness" which is one of the pinnacles of gaming in the last 10 years - but that's inimical to the point of the games. If you look up how to do puzzles, then you are robbing yourself of their reason for being, and have sidestepped "playing the game" entirely.

So, yes, you can cheese your way through a lot of games, but that's not really a problem if you just don't draw jetpacks. The joy isn't in just getting through, but in how you get through. Part of the journey is the journey itself, and enjoying the journey is an important part of this particular game.

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