Metacognition: Be Still, My Heart

Welcome back to Metacognition! Join us for some deep thoughts (and maybe the occasional not-so-deep thought) about gaming, and catch up on all the previous deep discussions here. If you find one you’d like to answer, you can either comment below or write a post and share the link so we can all read your fantastic thoughts!

What are five ways for a game to win your heart?

Um… I can do this in two:

  1. Have a dragon on the cover
  2. Be developed by BioWare

Image result for mic drop gif

I’m kidding of course (not really, but you know what I mean). Although this did get me thinking about what I really like about games. I’ve already talked about how I didn’t dislike the endings to Mass Effect 3, and even though I was disappointed with some things in Dragon Age II, there were plenty of things I really liked about it. I’ve been playing through Final Fantasy XIII and, although it was sadly interrupted by Year of the RPG, I really have been enjoying my time with it. I even found plenty to love in Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Do I just have poor taste in games? Am I overly forgiving? What’s going on?

Image result for considering

Well, obviously I have great taste in games, so that can’t be it.

And I can judge things pretty harshly, although I try not to put anything on full blast on the internet, so I can’t link to any example.

So I looked at the games that have received lots of hate that I might have enjoyed, and compared them to games that I hated, and I did manage to come up with a fairly short list of things that would pull me into a story and have me forgive it, even for design flaws. I also looked at games I’ve just unabashedly enjoyed, and came up with the following list of five things that will make me love a game.

Please note, a game doesn’t need to have all five of these things (indeed, few do), but games that I really like have at least one of these characteristics.

  1. Engaging characters
    One thing that keeps me going back to a game is if I really care about the characters. They need to seem real, or three dimensional. If the game comments on a character’s motivation, I’m sold. There’s no deep reason for this other than I am fascinated by what makes people tick, and so I love characters that let me explore that more.
  2. Saying “yes” when the player asks, “Can I do this?”
    This is one of the things that I really love about the Metal Gear Solid games. There are so many small details programmed in, just in case the player want to, for instance, call the Colonel while standing in front of a urinal, or take a picture of Raven, or wait seven days before picking the game up again to bypass a boss fight (or take out said boss during what appears to be a cutscene), or take a vent instead of the front door. I’ve tried so many things in those games, just to see if I could, and the answer was always a subtle but much-appreciated “yes, you can.” It’s very validating to the player.
    Image result for geralt thumbs up
  3. Responsive controls
    It’s a stereotype to blame lag for a character’s death, but when it happens for real, it grinds my gears. Spec Ops: The Line is guilty of not doing this, and it was just… frustrating, playing Russian roulette with the controls in a game that required a certain amount of precision. It doesn’t have to be Arkham, Shadow of Mordor, or Hellblade levels of responsiveness, but I want controls that feel good, make sense, and are consistent throughout the game.
    Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice™_20171005202524
  4. An engaging story that can be discovered just by playing the game
    I think of a game like Gone Home. There is so much potential for the story to get “messed up” as the player explores the house, but somehow, magically, the story unfolds in the way it’s supposed to without making the player feel like they are being led around. Ian from Adventure Rules wrote an article about an open closed world and I think that’s encompassed here: the story is tight enough and lacks the “bloat” of huge open-worlds, but also gives the player freedom to explore and experience (see point number two).
    Image result for dragon age library
  5. A dragon
    No, seriously, hear me out. I’m a fan of fantasy stories. That’s just how it goes. So while the game doesn’t need to have a literal dragon in it, if the premise is fantastical (and it’s done well), I’m going to love it. If it captures the “fairy story” as Tolkien describes it in his essay, “On Faerie Stories,” I’m going to like it. love the magic of “traditional” fantasy places like Thedas and Middle Earth and Narnia and Hogwarts, and also the science-fantasy worlds like those in Star Wars and Mass Effect.
    Image result for on faerie stories

Bonus: I also like when games don’t take themselves too seriously and include little jokes in it. It’s no surprise that games like MGS, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect do this, is it?

What about you? What are five things that really make your heart go pitter-pat when it comes to games? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena

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  1. Absolutely there with the sharp controls. You need to feel like the game is doing what you tell it to, when you tell it. Things like context sensitive controls can cause a problem with this (“stealth kill” and “pick up item” being tied to the same button is a bad combination for example). Not much is more annoying to me in a game than having to redo a section because the game decided I wanted to do one thing when I intended another.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! Man, I hate when the shared buttons are completely incongruent things. I don’t even think that’s a word, I dislike it so much… No, game, why would you think I wanted to jump off the cliff when there was a clear ladder right next to me?? Ugh.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Dragons are awesome!! I love dragons. Must be a Year of the Dragon thing 🐉

    You know what? I never really thought about why I love the games I love. 🤔 My 5 things would likely be: inspiring story, good characters (read: not horrible stereotypes), seamless loading times between areas (ReCore was ruined by its long load times), the ability to save whenever the hell I want to, and most importantly – FUN mechanics 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Woo dragons!

      It’s an interesting question. I mean, people are consistent and have reasons for doing things, and yet I know I’ve played a variety of games and enjoyed them so… logic says there must be criteria I subconsciously look for… *wanders off babbling*

      I agree with your ideas about no stereotypes. And load times.. I tend to be more forgiving, but if they’re significantly longer than PS1 or PS2 era screens, you’re right that they’re just super annoying.

      Fun mechanics are definitely a must!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. People like what they like. Creative works are always subject to opinion. If they weren’t there’d be no point in talking to them. Every horrible, disgusting, piece of trash game out there has someone who really enjoys it. And that’s a beautiful thing.

    Thinking about it, I don’t know that I could break down what I enjoy about games into just five parts. Everything I say I enjoy, there’s a game out there I love that does it really, really poorly. Because most of these things are more than the sum of their parts.

    Except for controls. Sort of. Controls are, to me, one of the biggest indicator of whether I’m going to enjoy a game or not.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree. Although I somehow pulled five things out, I can’t say that just the mere presence of one of these (or even all five) would automatically mean I love a game. Maybe there is a certain “x” factor I haven’t figured out yet. Although I will agree that controls are pretty non-negotiable.

      I also like what you mentioned about every game having its fan. I think that’s so important to keep in mind, especially when critiquing games, because for the most part (or perhaps in every case) there *is* something someone will enjoy.

      Liked by 2 people

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