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Redefining Interactivity, pt 6: Why Can’t We Be Friends (the first part)

May 19, 2011

Alright, we’ve discussed gameplay and (very briefly) social gaming, and I’ve hinted repeatedly about this thing called Interactive Storytelling, which is obviously my big hobbyhorse and the reason for this site. Lots more to say on all of these points, and there are also a number of other thoughts I think need to be sorted out before I attempt to create that book I’ve been mulling over.

However, there is one problem I run into constantly when discussing games with people, which seems to divide even groups of people who are ostensibly fans of the same types of games. It’s so common and so obvious, and yet I’m not sure anyone has really sorted it out in such a way that people who aren’t interested in game design or marketing can get behind. I’m not even sure most folks ever see what the other side of the argument is, since it usually gets argued without ever really addressing the issues that matter.

I also have no idea if I’m up to the challenge of cracking it in one post myself, but it’s bugging me today, so I’m gonna try. Here goes…


tl;dr Version: Because they suck! Fool!

“He did it again! Totally dissed me for not liking his long-winded lectures. Mother F**ker! Gonna punch him right in the neck, first con he shows up at!”

‘Splain, Lucy Version: Okay, that was cheap, I’ll admit. Problem is, I think we can all agree that the simplest answer can’t explain away this subject. It’s all a matter of taste, right? Some people also prefer the taste of chicory to real coffee in the morning. The success of Tim Horton’s is proof. What else can I say?

Boring Version: Well, probably quite a bit, knowing me. Whether any of it is true, or makes any sense, is another matter. But hey, that’s what the Comment section is for.

Now, the first point that needs to be addressed is, Why do we even need to understand this? I mean, isn’t it basically impossible? And really, who cares, besides a bunch of marketing guys who just want to sell us some crap we don’t need anyway?

Simplest answer is me, of course.

But not because I want to sell you something. I don’t want you to buy anything of mine if you don’t really want. I’d be happy with a beer or a burger, and I can usually buy my own if you can’t. No big deal.

No, the reason I worry about this crap isn’t because I think there’s a cure. In fact, I wouldn’t cure it if I could. Viva la Difference!

But what I AM a big old sucker for is mutual understanding. Yes, I am a hippy. Deal with it.

I honestly believe that every problem we have can be sorted out if we just make an effort to see each other’s points of view. That it’s easier said than done, and is rarely borne out by historical evidence, doesn’t invalidate the idea itself. And to my mind, there is a very real problem with gaming prejudices, and it’s one I believe we can do away with, if we just learn to stop trying to answer the question before it’s been asked.

Try this on for size: when was the last time you played a First Person Shooter (FPS) game? You know, games like Call of Duty, Halo and Half Life? Do you enjoy them? If so, why? If not, why not? Would you recommend them to your friends? And how would you sell your friends on playing them if they weren’t sure it was their kind of game?

These are the sorts of questions you can find on just about any gaming forum anywhere on the internet. If it’s not specifically about FPSs, it could be about Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) like WoW and Warhammer Online, or Action Adventure games like Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones (the latest one; it’s pretty cool. I haven’t finished it, though. I suck at complicated fist fighting controls), or even point & click Adventure Games, with which I have a notorious love-hate relationship (I love the stories; they hate my whinging about their bad Puzzle Logic). The question works for any genre of gaming; just swap the genre label.

Wanna see for yourself? Here, I’ll help you; post the following into your online journal or social app status update:

When was the last time you played a >>insert gaming genre label here<< game? Do you enjoy them? If so, why? If not, why not?

If you get any interesting results, please copy and paste them into the comment section of this article. I’d really like to see them. You can say you did it for Science. That’s what I keep telling myself, and it’s worked so far. FOR SCIENCE!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m gonna dabble in a little bit of prognostication; I’m gonna try and think up a handful of the most popular explanations we might see, and rationalize their validity.

But before I do that, I still haven’t explained why the question even matters. Well, the answer is simple enough, but it involves me breaking with proper etiquette and answering a question with another question:

Have you ever tried to share a really cool thing with somebody, only to have them rebuff you and say ‘I don’t like that’, even before they’ve tried it?

I’ll bet everyone reading this has had a conversation like that at least once in their life. You’re almost certain they’d love it if they gave it a try, but they won’t budge. Heck, you might even halfway con them into sitting and trying it for a few seconds, only to have them lamely hand it back to you with an air of ‘I-told-you-so’, even though you know they hadn’t really given it a chance. And why? Because they have a preconceived notion of what it is without even looking at it closely.

Now, don’t get me wrong: even I know that you can’t convince people to love everything you love. There’s a difference, though it may be a bit too subtle to explain. See, there are things you love so much that you want to share them with everyone you know, whether they like it or not. Lemme help you out: this almost never works. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t work at all.

But then there are things you may appreciate but that you’re sure your friend would love, simply because you’ve known them a long time, and it’s got so many things to it that are like things you and your friend have shared and enjoyed before, that they were the first person you thought of. It seems so right to you.

And yet, the minute you show your friend, they turn up their nose because it’s not enough like the things they’re convinced give them the most happiness. They may be right. You have to be prepared to accept disappointment on this. But still, there are times when you just know you’re right, and that this could be a thing that gives them great happiness AND makes them realize that you know them better than they know themselves.

Which, you know, is pretty much the job description of BFFs, right?

Okay, so you brought your prized copy of Alan Wake over to show your buddy, thinking it will totally freak his $#!^. But you forgot, it has no ninjas, dragons or werewolves in it. So of course, he blows it off and leaves you feeling like a Class A Jerk.

You’re all, “Who cares?!? Ninjas suck, man! Play the freakin’ game!”

But he’s totally, “OMGWTFBBQ Assassin’s Creed FTW!!! GTFO!!!”

And in the end, you just go home and play some Portal 2, because ninjas suck, and so does your friend.

But you see, it shouldn’t have to be that way. And together, we can beat this thing. Would I lie to you?

Before you answer that, lemme help you out: No, I wouldn’t lie. If I wanted to lie, I could write a crazy SpecFic novel incorporating my ideas about Interactive Storytelling instead of writing blog articles for a pseudo-academic Dummies guide that may never happen and will probably never make any money anyway. I have nothing to gain from lying here; I’m not enrolling you in a sixteen week course or asking you to invest in a television pilot. I could probably make more money selling soap, anyway.

Now, back on topic: Why should youcare?

Because sometimes, just sometimes, your friend needs you to prove them wrong. You know it’s true. So do they. They just won’t admit it (while they’re sober, anyway). To do this thing, however, you will need to understand the real reasons behind why people choose not to give certain games a fair chance.

Okay, I really want to start laying out the list of genres and their explanations, but I’m a little wrung out from all this rain we’ve been getting here in Limbo, so I’m gonna go to bed and pick this up in the morning. So I’m calling this ~the end of part one~. Good night, gang.

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