I’ve always said I’m not afraid of putting a game into easy mode to have a better time playing, but I recently realized it goes deeper than that. Turns out, I generally don’t care about the actual gameplay. At all.
Mostly by that I mean fighting gameplay, which is of course most of it in every game ever. I almost never actually engage with the fighting system. I don’t take time to learn the cool moves. Hell, I barely learn how to block and parry. I rush in like that nine year old girl in elementary school who would fight the boys by balling her fists and swinging her arms in giant windmills, take all of my damage like a man with an endless supply of healing potions, and then once it’s over I’m like, phew, glad that’s done, time to get back to the game.
Because the fighting isn’t actually the game for me. Everything else is. Here’s a stupid little list of everything I actually look for in a game.
And by ‘compelling’ I mean ‘something I can hyperfixate on for weeks or months.’ I’m talking playing so much I dream about it, dissecting it, posting about it on Tumblr and reblogging everything I can find, and even, I don’t know, becoming so obsessed I crochet an entirely too-large blanket about it.
I need characters that are going to draw me in, plots that thicken and thicken until they turn into an excellent gravy, and maybe just a touch of corniness. Just a little dab.
Give me options. Give me relationships. Give me romance. Sweep me off my feet, Sony! When’s the last time we even went dancing?
And not just for the main storyline! No, I want lots of side plots, too! Side characters with stories so rich and compelling in a lesser game they would be the main character. People I can make friends with, or people I can hate so much that I simply open fire on them every time I see them whether that works in the game or not.
As a complete aside, I don’t like first person shooters so I watched my husband play Fallout 4 instead of playing it myself, and I blame the fact that he found the Institute and didn’t immediately start killing everyone for the ulcer I’m still trying to heal.
Of course, we’ll need a big stage for all these characters, which mean’s well need a:
Big Open World
I’ve noticed in the past year or so there seems to be some sort of mild backlash against open world games fueled by video game reviewers whose entire job is to play video games as fast as possible so they can write something about it, get paid, and move onto the next video game.
I’m not judging this line of work! I’m simply questioning if its conducive to open world games. When they level legitimate criticisms at these games I of course understand, but when they criticize things that are inherent to open world games, like the length of the game and the amount of ‘useless’ side quests I wonder if maybe they simply don’t like open world games (which is fine!) and if maybe part of that dislike stems from the fact that, due to their profession, they don’t actually have the time to do all the fucking around you’re supposed to.
Anyway, I’m not a games critic and I can play games at my own pace, and my own pace is ‘pick an open world game and live in it for anywhere from six months to five years.’ Basically every time I get into a game I become one of those people from a decade back who suffered from depression because Pandora from Avatar wasn’t real. I have spent hundreds of hours in Final Fantasy XV, Horizon Zero Dawn, GTA V, Red Dead Redemption 2, Death Stranding, Horizon Forbidden West, and of course, Breath of the Wild, which I have replayed every summer for four years.
I love huge maps. I love finding new NPCs to talk to. I love exploring the wilderness. And get that stupid horse out of my face because I usually prefer doing it all on foot so I can pick up literally every single mushroom and healing plant I can stuff into my physics-defying satchel. What’s that, Random NPC? You haven’t seen your daughter since she went into the Bad Woods/need a monster that’s been raiding your livestock killed/are demanding several dozens of mushroom? Fucking on it. You can count on me, because I will do every single side quest I can find before moving the plot forward, usually resulting in me being so over-leveled I can kill the mini-boss with nothing more than charm and a low level sword. Which is good, because:
I’m Here For a Good Time, Not a Hard Time
I’m easily frustrated and if I’m playing video games for fun I don’t want be frustrated. I want to, you know, have fun.
And this is entirely a ‘me’ thing. I mean, this whole article is, but this part in particular. My husband loves the Soulsborne type games, to the point where I think his feelings toward Bloodborne might actually count as an emotional affair. I’ve sat there watching him, fighting the same boss over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and then he finally beats him and my husband needs to step outside for a cigarette. He loves that progression of getting slightly better every time, learning the enemy’s moves and how to avoid and parry them, and getting just a little more of that health bar down before he once again dies and he has to trot back to the fight to start again.
I fucking don’t. As is the whole thesis of this article, I’m not here to learn which buttons to mash to pull off a perfect parry, I’m here to comfortably experience basically everything else. Every time GTA V offered to let me skip a mission I’d biffed a bunch I would accept it immediately. If I have to fight any boss more than three times maximum I get so frustrated I go do something else, either in the game or in real life. Which is why I love an easy mode. I fucking loved me some Jedi: Fallen Order but after I got my ass handed to me a few times by that frog thingy in the first level I dropped the difficulty level down so fast Cal Lightsaber got tangled up in his pink poncho.
Which leads me to my next point:
Gonna Dress You Up In My Love
In real life I am strictly jeans and t-shirts. One year, my new year’s resolution was to learn how to dress more fashionably, but that year was 2020 and, well, yeah. That didn’t happen. I prefer to be comfortable. I don’t wear makeup or jewelry and all of my shoes are either sneakers, snow boots, or Toms. And it’s unfortunate but I really do have to say this: I’m not saying any of this to try and prove that I’m somehow better than women who do dress fashionably and wear makeup and do their hair and know how to match their jewelry to the rest of their outfit. I thankfully dropped the instinct to be not like the other girls over ten years ago. I’m only explaining how I am in real life to really highlight the irony that one of my favorite things to do in video games is dress up my character.
I don’t care about stats, or buffs, or perks. I care about aesthetics. While wandering around this giant new world, fighting monsters and making friends, I want my character to look good. And also weather appropriate. Every time it started to rain in Final Fantasy XV I had to change all four of the boys into their rainy day clothes, and you better believe Aloy wears long sleeves when she’s trudging through the snow in both Horizon games.
I cannot even count the amount of times I’ve gotten destroyed in what should have been an easy fight because my favorite looking outfit is one of the basic ones with absolutely no extra protections. I was super excited when Horizon Forbidden West updated to include that process where you can wear one outfit to get the buffs but make it look like any other outfit because then I could actually survive fights while wearing my common outfit.
I did not appreciate the outfit choices in Jedi: Fallen Order. Basically the same outfit in several different color schemes and then approximately three dozen ponchos? Ponchos? First of all, I prefer third person shooters to first person shooters because when I’m playing I am exclusively staring at my character’s ass so please don’t give me a bunch of different options for covering it up. Secondly…ponchos. Do you know the trauma Cal Lightsaber has been through? Any man that lived through Order 66 deserves so much more than a poncho.
I want a lot of stylish options for my characters, because I’m going to be spending a lot of time in:
Another irony. I’m terrible at taking pictures. I have no training. I’m not even good at applying filters for fuck’s sake. But put me in a game with photo mode and that’s going to be, like, half my playtime.
I have literally hundreds of photos taken in both Horizon games, and dozens in any other game I’ve played that offers a photo mode. I will spend minutes on end constructing the perfect shot, playing with the time of day, the filters, the staging. I have thrust Aloy into dire situations in unwinnable fights because the shot is going to look cool. And then exited photo mode to immediately get punched in the face by a robot Spinosaurus and die. Because I was wearing a good looking but unbuffed outfit and art is sacrifice.
Every video game should have a photo mode. It’s free advertising. It’s the players spending time and effort to make your game look as good as possible and then posting it on social media. I still say Elden Ring should have a dedicated photo mode, but to keep in the spirit of the game it shouldn’t pause while you’re setting up your shot. So the entire time you’re messing with staging and filters you run the risk of some idiot in a weird helmet riding up behind you and stabbing you through the neck. Maybe then I’d actually play it.