So if nearly everyone is technically a gamer, we ought to revisit the ancient question: What makes a game great?
This question of quality is more relevant than ever because games are taking up more and more of our time. I can recall at least five instances when some of my colleagues were playing some sort of game on their phone during a meeting. I can recall at least one friend playing a game on her phone while speaking to her date. And I’m sure we can all imagine a few students playing some game on their phone during class. We might as well be playing something worthwhile if we are going to spend so much time engaged to an LCD screen.
Whom you ask this question of quality to often determines the answer you receive. The basic idea being that the “awesomeness” of the video game is in the eye of the gamer; that the only thing that matters is that you become involved and hold discourse with it.
I disagree with this mindset.
I’m not satisfied with an answer that makes every game worthwhile. On that system, you could argue that every form of entertainment is just as valid as the next. You can say that dog fighting is just as valid as political debate, or that watching The Kardashians is just as good as someone listening to This American Life; that reading Twilight is just as good as attending a rendition of Romeo and Juliet. Now you might be tempted to call me out on this false analogy; that my examples are not the same thing as games, that some of my examples involve real people doing things that could be considered hurtful to themselves or others, but that’s just the point: Bad games can hurt you.
Bad games can hurt you because what we do for fun leaves a mark on what we become. And when our characters essentially determine our fate, then we ought to be careful how we choose to entertain ourselves.
So back to the question…
I argue that great games have a special kind of difficulty; difficulty not by poor design or bad controls, but difficulty in terms of achieving a connection between gamer and game. At some point that game has to hook you beyond the graphics and beyond the novelty of the premise; at some point that game has to challenge you intellectually and force reflection on your perspective; at some point that game has to compel you to reassess your idea at what it all means and reassess how you provide what it wants from you. At some point you have to improve as a person in a meaningful and ethical way. The game cannot simply cater to the urge of escapism or avoidance; it has to make you confront your own humanity.
So that’s it. I have no real examples that I can give you that wouldn’t be outdated. I simply urge you to look at what you are playing on your phone, pc, console, or whatever other electronic device you are currently talking to and ask yourself briefly, “What’s this game really doing for me?” Because if the answer isn’t pleasant, then you might as well put it down and talk to the person you’re with.
And yes, this is a satire.