Monday, November 24, 2008

Thankful for the Worst

This is a week of traditional celebration here in the states. We gather around our dinner tables, stuffed with mashed potatoes and turkey (or Tofurky in my case), embrace our likable family members, ignore the crazy ones, and give thanks for having the day off. This Thanksgiving, we gamers have a lot to be thankful for, not the least being the slew of titles that we'll be playing throughout the holiday season. Today, I'd like to share with you some unappreciated videogame outliers and experiences I am thankful for. Even the things I sometimes loathe make the videogame world a better place.

Thank you 'coop selfishness':

To the person playing Francis in Left 4 Dead Saturday night, thank you. I am not mad that you frequently shot me in the back with a shotgun. You probably didn't see me there since most of the game you were covered in zombie attracting vomit. I am not mad that you did nothing while I was dragged away by a smoker. You were probably just trying to keep the high ground in what you considered a strategic battle against the undead menace. I am not mad that despite my open wounds and slow pace, you kept the med-kit for yourself. Perhaps you were just being prepared to treat your own injuries, to heal yourself when we needed you most. I am not even mad that instead of clearing a path to the helicopter, you created a raging wall of fire between me and safety.

"Francis", you created what so many games strive to create but fail; a sense of realism and immersion. The fact is, when the inevitable zombie uprising occurs, people like you will make surviving hard for people like me. No matter how many times I've read the Ultimate Zombie Survival Guide, if I have to rely on you, I'll most likely die. Knowing that is scarier than any game mechanic or sound effect Valve can create.

Thank you 'inane dialogue':

Where would we be, I ask you, if all your base did not "are belong to us"? Part of the reason there is something called a "gamer culture" is because we have a plethora of nonsensical gaming moments that make up a part of our shared experiences. Coupled with poor voice acting, developers have made me laugh out loud countless times, albeit unintentionally.

The long tradition of terrible dialogue continues to this day. I've been playing Mirror's Edge, and there is nothing I enjoy hearing more than "Mr. Obvious" on the walkie-talkie telling me, Faith, an unarmed "runner" wearing a tank-top and khakis, to "run away". As if a Kevlar laden battalion of machine gun wielding cops with itchy-trigger fingers wasn't enough encouragement. There is also the ever astute crew of Gears of War 2 who won't just summarize how many enemies you face ("shit loads"), but give you a quantifiable assessment of their numbers ("ten shit loads"). To all the over-worked writers out there, I give my thanks.

Thank you 'my own stupidity':

There is nothing more reliable, nothing I can count on more, than my own stupidity. I have a long history of doing the most rash and brainless actions while playing videogames. I would be lying if I said they were only a result of late-night gaming sessions. No, I take great enjoyment in taking foolish risks.

Be it setting up fuel canisters too close to my teammates in Left 4 Dead, blindly leaping to ludicrously distant ledges in Mirror's Edge, antagonizing level 80 horde players in World of Warcraft, or accidentally killing my wife in Fable II, my own human ineptitude continues to result in some of my most memorable gaming moments. When I finally get around to playing Farcry II, I promise you I will light myself and most of the African Savannah on fire trying to smoke out just one enemy. For this I am thankful.

There are so many things to complain about in videogames. But this week, in the spirit of the holidays, let us be thankful for each and every frustrating, idiotic, and laughably atrocious aspect of the games we love to play. Without them, our experiences would be a little less colorful. What are you thankful for?


  1. Wow, I don't know what to say, awesome post. It almost excuses you from taking all the time to write this instead of playing left4dead with me last night!

    I defiantly can appreciate the plight of us video gamers in the pursuit of insufferable satisfaction from our art. I want to add one other moment that hit me as I was grinding through WoW trying to keep up with Steven who can level 2 characters faster then I can do one.

    There is nothing like mashing on the keyboard trying to get that flash heal off that will save your tank from going down but all you hear is "I can't cast that yet" or "I've not enough mana" in a calm but soothing voice. I F*ING KNOW THAT, WHY DO YOU THINK I AM MASHING THIS KEY SO HARD!!!!"

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. @ Andrew

    That reminds me another subject rarely given thanks: The party healer. Keep those heals coming.