We gaming enthusiasts seem to be in a constant state of defense against those who question the legitimacy of videogames as a meaningful form of entertainment. Like literary fiction and cinema before it, the responsibility of proving the value of the medium to others falls on the shoulders of creators and practitioners. Such desire to feel recognized often comes down to a very human desire to share those things that give us great joy. One measurement of worth often thrown about in the discussion of legitimacy is the ability to stir-up emotion. Not until a videogame can make you cry, some have said, will videogames earn complete legitimacy. A game's true worth lies not in its sales numbers, but in how often it can make a grown man weep.
Many emotional gamers have come out of the shadows to defend their medium against those who would classify games as mere baubles, unable to hold deep meaning or evoke any sensations other than childish glee. Yet tears are but one measure of psychological impact. The most successful games are often praised for their power to immerse the player in another experience, to make them feel enveloped in captivating environments. From wastelands to ancient keeps, myself and my gaming compatriots have seen otherworldly vistas, filling us with a sense of wonder. Who, then, is to decide which emotions give videogames meaning? What arbiter will tell us awe is less true a sensation than sadness?
With this in mind, Scott and I introduce to you The Sensationalist, a new EXP series in which we seek to examine how videogames evoke a myriad of sensations. Not as guardians in defense of games, but as explorers of meaning, we seek to build a catalogue of the emotions games engender. Despair, panic, friendship, the loss of a parent, curiosity, aging, and pride are just a few examples on our enormous platter. At least once a month, Scott or I will discuss one particular sensation or emotion in one of two particular ways.
- The first will use a somewhat historical lens, discussing how videogames have addressed a particular emotion in the past and how contemporary games are approaching the same theme.
- The second approach will look at the success, and failures, of one videogame's evocation of an emotion.
Some of the sensations we will discuss span genres, recreated in many forms across a wide range of games. These games may succeed because players can easily empathize with the protagonists, or because the story touches on powerful themes, or because the game is a canvas on which players impose their perspective and derive their own meaning. Understanding how our unique medium wields emotional power may shape how players and creators approach sensations in future games.
With The Sensationalist, we are trying to elucidate highly individual experiences. Videogames are deeply personal, but also shared. Some of these sensations we remember fondly and our memories of them are quite similar (frustration at learning the princess is in another castle, for example). Yet others are fleeting and intimate, empowered by the player's particular circumstances, imprinted with their personal history. As a result, these posts are subjective by nature, but we will strive to articulate our opinions, and how we arrived at them, as best we can. Our words are by no means final. We hope that differing interpretations will lead to a larger discussion and a deeper understanding of how games affect us all.
If there is a certain game or emotion you would like to see addressed, we encourage you to send us an email to ExperiencePoints[at]gmail[dot]com. We eagerly await your participation. To browse at your leisure, you will find an up-to-date list of all Sensationalist posts right here.