Monday, November 23, 2009

Overdue Thanks

A bulbous mass of Tofurkey roast sits in my fridge, waiting to make my family uncomfortable with its presence at the dinner table. As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches here in the states, we are reminded, once again, of what we should be thankful for. In a year filled with some excellent gaming moments and an impressive selection of fall titles, my 'Thank You' list is full. In an effort to praise the under-appreciated and the over-looked, I will share with you just a few things that deserve our gratitude.

1. The Film Industry

The film industry and the videogame industry are siblings in a dysfunctional family. The well established, widely popular, and slightly vain older brother (film), casts the shadow under which videogames strive for unique recognition. With the games industry abandoning the Citizen Kane comparison, setting ourselves apart, the film industry tries to bring the siblings together for personal gain. Make no mistake, the Avatar game and the Prince of Persia movie were not made to bolster the games medium, but to extend movie studio profits into newly burgeoning markets. In this light, the film industry needs no praise.
However, a relationship does exist, at once legitimizing games as art and acting as a foil by which games distinguish themselves. Uncharted 2 for example, refines the linear game narrative, borrowing heavily from movie production, to create a well paced and amazing cinematic game like nothing else. While some may distance themselves from this particular brand of filmic storytelling, it still offers an experience unique to the interactive videogame medium.

Like Uncharted 2 borrows from film, District 9 seems to borrow from videogames. From the alien technology, to the weapon upgrades, to the movie's climax, D9 tells a story that could exist comfortably in your console. As I have mentioned before, its success holds valuable lessons for the games industry and should be recognized as a win for both mediums. We are an entertainment media family after all.

2. Foolish Expectations

Bombarded with common videogame tropes, gamers have grown accustomed to certain player behaviors. In general, it is safe to believe snipers will take high ground, bright colored ledges are meant to climb, and team mates with the same goal will use similar tactics. Developers and players can wisely exploit these expectations with both frustrating and entertaining results.

In competitive games, player ingenuity thrives when expectations are held too firmly. In League of Legends, a fleeing enemy at low health may be less victim and more bait. A clever snare or an ally lurking in the grass can spell certain death for the overly bold pursuer.
Even in cooperative games, molds are meant to be smashed. Although the co-op mode of New Super Mario Bros. Wii is ostensibly friendly, the game still keeps some of the potentially mean spirited mechanics. If a teammate needlessly takes a second mushroom, pick them up and throw them into lava - molten vengeance is immensely satisfying. After playing only a couple hours with friends, my reservoir of trust was completely depleted, even when we needed cooperation to survive. I should have expected nothing less.

3. Better Players.

The end of team deathmatch arrives and you are ranked lower than anyone. You were thoroughly trounced and humiliated, with your failure presented for all to see. Don't worry. We have all been there. Sometimes, your best is just not good enough. There always seems to be better players. Now some games are capitalizing on your humiliation and leveling the playing field in innovative ways.
Like Team Fortress 2 and its prequel before it, Modern Warfare 2 implements a 'Kill Cam' in its multiplayer games. Mysteriously murdered? Spend a few second watching a sniper blast you away and you will learn why jumping up and down in the bushes is a terrible idea. Spend enough time learning your enemies strategies, and the game will award you an accolade for it. If a history lessen is not enough, 'Death Streaks' allow unlucky players to copy the class and weapons loadout of their killer, giving them better odds against the better equipped.

Even a single-player campaign offers cross-player education. Demon Souls allows players to leave notes and hints for others. If a note reads "Beware flanking spiders," you might want to heed the advice. More than ever, we are learning from our fellow players, and we are all a little better for it.

There is one last thing I am thankful for, and that is you readers. Scott and I have been working on Experience Points for over a year now. While we are both happy to leave the birthday candles in the cabinet, we know you deserve recognition. I am sure I speak for both us when I say I am consistently awed by the entertaining and intelligent discourse you are all willing to have with us. Alright, enough with the sappy thoughts. Go eat some mashed potatoes, play some games, and let me know what you are thankful for.


  1. Even though we don't have thanksgiving day here at México, and regardless of my nationality, I've always liked the Thanksgiving day. Perhaps this isin't my place to say my thanks, but I would like to thank you guys for the great posts you always make, and hope to see many more in the future =).

  2. @ RASS

    Your thanks is always appreciated. We'll show our gratitude by continuing our work at EXP. ;)

  3. On a barely related note: I yearn for the day when Mexican food breaks into the Thanksgiving Day culinary lineup.