Friday, November 27, 2009

Thankful During Tough Times

Experience Points celebrates its second Thanksgiving at a time when the game industry (as well as most of the world) is experiencing hard times. Hardware sales are down, big companies are hemorrhaging jobs, and Bobby Kotick is standing by with a bag of salt to tend to our wounds. Even the most optimistic folks might be tempted to think that things are looking a bit bleak.

However, spurred on by Jorge's sentimentality, I started looking for silver linings amongst the metaphorical clouds. Although the industry is undergoing drastic changes, there are plenty of things for which to be thankful.

1. Gaming for Quarters

I don't even want to know how much money I have spent over the course of my life trying to complete Time Crisis. Naturally, the only thing I ever won was a sore ankle.

Today, thanks to devices like the iPhone and the rise of digitally distributed games, we are seeing an unprecedented amount of high-quality, low price games. Games like "Spider: The Legend of Bryce Manor" and "Flight Control" cost less than than a few rounds of Street Fighter ever did. Even more expensive games like PixelJunk Eden offer rich experiences that surpass those of many traditionally-priced games. And, thanks to the mad scientists over a Valve, even $60 games routinely see precipitous cuts.

While the same cannot be said in regards to food or gas, the value of the gaming-related dollar feels higher than ever before.

2. A Cornucopia of Content

I find it mind boggling that, despite the fact that many gamers don't even bother to finish games, developers still stuff their titles to the brim with optional content. Whether it is finding all of the hidden trinkets in Assassin's Creed, collecting star coins in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, or simply exploring the wasteland in Fallout 3, a gamer can easily spend dozens of hours on even the most linear games. For people on a budget, optional quests and challenges can keep the game fresh by offering ancillary goals in addition to the main story mode. For people that simply like exploring a game-world and testing its rules, non-essential content offer rewards whose only benefits are satisfaction and pride. After all, you don't really need to collect all the stars in a Super Mario Galaxy...unless you want to say to pay a visit to Luigi.

We are also lucky to have games that eschew a linear story and present us with virtually unlimited replay value. With some patience and imagination, a clever player can make each family in The Sims a unique episode unto itself. The randomized dungeons of Torchlight ensure variety for players who love a good dungeon crawl. At the strangest end of the spectrum, Noby Noby Boy and GIRL keep chugging along to beat of their insane drum. I still play the game to check in on their journey across the solar system (we've reached Jupiter!).

3. Feasting With Friends

As the overall community gamers continues to grow, games have changed to help foster a communal gaming. The move towards social gaming is only partially about "casual" games; both Farmville and Mario are part of a larger trend of making gaming a shared experience. I suspect that games like Gears of War and New Super Mario Bros. Wii would have been single-player affairs had they come out ten years ago. Now, they are designed to bring people together.

With the help of the Internet, even single-player experiences like Far Cry 2 and Mirror's Edge have sprouted communities. Today, even if you only have the time or money to play a couple of games, chances are that you will find a solid group of like-minded people who will help you turn the game into a larger experience. Whether it is comparing analysis, battling for high scores, or trading player-designed levels, being able to share ideas with other players is something to be thankful for.


This last point is especially meaningful for me, as there are some weeks when I actually spend more time writing and podcasting about games than I do actually playing them. While an acute lack of time and resources plays a part in this, thinking critically about games increases my appreciation for them. Over time, adopting the mindset that "the unexamined [game] is not worth [playing]," has made gaming increasingly rewarding.

And so I'm grateful that I have the privilege of working on Experience Points. Thanks to everyone for visiting the site, for making the whole thing such a blast, and for helping to keep me looking on the bright side of life.

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