Video games are what unite us as people. We can disagree on cultural values and norms, but we all stand together on liking Mario Kart, and those of us who don't are sent to Processing and inevitably stoned to death.
I've played video games off and on at different points in my life, but I only became really interested in them years after most of my friends had. If you're currently trying to lure people into a van, you'd probably refer to me as a "late bloomer," and having this title means that I'm navigating this new landscape in different ways than if I'd started my journey a decade ago. I have been defrosted into a world that I don't fully understand, but I know that I have to protect America. And by "protect America," I mean play BioShock eight years after it came out.
#5. Every Surprise Is A Stunning Revelation
One of the first games that I started in my quest to finally participate in conversations was Red Dead Redemption, a game that was made because, while the Grand Theft Auto games are pretty good, they certainly lack the ability to instantly drown you whenever you get close to any amount of water. But that's sensible, as the main character has a tortured backstory, and the most obvious comical quirk to add to him would be to make him unable to bathe without first writing a suicide note.
Or make him a hero whose one weakness is being water-soluble.
What caught me off guard from the outset was the existence of enemy characters with their own dick-ish agency. A villain had fled on horseback, and I pursued him on a horse of my own. I shot his horse, and he fell off. What I expected was the usual Red Dead way of doing things, where I execute my foe after telling him something like, "We all have our regrets for the things we've done ..." or whatever. Instead, bandit Javier Escuella, sensing the opportunity to make me feel foolish, simply ran over to me, pushed me off my horse, and rode away on it, as if it had been his master plan all along.
Could video games do that to you? Was this the first time that this had ever happened? Had I just witnessed some grand fluke that would appear only once and then leave me telling my disbelieving friends that I was now the subject of an X-File? And then that shit happened twice in a row, and it was like the game had discovered my Achilles heel of not being very good at Red Dead Redemption.
I still maintain it's a serious design flaw to build horses without a seat belt.
People talk about exploiting game mechanics, but was I such an idiot that the game had realized it and begun exploiting me? It was the closest that I'll ever come to being in a sequel to Her, and it took a while for me to cope with the fact that when you have so many internal parts all working at the same time, eventually one of those parts is going to do something that surprises you. They're not all going to shoot, reload, and then peek over to see if you're still sniping them. A few of them are going to pull your pants down and steal your property while you're trying to do something really cool. And a fraction of those will do it over and over again until you light the problem on fire and write it all off as a necessary measure in your war against criminals and humiliation.
#4. You Have To Train Yourself To Not Get Angry
As you get older, you tend to stick to the things that you're good at. And don't let this column fool you -- I'm not that old at all. I'm still at the age where I can successfully leapfrog over things when I get drunk, without having to worry about breaking my face open on the sidewalk. I feel like that pretty successfully paints a picture of me. But, since I graduated from college, I've noticed that I gravitate toward the activities that I know I won't become frustrated with, even when they start falling apart. And though I lacked experience, I wrongly assumed that video games would fall into that category.
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Please try to suppress the "Oh, honey" rising in your throat.
Like feeling astounded in the last entry, it's also very easy to become enraged. Having missed out on them, I played all three BioShock games. The first was great, the second was almost oppressively unnecessary, and Infinite was fun. However, due to the fact that underwater utopias are filled with security cameras and the flying bullet robots that love them, I died a healthy amount of times while playing BioShock 1. Around the middle of the game, I was dying to the extent that you'd think I was teaching someone else how to. "See there? You get yourself trapped in a corner with no ammo and just let them rip you apart. Now you try. Screaming at yourself, your controller, and the TV is optional, but it's rewarding in a way."
As my fingers stumbled across the buttons like the trembling first steps of a newborn deer, I realized that the initial idea that I'd had about playing this series was bullshit. I was not going to keep my composure because I was "too old" to be thinking about punting a game system. I was going to have to tell myself to calm down and to take a second before sucking at BioShock again. Previously, whenever I'd see a video of a person swiping at the contents of their table and wailing at a World Of Warcraft session, I'd think, "I am a superior hominid who would never become angry at such trivial things. More tea, Prime Minister?" Now, I get it. If I was a person with better emotional control, I would take one of these videos and place it alongside a video of myself getting pissed at restarting yet another level to prove that, deep down, I am a petulant nerd with unsightly facial hair. Sadly, the latter video would almost certainly end with me charging toward the camera while shouting, "You did this!"
"You erased the tape. There's no witnesses. Be cool; no one will ever know ..."
Learning something from scratch is rarely fun if you believe that, inherently, you should be good at it because you're good at other things like it. I, like most of my parents, tended to lump movies, books, TV, music, and video games together under the genre of "Can be enjoyed while sitting down/eating pizza/eating pizza rolls." I figured that I'd be naturally adept at video games since I was remarkably talented at sitting through a director's commentary. But a director's commentary doesn't kill you whenever YOU CAN'T FIND A PLACE TO DUCK, YOU GODDAMN ROBOT. Playing video games gave me a crash course in what it was like to focus on using my "inside" voice again, so that I didn't go the route of a second-grader and end up crying in futility because mean ol' Mr. Xbox hates my happiness.
#3. You Have To Adjust To Video Game Logic
I'm a child trapped in the body of a larger child, and that's not just a metaphor. A first-grader, talented in the arts of science and cruelty, now controls me like the Krang. I HhavEe noL comPplaintsM abouEt this, and I have yet to become cynical about gaming. The medium hasn't yet burned me enough. Give me a few years of having my hopes spectacularly torched, though, and you'll probably find me posting memes that directly name game developers. My time to throw wild, haphazard tantrums on the Internet will arrive, I promise.
It's because of the fresh view that comes from just exiting my pupa stage that I think that the Batman: Arkham games are the greatest things that have ever happened. You get to be Batman, and the combat system works almost 90 percent of the time. Why are we so jaded and angry? For years, the sole purpose of a Batman video game was to make us interested in switching over to a Spider-Man video game, and to finally have a few that are generally playable is a blessing.
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"We have to make it fun to be a billionaire playboy with incredible strength
and infinite gadgets? Woo, tall order."
One of the things that is extremely common in this Batman series is vent travel. It is the primary method of transportation in Gotham City. Need to get to another room or even another building with ease? Simply rip off a grate, hop in, and follow it to your destination. Hiding from your enemies? Climb inside an empty vent and wait for them to inevitably get distracted. From the very beginning of Arkham Asylum, you're taught to look for holes in the wall that Batman can slither through. Don't let the romanticized versions of the Dark Knight fool you. When Batman wanted to talk to Chief Gordon, he didn't use the window. He simply went to the roof, pulled off the seal, and cost the police department thousands in ventilation repairs.
That doesn't mean that you don't spend hours looking for vents to use when you have the obvious luxury of a door, a door that you're ignoring because you're too busy lingering in "There must be a secret!" mode. Video game logic dictates going into a room and being open to the idea that maybe the switch you need to press is in a place where no conceivable asylum employee would put it. I don't expect a mental institution that houses someone named "Killer Croc" to be entirely true-to-life, but encountering a puzzle every time you want to turn the electricity on really makes you question the use of tax dollars in the DC Universe.
"I have this item of incredible value that you need to save the entire world, including me,
but I'll need you to go find six different beetles before I turn it over."
Opening myself up to video game logic made for a far smoother process than if I'd focused on finding the right door all the time. I can't quite describe it without sounding like I'm trying to be a Batman that always has to use the last stall in a public bathroom, so I'll go ahead and sound exactly like that: "I don't look for one specific thing at a time. Instead, I open my gaze to look at everything, which leads me to find things much faster. Oh, a line in the men's room? Well, damn. This is a bit of a pickle, isn't it? Guess I'll wait until I get home."