You've got to love a game that puts the laziest of objectives right there in the title. Imagine if Pac-Man were called Eat the Pellets, Don't Die, or if Tetris were titled Fit the Blocks Before They Suffocate You. But even those would be better than Draw Something, which could have been subtitled Or Not ... What Do We Care? This is a game where rules and goals are a side note, and that's probably why over 50 million people use it.
You can be a great artist squandering your talent on a phone app:
Or you could be the loser who drew these dumb things:
You could be the 5-year-old I played with the other day who gave me a clue that looked something like this:
Did you guess the answer? It was Lincoln. As in Aberham Lincoln. And I got it right, so we got our gold coins. We win at illiteracy, not knowing how to draw, and maybe friendship, the three things I assume everyone is looking for in a video game.
I get that video games will eventually replace my favored art forms like movies and TV shows and fine literature and lovemaking. I haven't purchased a console for close to a decade now, but it's not out of skepticism. It's more laziness. I'm waiting for the graphics and gameplay to catch up to the dazzling, idiot-proof forms of entertainment that I prefer. Journey is the first game that's made me feel like I'm missing something, and that I might have been missing the point all along by focusing on how lifelike the graphics were.
If you're not familiar with the game and you think you might end up playing it, go ahead and skip down to another entry. It's got a twist that's worth preserving if you're ever going to play it at all. But if you're not sold on the possibility of video games as art, I'd like to explain the game to you as it was explained to me on the podcast "Get Up on This." I've always known that games could be art, but Journey gave me a concept to pin that belief to.
They used the whole box of pastels for this bad boy.
The game is a two- to three-hour single player quest to get to the top of a mountain. Information is doled out sparingly, and so are your abilities. You have buttons that let you run and jump, and there's one button that allows you to make a little sound. And that's it.
As you make your way toward the top of the mountain, you begin collecting various things and learn that singing allows you to open various doors. It appears to be an abandoned wasteland until, at a certain point, another character who looks and seems to act just like you arrives. This character sings and runs around and jumps and, unlike every escort mission ever, is occasionally pretty helpful. Matt Robinson, the writer of Invention of Lying and the gamer who I heard describe Journey, put it like this:
"They're indistinguishable from you. And they start showing me things and I start helping them and we start going on the adventure together. And then at a certain point, I start hitting my little talk button and I start doing a little rhythm with it, and the guy does it back to me. And then I change it up, and he does it back to me and I realize ... that's a real person. That's another player playing the game."
"Why does their dress glow? I'LL MURDER THEM!"
They don't tell you definitively that you're playing with another person until the end, once you've beaten the game (again, it only takes a couple hours), and then they give you the gamer tag of every single person you were playing with during the game. It's a new type of plot twist that makes every movie plot twist you've ever experienced feel two-dimensional. Although to focus too much on the twist would seem to do a disservice to the game. Game reviewers who went into Journey knowing that they would be playing with a stranger along the way have still called it "the most beautiful game of its time" and a "non-denominational religious experience." I may have known all along that video games would surpass movies, but there's a difference between knowing that something is a statistical necessity and believing in it. Hearing Journey described on a podcast has gotten me across that gap.
If you can't afford to travel soon, here's this!
Let me preface this by saying that the only video games I play are God of War on a borrowed PS2 and Words With Friends on my phone, so if video games are a big part of your life, I can tell you right now that you will be sorely disappointed with my complete ignorance of first-person shooters or that Sky Rims basketball game everyone seems to love.
Wait ... rims. Is it maybe a racing game?
I refuse to believe that Words With Friends was designed to be played anywhere other than on a toilet. Winning requires a tremendous amount of concentration and undivided attention, but only for increments of about five minutes at a time. It's not a game that will surprise you by sucking away an entire night of your life, because once your turn is over, it could take days for the other person to counter, or at least until the next time they have to go to the bathroom.
Yet, considering how conducive this game is to shitting, it's particularly shocking that it's also making people fall in love with each other left and right. This year, a silly number of people have hooked up, dated or married someone they met through the game. It's become an instrument of flirting in a way that no one could have anticipated from a glorified version of Scrabble. My only hypothesis for why it happens is that how you play Words With Friends says a lot about you as a person.
For example, this person loves huge-titted riot ferns.
Unlike Angry Birds, online poker or any other app game, it's easy to cheat your way to victory every time. There are hundreds of websites that allow you to pump in your letters, and then they spit out every conceivable word option. Everyone knows that these word generators exist, but the honorable players won't use them. What's more, it's easy to tell who's cheating and who isn't. So when two people play Words With Friends, there's already a built-in level of trust. Tack on a mastery of language plus the intimacy of playing exclusively in restrooms and the two of you might as well be married already. So if you're thinking of paying for a dating website for a few months to test the waters, maybe try downloading a free game first and see what happens.
I have never played DayZ, a soon-to-be standalone mod of a game called ARMA 2. Which is weird, because on paper, DayZ might be my perfect game. I'm not being hyperbolic: In this piece, I wrote about the one game I've always wanted and would gladly fund if I suddenly found myself with infinite riches and all the world's dirt bikes had already been ramped into champagne fountains (otherwise, I'd be too busy jumping motorcycles into liquor-falls to play video games, obviously). But DayZ, despite being everything I've ever wanted in a game, is also a few other things that I never want to see again: an overly complex, military-themed, online multiplayer FPS. In recent years, I have come to hate every one of those words when applied to gaming. But that's just me and my rampant, clinical misanthropy: By all accounts, DayZ is great game, and pretty close to an actual functioning simulation of the zombie apocalypse. So it's only slightly mind-blowing that it currently boasts over a million players.
Over a million sales. For a user-made, indie-based mod of an already obscure tactical shooting game.
Nobody is ever allowed to whine about indie gaming not getting the attention it deserves again. You don't even have to design a full game to get that kind of attention -- you can move millions of copies of a friggin' mod! Modding, the same scene that just 10 years ago aspired to, at most, replace the faces of some enemy models with crudely pixelated butts, is now out there on the forefront, building complete, innovative software that outsells most major titles handily.
And I don't think there are even any butts in DayZ. They're doing it buttless!