Category Archives: Gaming

Why I Play the Games I Play

In my ever ongoing quest for personal development, I have now started on the part where I improve as a gamer. This has nothing to do with skill, but rather appreciation. As I’ve mentioned before, my taste in games is rather narrow. I want to broaden my horizons, and if not learn to love new kinds of games, then at least gain some understanding for why other people do.

For this reason, I’ve dug into Rock Paper Shotgun’s Advent Calendar of 2016, where their excellent writers have collaborated in assembling a list of the 24 best games of the year. And while this definitely did give me some ideas of what to look out for when trying out games outside of my comfort zone, more than anything it helped me suss out why I play in the first place.

My Cup or Not My Cup, That Is the Question

I decided to sort the games I read about into categories – “My Cup of Tea”, “Not My Cup but OK”, “Meh” and “That’s Not Tea”.

My Cup of Tea Not My Cup but OK Meh That’s Not Tea
North Inside Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Darkest Dungeon
The Witness Sorcery! Tilt Brush DOOM
Burly Men at Sea The Curious Expedition hackmud Tom Clancy’s The Division
Owlboy Dishonored 2 Civilization VI Hitman
Firewatch American Truck Simulator Duskers
Thumper  Overwatch XCOM2
Titanfall 2
The observant will notice that there are only 23 games in this table. That’s because one game got its own category, called “OH HELL NO!!!”. I’ll get back to that one later.

As it turns out, this very exercise shed some light onto what sort of games are attractive to me and what features turn me off.

The outside columns are easy to analyze. Looking at the games that immediately interested me and that I’m quite sure I’d enjoy playing, we have a few puzzle/adventure titles ranging from cute to eerie, a beautiful retro platformer, and Thumper – a bit of an outlier that, but I used to love Audiosurf. I’ve been itching to play The Witness since I first heard of it and was happy that it made Best Puzzle Game.

The games that RPS failed to get me interested in are predominantly focused on horror, gore and/or manly men shooting other manly men in the face. Or robots, or demons. Same diff. Duskers might have appealed to me if I enjoyed horror at all, but, well, I don’t. Hitman is interesting because of its sandboxiness, but that’s about it.

Interesting puzzles and beautiful trees – no wonder The Witness appeals to me

Getting Into Specifics

Looking at these games, as well as ones I’ve enjoyed in the past – and ones I’ve failed miserably at enjoying despite giving them my best((I’m sorry, Team Fortress 2!)) – a picture starts to form. Or, well, a couple of lists, really. Firstly, attributes that are likely to make me interested in a title:

  • Story
  • Mystery
  • Humour
  • Puzzles
  • Roleplaying((By which I mean getting to make choices as to who you are and how you interact with the world – not anything to do with stats, die rolls or inventories.))
  • Vibrant, colourful graphics and/or an interesting or unusual art direction
  • Female main character

And then of course, attributes that are likely to make me less interested in a title:

  • First person shooter or real-time strategy as the main game mechanic
  • Timers
  • Competition
  • Dying a lot
  • Drab colour schemes and/or an over-reliance on skulls&spikes or gory aesthetic
  • Lack of female representation, and/or over-sexualisation of women

Looking at these lists, it’s perhaps no surprise that the game RPS dubbed their Game of the Year didn’t even make the “That’s Not Tea” category. It’s called Devil Daggers, and the best I can say about what I’ve seen is that the art is brilliant. Pity it all consists of darkness and monsters.

Nope. Nope nope nope. Even the RPS writers were divided on it; while they mostly agreed that it’s extremely well executed, several of them seem to agree with me that such games are pretty much unplayable.

Anyway. What does all this really say about me as a gamer? In the end it comes down to why I play games in the first place.

The Point of It All

Games, for me, are a means to escape my life and either simply put every thought on hold for a while, or enter a different world and maybe even be someone else. In other words, I play games for much the same reasons as I read books and comics: To get entertained, and to experience things I can’t experience in my own life.

For a game to truly capture my attention, lots of little factors need to click. For instance, it doesn’t seem to matter if the story is interesting if the primary game mechanic involves shooting people (or monsters) and the world looks like a wasteland. This is why, no matter how clever and interesting I find Fallout lore, the actual games don’t work for me. Why should I spend time in a world that basically looks like Stockholm in January, but where pretty much everything that moves is trying to kill me?

FPS, RTS and all games that involve stress-inducing mechanics such as timers tend to leave me cold. After all, stress is one of the things I’m trying to get away from when I play. Competition is even worse – PvP has on occasion triggered pretty severe anxiety.

Dragon Age: Inquisition – even the deserts are pretty

On the other hand, what I truly love is getting to explore worlds that are different from my own, and to get challenged just enough to keep my brain busy but never so much that my progress is halted. Most importantly in that respect, I don’t want to die. Few things break immersion for me as much as dying. I’m the hero of the adventure, if I die the adventure ends! Imagine if you were reading a book and suddenly the remaining pages spontaneously combusted because you read a sentence wrong, and you had to start over at the beginning of the chapter for the pages to appear again.

For similar reasons, I often find it difficult to get into games with a bird’s eye perspective. Whenever I mention enjoying RPGs, someone inevitably assumes I loved Baldur’s Gate – truth is, I didn’t care for it at all. Playing felt like moving pieces on a board, not like experiencing a story first-hand.

Expanding My Horizons

People change, and I’m changing a lot these days. Over the past year I have learned to tackle my insecurities and tolerate discomfort in ways I couldn’t before. And I hope that if I can just get past the worst hurdles, I will be able to play more types of games than the rather narrow range of puzzles, adventures and RPGs I tend to feel drawn to. I won’t love everything I try, of course, and perhaps I will discover that some genres simply aren’t for me. But I want to at least be able to understand what others see in the games I don’t enjoy.

So what games will I be trying out, to see if I can maybe learn to appreciate something different? The games in the second column all contain elements that pique my interest while at the same time containing game mechanics that I’m either completely unfamiliar with or doubt that I’d enjoy. Those feel like an excellent place to start.

Well – after I’ve finished The Witness, of course…

Am I Geeky Enough?

I am a gamer.

Hardly a controversial statement, but it’s not always entirely uncomplicated for me to make it. See, I suffer from a very particular sort of impostor syndrome: I’m never quite sure if I’m geeky enough.

I question my own geekiness because I was brought up as a girl. | alexfelicia.net

Gamer Geek Cred

Whenever I meet someone new who is into gaming, there is that vaguely uncomfortable conversation where we gague whether we are the same sort of gamer. No matter how nice the person is and no matter how well we’re getting along, I always feel like I’m judged against a sort of Gamer Geek Cred Score. It looks something like this:

  • Plays first-person shooters +10
  • Plays real-time strategy (esp. StarCraft) +10
  • Plays competitively (pvp or against highschore etc) +20
  • Plays World of Warcraft +5
    • …on a PvP server +5
    • …in a proper raid guild +10
    • …on a RP server, as an actual roleplayer -5
    • …casually (no matter how many hours/week) -10
    • …as alliance -5
  • Mostly plays casual games -5
  • Plays old cult titles +5
  • Prefers playing on higher than default difficulty +5
  • Prefers playing on lower than default difficulty -5

According to this scale (which I just pulled out of my ass, for the record), I’m usually somewhere around -15. I can’t play FPS because I am easily frightened and get very stressed by fast-paced action((There are many games in the genre I really, really want to play because of their awesome story (e.g. Half-Life) or because they just look so goddamn fun (e.g. Overwatch). I did give Half-Life 2 a very honest try, once. I had watched partners play through it a couple of times and really wanted to experience it for myself. I gave up when I got to Ravenholm.)). I find it difficult to play competitively  because of performance anxiety and because I take it personally when people try to kill me. I’ve never seen an RTS that struck me as remotely fun to play. And when playing games such as Dragon Age or Mass Effect, which at least don’t score negative points, I always keep the difficulty setting low enough that I rarely risk dying. After all, I play for immersion and story, and the hero dying every now and then is extremely immersion-breaking.

All of this makes me secretly judge myself to be a Fake Geek Girl. Doesn’t matter how many times I have played through the Myst series or how many hours days weeks(? who’s counting…) I have spent leveling alts in World of Warcraft. Unless I like blowing people up, I’m probably not a Real Gamer.

I'm old enough to remember this | alexfelicia.net
I’m old enough to remember the End of the World (of Warcraft Beta).

The Fake Geek Ghost

Of course, no one has actually told me any of these things. No one has said I’m not a Real Gamer or True Geek. Apart from a few veiled barbs from an ex, all my “fake geek girl”-shaming comes from within. I have been so programmed by society that I hold myself to bizarre ideals that I would never, ever hold anyone else to. I’m haunted by the ghost of a Fake Geek Girl that never even existed.

And it makes me so fucking angry.

The idea of the Fake Geek Girl is rooted in pure misogyny. It’s a bizarre form of gatekeeping into a community that proclaims to desperately want girls to notice its existence. But how are girls to feel welcome when who they are, what they do and what they like is constantly downvalued?

What girls like and how their channel their interest is always seen as Less Than. Consider, for instance, fanworks of different kinds. Women are overrepresented among people who create fanart and write fanfiction. And these things are at best considered a light-weight form of geekiness, usually contained with the term “fandom”.

However, people who build mods for their favourite games are mostly male. I have never seen this called “fandom” – but it’s definitely something that gives you geek cred.

I’m a Fangirl Baby, So Why Don’t You Kill Me Go F*ck Yourself

I am not remotely ashamed to admit that I have spent a lot of time of writing fanfiction, primarily based on Dragon Age. And by a lot of time, I mean a lot. The longest story is some 80,000 words – that’s two novels’ worth of writing – that I wrote over the span of perhaps three or four months.

The process involved a lot of research: Playing out scenes in the game over and over to explore different nuances of character interplay, delving into lore to make sure I wouldn’t accidentally create an AU, reading the works of other fans for inspiration… And yet, when comparing myself to the (predominantly male) fans who instead spend that time crunching numbers to make sure they’re using the most effective armor for their build when playing on Nightmare difficulty with one hand tied behind their back and no health potions, I feel like my kind of fandom just doesn’t quite cut it.

And I hate this. It’s ridiculous. I am beyond passionate about the titles I love; when I get into my true fandom periods, I live and breathe games. There is absolutely nothing fake about it.

Redwood forest on the Minecraft server I run. | alexfelicia.net
A redwood forest on the Minecraft server I manage, running the amazing modpack Life in the Woods: Renaissance.

A Different Class of Games

It’s not just about how we express our love for games, but what kind of games different players tend to gravitate to. There is a huge industry around creating casual games that attract people of all sorts of ages, genders and lifestyles these days, but it’s not like avid Farmville or Candy Crush fans ever call themselves “gamers”.

Girls and women are far more likely to play casual games and games focused on stories and immersion, rather than the violent and competitive AAA-titles that have become almost synonymous with Gaming these days. And no wonder – these games often seem to be designed to actively repel the female audience, by being rife with sexism. Sometimes the almost-subtle kind where female characters are included in the story only as victims to give the male protagonist a cause, sometimes overt objectification (even being offered as a reward), always with the constant subconscious awareness that whatever game you play, you are likely to meet far fewer female NPCs than male ones.

The audience is given the very clear message that these games are not for women, they are for heterosexual men, and the gamers know it: Women who dare to enroach upon that territory despite all the warning signs are frequently heaped with equal parts sexual harrassment and downright abuse.

So – we have a class of games that are considered cool, and those are the games that men play. And then there’s the other stuff, for kids, women and whatever else is out there. It’s become a toxic, self-reinforcing class system.

But I do see signs of improvement. Most notably, Blizzard seems to be doing really well at making Overwatch a multiplayer fps that appeals to a wide audience. It really isn’t that difficult. Just make a point of providing a bit of diversity, and the divergent will come to you. We’re starving, after all.

So Many Games, Gotta Make ’em All

These days, I can (somewhat) confidently call myself a programmer and game developer. Fact is, although there are plenty of games I really would love to be playing right now, I simply don’t have time – I’m too busy developing. It seems that to my subconscious, this lends me a certain amount of geek cred that outweighs my deficits.

Yet I still worry that people I meet in the industry will assume that I like games I’ve never played, or that I know more than I do about certain topics. I worry that they will be disappointed when I don’t match these expectations, and that they won’t trust me as a developer because of my missing geek cred.

No matter what I do to distance myself from the gender binary and shake loose the remnant threads of narrative clinging to my mind, I still find myself mired in these internalized expectations. Well, I’m done now.

I’m a gamer, and that’s the end of it.