So I recently started a campaign I like to call “Why the hell do we still play video games?”
It’s involved many Facebook polls, taken me through the bowels of Twitter to ask almost 100 people this very question, and even includes a heated debate in person with personal friends.
All of this adds up to one simple question posed to everyone: Why… Oh dear why… do you still play video games? There are usually two answers and they aren’t very tricky to understand. One is always, “Oh I love to have fun!” The other the other is always, “I have a need to win.”
There are many variations to these two responses, but in reality, they’re remotely the same. If you asked me, I would tell you I play video games to escape an otherwise boring lifestyle. Though that just means I like achievements, which is just a variation of winning.
All of this understood right here, the point of this two-part series of features is to explore the idea and really get into what it means for the future of video gaming. And let me tell you right here, it doesn’t really matter what the audience likes or why they play video games, as every title is designed for you to win whether you know it or not.
Let me take you through an example. Super Smash Bros. Yes, the fabled competitive multiplayer game has taken the esports world by storm since the N64 era. But why was it made? Had you asked the game’s producer all those years back, he would have most likely shared that the competitive scene is “neither interesting nor fun.” So if the game that has defined competitive gaming was never meant to be a game about winning, how did it become that? Well, any game pitting two people against each other will always be based on winning. However, specifically the Smash Bros. mentality comes from a deeper rooted gaming passion that isn’t defined in winning nor fun. It comes from the idea that you can do anything metaphysical in the gaming world.
So when people loading up Smash Bros. for the first time, they saw a sandbox game that could take their favorite characters and finally settle those early ‘90s street fights about if Mario or Luigi was, in fact, the better brother.
A game as seemingly harmless as Super Smash Bros. is really just a portal for people to fight as much as possible? Isn’t fighting about winning? I think many of you are confused as to why I used Smash as an example, especially since the game is purely about fighting, and therefore about winning.
So lets take a game that isn’t about fighting, but more so actually about winning and lets see what the real root of that is. Lets talk Skyrim. Now many people would argue that of course this game is about winning and not about having fun! A game that has you fight an army of undead, an army of soldiers or rebels and fight an army of dragons has to be about winning right!? I’d argue that Skyrim is a game designed for winning and built for fun.
On one spectrum you have Smash, a game that was designed for fun and built for winning; The whole premise of that game was to have fun playing your cartoon characters, but beat the crap out of them while trying to win. On the other hand we have Skyrim, a game designed for winning, but built on having fun. You make a character you care about, then you go off with your sword and have at it for a few hundred hours of pure entertainment.
These two examples represent totally different aspects of the gaming world. Cartoony and surprisingly violent and realistic and surprisingly entertaining but what this really boils down to is the main argument that is at the heart of every new video game in the 2010’s; Is this video game multiplayer or not?
If you haven’t read my editorial–The Multiplayer Revolution–I’d advise you to do so because these articles directly correlate.
Like I said at the top of the article, all new video games are designed for you to win whether you know it or not. Don’t get me wrong here, you can have fun while winning and in reality, that is the entire point of winning but pretty soon there will be no days that video games are designed for just pure entertainment.
This first part of the series is exploring the nature of winning in video games and just flat out, winning in video games is almost directly tied to the multiplayer experience. If a game has multiplayer in it, and the main objective is the game is to compete with other players, than the game isn’t about fun anymore. The game is about beating the other players and winning, that is what directly causes fun.
I can think of 10 video game examples off the top of my head with co-op in it. Games that ask you to put your differences aside and just play together for some cooperative fun. Still, you are meant to win in those video games. Games that ask you to be a team and complete a challenge almost always end up in the same bragging rights of finding the solution first or stopping the other person from finding the solution.
I remember back in 2011 when Portal 2 hit the scene. My best friend and I played through the co-op. We would race to see who could come up with the solution to each puzzle first. How crazy is that? A game about working together to find an answer, and we were programmed to find out who was the best portal-er.
Like I said, I asked almost 100 people on their thoughts about why we play video games. Almost 80% of these people told me they play games to have fun. When I asked some of them again about if they have fun while losing, almost all of them said no. So what causes this? Is it just a human nature to want to win? No, well yes, but that isn’t why games are fun to win. They are fun to win because they are designed against losing. Nobody likes seeing that god damn “Game Over” screen or that stupid “You lose” text pop up so very early on we are injected with this idea that winning is directly linked to having fun!
Games are built to win. Games are not designed for the player to lose a battle or lose at anything and still have fun. They teach you how to win and they teach you how to be sore losers (which I have become).
So, all of this now in the back of your mind, why do we still play video games?
Because we bloody love winning dammit.
It’s true. Humans love winning. Whether it be war or video games, humans have an insatiable need to win at everything and that is what causes fun! Video games are designed for you to win and it is just some good fun to win at it.
Don’t kid yourself, video games were never meant to explore how humans can have fun while still losing. Even the earliest games were designed to pit you against your family in a battle of wits and yes, I mean those intense games of pong. Or beating those god damn asteroids that attacked my homeland!
Video games are about winning and about having fun while doing it.
But are they? Like I said, the video game experience is directly tied to the multiplayer experience so what about single player only games like Skyrim? Well, we will find out in the next part.