What Sort Of Player I Am

Well, now. As a shiny new moderator of the Google+ ‘Good Guys Gaming‘ community – the first such responsibility ever bestowed on me in an online group – I’m currently hovering in that pleasant, fuzzy halfway-realm between “I can’t cope, I don’t know what to do, arrgh…” and “Hahahaha! The Power! Fear Me!”
And that’s probably terribly inappropriate and I should really adopt a measured, stoic dignity in all my doings henceforth; gliding to and fro like the unruffled top half of a swan.
And I really, really probably shouldn’t make entirely unsolicited posts about my personal tastes in gaming, as though I have some inalienable right to tell people what I like.
Except that if there weren’t people telling the world what they like, the Internet would be composed exclusively of people complaining about the things they don’t.
So, in the name of maintaining The Balance, and doing my part to prevent the Internet from disappearing into the dark and unsavoury Cludgie of Incessant Grumbling, I hereby subject you, the reader, to my Views On Stuff.
I’ve already listed in the community some of the games I’m playing at the moment. Elite: Dangerous is on the list, though it’s been nudged down a place or two by recent developmental direction. This is not to say I’m giving up on the game – only that I accept that, for now, Frontier Developments are working on things that’ll make them some money which they can then plough back into further development. Their job for the moment is to make the game as accessible as possible to the people who’ll pay and play the most reliably, For the time being, business pressures say that that’s not me. That’s younger types with games consoles and plenty of spare time (she says, nearly 300 words in).
But this here post isn’t going to be about listing the games I like, so much as explaining what sort of player I am, by general principles.

I tend, first of all, to steer away from multiplayer games, with a few exceptions. There are some MMORPGs I play occasionally – though I certainly wouldn’t say I was more than a casual player in either case: Everquest II, a game I’ve been playing since it was released during Whitsuntide of 1586, and a strange, cartoony affair called either Villagers & Heroes (if you’re in Europe) or A Mystical Land (if you’re in North America).
These particular games I play because some of the people I play them with I knew in the real world first. EVE Online also falls into this category, but I’ve had to take a break from that for a little while, since it’s a subscription game and I wasn’t getting the time to make it worth the money.
When a game involves just people ‘from the Internet’, I’m more hesitant. I admit it: even at forty years old, strangers intimidate me – especially when those strangers are all very good at something, and have efficient systems and ways of playing which I don’t know and can’t compete with. In competitive multiplayer, this is bad because it means I always lose, and am therefore, at the very least, a n00b. In co-operative multiplayer it means that I’m the weak link that will bring disaster to my team, and I am, therefore, at the very least, a n00b. Whereas, give me a single-player – or, at a stretch, a massively single-player – setting and I’m more than happy. I remember many happy hours spent with my friends at school weaving nonsensically elaborate tales of our exploits in Elite – most of which were, frankly, utter bollocks. I still remember Rich telling us all about the time he flew close along the surface of a dredger and it took ten minutes to get from one end to the other. This was bull, because dredgers – though spoken of in lore – were never included in Elite. But it was a good story well told, and for me, that’s the point.
Give me a free, open game world to have adventures in, and friends to share stories of those adventures with and to share theirs with me – even if the stories do get a little embellished along the way.
I listened to the (relatively) recent three-hour YouTube chat ‘State Of The Game‘, featuring Drew Wagar, Kate Russell, Fireytoad, Kerrash and MahdDogg – all heavyweight E:D streamers (I mean they’re notable, not that they’re, you know, heavy). During the discussion, which covered a lot of interesting ground, they talked about the difference between the two types of game players: ‘content creators’ and ‘content consumers’. I would say I’m most definitely in the former camp.
‘Content creator’ does sound a bit grand, but what it essentially means is that I’m the sort of player who likes to be put in an open, sandboxy sort of world and allowed to get on with it. As long as there’s a certain degree of structure and detail in that world, I don’t need – don’t want – the game to fix goals for me. I don’t want it to feed me a story, except perhaps as general background. I don’t want to be given a character to play: I want to make my own.
‘Content consumers’, on the other hand – apart from being subjected to the horrible cattle-esque word ‘consumer’, are people who want a specific challenge and fixed achievement to aim for, and so tend to prefer games with a more linear structure, fixed or constrained mission pathways, and predetermined scenarios to test themselves with.
Both of these are perfectly valid ways of playing games. It’s like the difference between playing chess and playing Risk: both are tactical and strategic boardgames representing conflict between warring factions. Chess doesn’t tell you who the combatants are or give you a context for the battle. Aside the traditional names for the pieces – King, Queen, Rook, Bishop – the chess pieces might literally represent any army, anywhere, fighting anyone for any reason. Risk and its variants place you in a specific setting with specific armies to choose from (whether those are just colours or historical factions as in Risk: Godstorm).
Much as I love Risk: Godstorm (though it’s hard to find time to play it), I’m definitely a chess player. Give me the pieces, give me the board, and let me write the story of who and why I’m fighting. If you can give me a chessboard that lets me beat swords into ploughshares and sign treaties with the other side, better still (I’m someone who played Shadow President solely with the aim of making the world as peaceful as possible.).
Actually, mentioning some of the games I’ve particularly enjoyed probably is the best way to go about this, but rather than take each game as a unit, it’s probably more helpful to indicate exactly what elements of it appeal to me. In a future post I may go into a few of my favourite games to explore exactly what that is in each case. Broadly, I would say that:
  • I love freedom to explore and define my own goals and challenges. I love a world without physical boundaries or with boundaries as distant as possible – even at the cost of meeting the inevitable patterning of a procedural world. That, for example, Elite’s solar systems start to look a bit samey once you’ve flown to a few hundred of them doesn’t concern me, because to me that seems a small cost for a huge world to play in.
  • Related, I love to define my own character. Ideally, with the ability to create their visual representation – but at the very least I should be able to name them and act according to who I decide they are. Don’t give me, “You are Sam All-American-Lantern-Jawed-Hero, accused of a crime he blah blah blah”. Just say, “Here’s a world: go do stuff.”
  • I love realism. Within reason, of course: I don’t mind the occasional indulgence where it makes the game or the setting possible. I don’t mind hyperdrives in a space game, for example, however implausible they may be in real life, because they’re pretty necessary for any space-opera setting. But I would like realistic ship handling and flight to go with them: no ‘top speed in space’, no ‘vacuum friction’ to slow me down if I stop firing my engines (at least beyond modelling the particle density in space, if you really, really want to – but even I’d accept that’s probably too much realism for so little effect). In space games, flight games, driving games, underwater games, I want as much ‘sim’ and as little ‘arcade’ as possible.
  • I’m not enamoured of war. At the risk of injecting politics into gaming, this is a real-life issue that shades my gaming preferences. I don’t reject all fighty games or the concept of conflict as a story driver or challenge. Still, I tend to prefer either fantasy or futuristic settings, or any game premise that’s at a remove from the real-life idiocy of actual war. At a real push I’ll do medieval games, but there I’d rather build and manage my castle and village than crush my enemies beneath my sandalled feet. I have no desire to play Call of Medals Team Duty Ops 476; nor do I generally go for ‘real world’ military flight sims or strategy games (with a few exceptions: see below).
  • I love technical detail. That is, any game that will teach me something about how a thing works. For example, I was a countryside kid, but wasn’t involved in farming; so although tractors and ploughs and harvesters and such are familiar to me, it wasn’t until I gave Farming Simulator a try that I actually learned what all those other machines – cultivators, sowers, tedders, etc. – are for. I don’t for one moment claim that Farming Simulator makes me a farmer, or shows me exactly what the life is like, but it teaches me things about it; and since I love to learn things that appeals to me.

    Learning is one of the few reasons I will give military games any house room. It’s the reason I played Silent Hunter IV for a while – that and the fact that maritime simulations are in precious short supply as it is: SHIV may not have shown me what being at sea in a World War II submarine actually felt like, but I believe it gave me some insight into how these things worked. Similarly, the venerable flight sim Falcon 4.0 was one of few military flight sims I’ve got into because, with the Superpatch to add more detailed and realistic avionics systems, it was so hard to control I could barely play it at all. The level of detail made it so utterly opaque that I barely ever completed a mission without breaking the ship. I love that.

So that’s the kind of player I am. A niche market, to be sure, and – I suppose like everyone, really – I find that most games I enjoy are a sort of partial shadow of the ‘perfect’ game. In my head there’s a game that will give me immense freedom to explore, find my own challenges, involve masses of absorbing technicalities to engage in, keep providing detail – even if there are discernible patterns in the whole – and allow as much or as little interaction with others as I like.

Actually… that’s real life, isn’t it? Hmm. Better add FTL spaceships and a comprehensive avatar creator. There, that’s spot on.
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