Are you into games for the actual gameplay, or the theory

I came home from work yesterday. I had color printouts of the instructions for Achtung Panzer and Shogun 2.

I apparently looked like a Golden Retriever puppy exultantly carrying his first duck back in his mouth to his master, because my wife saw me come through the door with them and started snickering.

I asked her why she was laughing, and she said that she was thinking about going to Goodwill and just buying me a bunch of random game manuals. She said that sometimes it appears that I simply exist to read game manuals and read about games, and never actually play the games themselves.

I thought about it, and she is right to at least a heavy degree. First, it is often the case that the chase and anticipation (learning about a game, reading about it, thinking about the systems it has or will purportedly have) is more enjoyable than actually obtaining the game. That is true in a lot of other hobbies and pursuits as well.

But it also makes me wonder how much I really like playing games, compared to learning about creative game systems and subsystems. Game systems and anticipation is all about theory. Game play is all about execution.

I see what I consider to be clear cases of this all over the gaming world. People always seem to look forward to that next game, but don’t seem to talk about it as much one month after it comes out. People complain about not having updated versions of old games, even when the old game still works just fine (even if it is a bit graphically dated). People post deep theories about gameplay, and it later is admitted that they don’t really play the game (or don’t play it that much). Games don’t seem to last anymore; for a lot of games, the sweet spot for having an active multiplayer base is a few months at most. I see people who seem to buy a ton of games, and I know that for most working adults, there is simply no possible way to play them all in a deep and meaningful way.

I am curious to get others’ thoughts on this. Do you suffer from the same habits? Did you at one time, but you later got over it? Do you think it is a problem, and if so why or why not?

I’d say I’m 50/50 on that. I tend to lose interest in a game the moment it fails to surprise me. If I can predict what I’m going to be spending the next hour doing then I’d be better off doing something else. Much of that comes from what kind of ideas are involved in the design, how well they play out in execution, but also to what extent the gameplay can inspire my own imagination. My own, “one more turn”, trigger.

What happens next?! Will my plan work?! Is the game going to respond properly/as anticipated when I do X?!

Aside from MMOs (and NWN2) I’m simply not interested in multiplayer games. It seems more like just playing sports, with imaginary guns or whatever, than exploring some new space with new rules.

I would say I’m 70% theory, 30% actually getting into games these days. Play Madden with folks on here because its fun. Picked up Rift to play with my brother, and Shogun because I’ve always been a TW fanboy. Much prefer to read what you guys are up to in games than go play them on my own. I still like reading about them, the development, ideas, stuff like that, but I feel I lose interest pretty quickly when I sit down to play one unless its with other people.

That the answer to those questions is usually more interesting when playing against humans is precisely why I like multiplayer.

It depends on the game. The primary things I’m looking for in games are interesting game systems and story (not necessarily a script: strategic games can have lots of story). Secondary things are community and action (though both of these are more mood-based).

I’m definitely a game-systems junkie though. Reading a bunch of manuals for board games (or a forum for a computer strategy game) sounds like a great use of time for me.

I depends of the type of game

Games with explosions:

  • Big explosions
  • Weapons that sound like can accidentally kill five 6 years old in a single shot

Games with womens:

  • Cute butts

In magic games:

  • The ability to levitate, so I can look down in people. The Levitate Spell is like high heels for wizards.

In games with lore:

  • Immersion
  • That everything make sense
  • A horse

In games with zombies

  • The ability to sprint

In games with nuclear weapons

  • The ability to wipe a whole city in a single shot

Sandbox games:

  • Being able to steal people stuff, mostly money, but everything that is shiny is mine

Games with spiders:

  • Something to burn the bugs

It also change from game to game, and sometimes from session to session.

This is something I’ve had to think about quite a bit. Due to various medical reasons, my concentration and motivation has completely deserted me (the reason I decided to drop out of the Blood Bowl league.) I don’t have the ability to stick through books and even films are tough to manage. The last game I played was Rift, and I got about a week out of that. And because my concentration and motivation are gone, my confidence in my ability to achieve is gone as well, so the simple idea of starting a book or a game is daunting. When you’ve started playing as many games as I have, only to have your brain shut down after an hour it starts playing with you. And that’s a complete balls because I love reading and I love games, and I love getting engrossed in something.

What I am able to do is converse and interact with people and deal with interactive mediums. I can read web articles, forums, blogs, anything like that because I have an immediate response to it. With games I just seem to see through to the mechanics and dismiss them (as part of my disengagement with them.) So that leaves me with talking about games, and reading about games (and technology, photography, current affairs, politics, rugby…) The brevity of these interactions can hold my attention, and I don’t end up getting down on myself because I turned off halfway through something I was enjoying. My friends are all nerds as well, so I talk to them about all things nerdy. And because there’s social interaction to hold my attention when I’m playing things like boardgames and tabletop RPGs I can manage a couple of hours of them at a time. (And this current phase I’m in stopped me from being able to write out my Traveller RPG campaign.)

So yes, the culture and society around games is more immediately important to me than the games themselves. And lately I’ve been trying to learn more techy stuff, like website design and programming. Because I have a lot of time to think about things, and I spend most of my days absorbing people’s ideas, I come up with a lot of ways I’d like to put them into practice. So that’s my latest kick. I’ve tried to learn programming before, but never managed it. Hopefully I can do this time, I have a goal I’m set on and hopefully that’ll help me motivate my way through it.

Yeah I’ve spent good money on games I never played just because I liked the concept. SE4, I’m looking at you…

Brian’s reply is pretty much dead on for me also. I will add that I liked multi-player games more (but still not as much as many people) when I had a circle of friends that also had the time and interest to play. Random children on the Internet have never interested me as gaming partners.

Edit: Teiman’s post it priceless.

His always are…

Most actiony multiplayer games tend to be focused on the mechanical act of getting adrenaline pumping and people bouncing around in their seats while yelling racial slurs at strangers over the internet.

While that’s a kind of immersion it’s not the kind I really go for. I like the sense of inhabiting a new space and letting myself get fooled into thinking it might be a little real, if only for a little while. This is why everything from dynamic campaigns in a flight sim to the AI behavior in The Sims Medieval to MMO roleplaying communities to strategy games with dramatic or interesting AI routines (Close Combat/Achtung Panzer to Crusader Kings and RoTK X) is what draws my attention.

Strategic and tactical multiplayer games (Combat Mission and Dominions, for example) are a bit more my speed but most times I’d rather just be playing than waiting for an emailed reply. I’m less interested in seeing how clever someone else is, or how clever I am, and more on enjoying some tactical drama evolve on the battlefield.

I may be one of the few to say so, but I am hardly at all interested in game theory. I fear, strange as it might sound, that seeing the man behind the curtain might ruin the experience for me. But that is one reason I really enjoy coming to Qt3 because so many of you look so deeply into the mechanics and ideas driving games, and I do enjoy seeing different perspectives on games. Just usually after I have gotten all the enjoyment I plan to from them.

Your note about game manuals, SlyFrog, did amuse me though. I have a tendency to pick up cool looking board games despite the fact that I can hardly ever find anyone to play them with me. But I love setting up the board, running through scenarios and learning the rules of the games. When I was younger I used to pick up role playing game modules and rule books, again despite the fact that I had no one to play with. I just enjoyed reading about how they worked. I’ve always been kind of weird that way, I guess.

I love playing games. I love learning a game system through the tutorial missions that seem to come standard with games anymore. I love the early stages of games where you’re exploring, experiencing and growing, all the while getting used to the system and discovering new ways to do things and bigger/better/cooler rewards. I love the endgame when you’re within reach of your goals or wiping the last vestiges of your opponents from the map. There is a point in the middle in damn near every game that I’m not so enamoured of, but GOOD games manage to sheppard me through that part, and not so good games simply end for me there.

I simply love games for the play factor, plain and simple. I started electronic gaming at around age 10 with an Odessey 2 system, followed quickly by Atari home computers and eventually PC gaming. Perhaps because of that early exposure, I also have a love for game manuals and reading about games (forums, AARs, etc.). Back in the days of Atari/Commodore computer gaming, and extending well into the PC gaming era, games shipped in big beautiful color boxes, often with big, beautiful color manuals and other fun bits of stuff to accompany them (maps, spell books, unit/building charts, historical reference, etc.). From an early age a big part of my excitement about any game was going through that stuff and devouring it. The tactile joy of reading the manual cover-to-cover, consulting the cloth map or bound spell book during play, or even plotting my next moves by using the unit/building matrix, all of those things added to my enjoyment of games. I lament the lack of this kind of content in games anymore, and I’m not just talking about digital distribution. Even retail box copies of games are often a thin clamshell case with the DVD and a manual of less than 10 pages inside that essentially details how to install the game, a couple of control scheme diagrams, and credits for the developer/publishers and an ad for the strategy guide.

Time have changed, and I get that. My actual enjoyment of playing games is not lessened by the lack of these tactile accessories, but my overall excitement level for a game is less for their abscense. A nice full color manual or whatever meant that I could enjoy the game when I wasn’t actually playing it, and sometimes I will still take an old game down off the shelf and leaf through it’s materials just to immerse myself in it’s aura once again. THAT is pure gaming enjoyment.

I think I have a lot in common with Brian. Like most adults, I no longer have the free time I once did, and I no longer have the time or interest to retread gaming experiences I’ve already had. For that reason, for example, I no longer buy a lot of shooters. A game has to bring something new to the table for me to be interested most of the time. That’s also why I’m a sucker for artsier games like Heavy Rain or Bioshock. Actually, I find a lot of my recent interest in single-player games comes from meaningful choice. (And Bioshock let me down in that way, and once I stopped feeling like my choices were meaningful I lost a lot of interest and didn’t finish the game.)

A few major exceptions. The first one is multiplayer team games like League of Legends. Those are about how well your team works together, and how well you can outmaneuver the enemy team’s coordination. In this regard I think I am interested in collaborative experiences. A game like Halo, however well made, lacks this reliance on group effort, and a player or two can carry a game. It is less interesting to me as a result.

A game like Call of Duty is a halfway case for me. I loved Call of Duty 4 and it was my pick for Game of the Year the year it was released. CoD4 had few genuine innovations – I guess it was among the first shooters to “level” you, but as a rule I didn’t find it compelling. What it brought was the perfection of the genre. A really sublime experience can attract my interest even if it brings little innovation. As a result, though, I wasn’t very interested in the subsequent Calls of Duty. They didn’t differentiate themselves well, and I already had the great CoD experience.

An exception to this exception that I cannot explain: Uncharted. I rarely finish games. I beat Uncharted in a week, and not because it was short. It brought nothing new to the table – I routinely sell people on the game with the description “it’s Tomb Raider, except fun.” But the game is flawless. I had exactly a 50% find rate on the treasures when I completed it; I’m not the type to go back and collect them all, but I was pleased when I guessed where there would be one. It has a female co-lead, who doubles as a frequent escort mission, but where many developers make these characters annoying baggage, this one never got herself killed – I don’t even know if she can die. She was frequently an asset, shooting people I couldn’t find, and she had a personality. She was likable and felt like a person, and the entire cast was that way. The game boasts good writing and dialogue. Uncharted 2 came out a while ago. I bought it not long ago and am going through it. It brings nothing new to the series so far. I love it anyway. When Uncharted 3 hits, I’ll be buying that too. I cannot explain why the series remains compelling to me.

Lastly, there are games that interest me largely because of the theory. World of Warcraft fits this category to me. I read a great deal of the Protection Warrior and Paladin Field Manuals at Elitist Jerks, and I really enjoyed learning the nitty gritty details about why doing x was better than doing y or z. But WoW also brings with it other things that grab me, like the collaborative effort of raiding. I don’t think the game would be nearly as compelling to me without that teamwork component.

I’m interested in systems or mechanics. Sometimes I just read about them, especially for RPGs and MMOs where it would take a huge time investment to actually experience them, but usually I like to experience them in game. It’s almost impossible to look at a system on paper and tell if it works. For example, I’m playing FF2 right now on my phone, and the skill based system sounded like a neat idea at first, but in practice it feels way too aimless and grindy.

That’s not the word I’d choose.

Gameplay is king, everything else is supplementary. If I’m not playing the game, what’s the point of reading a manual? Obviously my work requires me to be hip deep in news and info on upcoming games, but there is very little I don’t eventually play at least an hour or so of over the course of the year’s release schedule.

I loved reading the Combat Mission manual and conceptually I loved everything about the game but when it came to actually playing it, I never got into it. I would say that for certain games which require a large time investment to fully appreciate, sometimes the prep work is more fun that actually playing it. I had a similar experience with Falcon 4.0.

Manuals are a lost art. Also, players are becoming increasingly reluctant to read them, which perpetuates the cycle of crappy manuals that developers skimp on because players don’t read them.

  • Alan

Slyfrog could have been writing about me. Even going back to when I was mostly a pen and paper RPG gamer I used to buy manuals to games I had no intention of playing. Now, a lot of info from those manuals found its way into my D&D game. Then again a lot of it was just for the pleasure of discovering a new rule system.

These days I find myself listening to tons of podcasts (not even close to all about gaming, but a lot of those). From time to time I think that I spend more time listening to stuff about games than playing them. This is partly because I can listen while doing something else. Its a little difficult to play Men of War while doing laundry or making dinner. Its also partly because I have a love of talk radio that converted entirely into podcasts a few years ago. Mostly I think its because I love hearing about how people have explored the rules of games I will never play and what they got out of the experience.

People always seem to look forward to that next game, but don’t seem to talk about it as much one month after it comes out. People complain about not having updated versions of old games, even when the old game still works just fine (even if it is a bit graphically dated).

This has bothered me for a while. Everybody just wants to talk about the next thing. Nobody wants to talk about something that might be a couple weeks old. I always get annoyed when podcasters says something like, “that came out last week, we’ve talked about it enough.” Is that really the lifespan of a game? One week later no one cares? That’s kind of sad. I really enjoyed some of the shows where people got together to play old games (1up FM, I think, had a segment at the end of every show. Rebel FM did for a while too). Not “old” as in 20 years, but stuff from the last five to ten years that had been overlooked or not gotten the love it deserved.

I definitely STILL buy RPG books that I have no intention of ever playing. At this point I am almost a collector. I tend to buy books that have lots of characters and/or monsters; I’m a sucker for monster manuals. Every RPG store with a bargain shelf has learned to love me, because I can’t resist a gratuitous monster manual for some bizarre game I never heard of that’s less than $5.

I think now it’s almost more about pure love of the RPG nerd’s ability to deconstruct an entire world into a book. Some of my fave RPG books in this area are Creatures of the Night, Book of Vile Darkness, and damn near any other grisly horror-tastic supplement I can lay my hands on. Then there is just batshit weird stuff like Murphy’s World. In general, the more gratuitous details I can read about aboleth anatomy or the mating habits of punk brownies, the more cheesily happy I am.

This is basically geek comfort food to me at this point. I still do some gaming, but my hacking projects have started coming much more to the fore. But when I want to zone out and geek out, nothing does it like a weird old RPG book.