I have recently been looking forward to playing two newly released games: Bloodborne and The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. My anticipation of these two games, specifically The Witcher 3, made me stop and wonder what it was that made me want to play them so badly. This naturally lead to the question, why do I play video games at all?
I think the most common answer you would get from people is that people play video games, because they’re fun. That answer only describes a facet of games; however, it doesn’t explain why we play them. Just being fun isn’t a reason for someone’s sustained interest. The second most common answer is that they’re a way to relax. I think that this gets closer to the real reason we play games, but even this doesn’t hold up. A lot of games are not relaxing and yet loads of people play them. Just take a look at the Dark Souls series. If relaxation were the only goal, there are other cheaper and less time consuming options.
For myself, and I believe most other gamers, the reason that I play video games is to be immersed into a world and story where I get to play as the main character. I’ve been obsessed with stories since I was a kid. Whether the stories were in books, comics, movies, tv shows, or games; it didn’t matter. I love to hear someone weave a good yarn. When it comes to video games, the difference is that you don’t just watch or read a story, you experience and contribute to it. This of course occurs to a greater or lesser degree based on the game, but the point stands. With video games, you’re not a bystander; you’re a contributor.
The reason that I mentioned The Witcher 3 specifically making me think about this question, is because I keep reading reviews about how immersive its open world is. Game series like Fallout, GTA, and Elder Scrolls are known for their large open world games and large amount of character freedom. Hearing that the Witcher game has one of the best open worlds made me excited, because it meant that I would have a fantastic playground to live out my own stories. This is something I have always done in the other games I mentioned. I give my character their own motivations, have them make choices based on those motivations, and even imagine their thoughts and fears in specific parts of the game. The games have their own plots, but they leave room for player imagination.
A game doesn’t have to be open world for me to inject my own imagination into it. Even in linear games, I think about how the story affects the character or what their motivation is for their actions. How does Mario live with himself with all those Goomba deaths on his conscience? How weary is Master Chief under all that armor? Even though some games don’t spend a lot of time developing their characters’ back-stories, it doesn’t mean that we as players can’t create those back-stories for ourselves.
One of the best things about reading a book is coming up with your own personal image of each of the characters. Despite my great love of the Harry Potter movies, I kinda hate that my own version of Harry has been obliterated by Daniel Radcliffe’s face. Even though we never get the chance to come up with our own imagery for video games, we are given the opportunity to inject or own personal inner monologue. We imagine the characters thoughts and feelings throughout each new level of the game. We’re given the external features (character and world design), but we have the freedom to create the internal world of the characters.
This is why I play video games. I love stories, I love writing my own stories, and I love being a contributor to the stories within games. They give me an opportunity to both consume and create great stories. The Lord of the Rings books and movies are set in stone. I can’t affect them. I can; however, boot up Shadow of Mordor and go on my own unique Uruk hunting spree. And that my friends, is the beauty of video games.
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