I hear that it’s a very busy time for videogamers now. So many great AAA games have been released. People don’t know where to start. Some may be creating intricate schedules to keep up.

Penny Arcade comic
Penny Arcade comic of 31 October.

Here’s my gaming schedule of the past, say, 5 years:

And it doesn’t look like it’s about to change.

It’s not that I don’t have time to play. Or money to spend. Or that I don’t want to play videogames. On the contrary. I’m aching for a game, I’m dying to play! But there hasn’t been anything on the market that appeals to me. For years.

Five years ago, I was having a great time. There was Silent Hill 2 and 3, Black and White, Ico, Fatal Frame. And also Grand Theft Auto III and Rez. I even had fun with Devil May Cry and Tekken and Soul Calibur. But since then, with the exception of Animal Crossing, nothing has been able to draw me in. And it’s not like I’m growing too old for gaming or something. Five years ago, I was already 35. Yeah, I’m one of those “adult gamers” that you hear about on the internets.

Except, not anymore, apparently.
I want a game. I have the cash. I’ll make the time. I’ll buy a new console and a new television set if necessary. Whatever it takes. Give me a game! Please?…


Surely I’m not alone! Given that the majority of people on this planet continue to not play videogames. Despite even Nintendo’s recent efforts, there haven’t been very many videogames that appeal to us -or that can deliver on that appeal. And we do want to play.

The games industry seems to have more interest in squeezing yet another triple A action game into that tiny overpopulated market segment and carpet bombing us with advertising so we would pay attention. While at the same time, elsewhere on the market, there is a wide open field of opportunity, filled with people who actually want to play, who don’t need to be marketed to, who must be so desperate by now that they will play anything you throw at them if it’s in the least bit interesting to them.

Easy pickings, I would think. But nobody takes up the challenge. And I remain gameless.

62 thoughts on “Gameless”

  1. I have tried Portal. It was too hard for me.

    It’s ironic that you mention Braid, since that was the game my “colleagues” in the link weren’t “allowed” to play, despite their interest.

    Thanks for the tips, though. But I’m afraid one of the ways in which contemporary videogames exclude people like me is being too difficult. Infinite trial-and-error is just not something that appeals to us.

  2. What would be really awesome is that if they re-released the first Tomb Raider–and do it right this time. Leave the original controls alone, leave the original music alone, allow for the bright colors that were present in the first game, and update the graphics while leaving the original color palette. They should make the graphics so that it can invoke the same feeling the original game invoked (“creeped out,” awe, gratitude, etc.), but more intense. The technology we have today gives developers the ability to evoke more feeling from players. Game developers should use it!

    As far as games that you may enjoy, though, I don’t have anything except Spore, but you’ve already expressed your distaste for it. I agree, in a way–the game doesn’t allow for as much freedom as I would like. I sometimes feel forced into aggressive action. My main reason for continuing to play is to use the creators, and I like the scenery.

  3. World of goo, seconded.
    Even the music alone would make it a winner.
    And the fact it was made by just two guys…

  4. I enjoyed the first Tomb Raider. I had high hopes for the remake. But it turned out to be just one of those games. No soul, no heart, just mechanics.

    I haven’t tried World of Goo. Its aesthetics don’t appeal to me and I tend to dislike things that call themselves “goo”. It looks very much like a typical game though: be ordered what to do, try to do it, fail, be ordered again, do it over and over again and then when you finally succeed you get another order. And none of it ever means anything. But please correct me if my impression is wrong!

  5. I’m thinking that I should start a club. A club for people who want to play but can’t. Because no videogames that exist appeal to them. I would like to find out why that is. What we would like to see. I don’t trust my own judgment. That’s just me. And I’m far too familiar with games culture to have a clear opinion.

  6. I’m greatful for the recommendations. And I will definitely check the games I haven’t yet. But I think I’m not looking for what is considered “a good game”. My problem is that I tend to not like what is called “a good game” these days. So perhaps, recommendations of things that are not considered good games by the “experts” wouold get me further towards playing. Endless Ocean would be a good example here. I did enjoy that for a while.

  7. Hm…I would have said Portal and Braid as well. Failing that have you tried Shadow of the Colossus (since you mentioned liking Ico)? Others I can think of that you might give a go based on what you’ve listed are Persona 3 and maybe the God of War games (which are brutal but also just, plain button-mashing, cathartic fun).

    Others I can think of are Odin Sphere (beautiful, but I found it quite difficult) and GrimGrimoire (also beautiful and I liked the story).

    I know these are old. I haven’t played much recently outside of various MMOs. ^_^; My husband is insanely picky about games and the only ones he’s kept recently are Valkyria Chronicles (interesting design, turn-based strategy) and Korg DS 10 (which is actually a tiny synth, not a game).

  8. I have played Shadow of the Colossus quite a bit. It’s very beautiful. But it ends up being a collection of the gameplay feature that I dislike the most (boss rounds) with as its only narrative having the game designer scold you for what he made you do in the first place (kill big fluffy teddy bears). Very disappointing coming from the creators of a masterpiece like Ico.

    I have tried God of War. It felt like a silly movie with gigantic pause/play buttons in the form of puzzles with perfectly predefined solutions. Maybe if it had had a bit more humor about its over the top hero?

    I’ll have a look at the others that you mentioned. They’re not “good games”, are they?

  9. I just tried the World of Goo demo. It’s exactly what I feared: they tell you what to do and when you fail you have to try again until you succeed and then they tell you what to do next and you fail again, etc. I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to do this to himself. I guess the challenge is too hard to resist for some people.

  10. Anyway, while I would love to get a game recommended that I end up enjoying, that was not the point of my post. The point was that there is an audience out there, with money, time and desire, that the games industry does not cater to. I wonder why. I’m sure they’re not all as fussy as I am. With all its commercial ambitions, is there any reason why the games industry is missing this potentially enormous opportunity?

  11. I suppose world of goo does run on the typical game engine, but its the details that make it so innovative.
    Guess it’s not for everyone, like.
    All in all, there IS a storyline that strings the whole thing together, which is.. pretty unusal.
    It’s quite short and even if you’re not into puzzle games, it’s a complete joy to play.
    I’d recommend you at least TRY it at some point.
    It is very different.

  12. Also, this is not even so much about what I would like to play. But also about what appeals to me, as a consumer. Hardly any games do, in their presentation. That’s problem number one. Problem number two is indeed that if I do get around to playing a game, then the game doesn’t let me play and insists on challenging me. Which simply means that I spend my time doing things wrong. Which I don’t consider a fun use of my time. I understand that some people find this amusing. And that’s fine. But why does the games industry only cater to a market that is cramped with competitive titles already while it ignores the masses of game-starved people?

  13. Tried “Night of the Cephalopods”. Thanks for the suggestion. It’s a game in which you make a little guy shoot floating things with too few bullets at your disposal until you die and the game is over.

  14. By the way, I had heard of almost all the games that have been suggested here. I keep up with the industry. I visit games sites daily, watch countless game videos, look at millions of screenshots. If only it was ignorance that led me to this despair!

  15. The other games I mentioned, being titles out of Japan, are largely ignored by the typical US market. I think they have received some recognition but they aren’t “good” by the standards that make people go nuts over Bioshock/Fallout/Halo/etc. If my meaning makes any sense. I personally found most of the titles I mentioned very entertaining…except for Persona 3 which I wanted to like but was a bit too slow and angsty for me. I appreciated the design however and I think it’s worth suggesting.

    I’m also an atypical gamer (40 year old female) so my game choices are really odd. I love what are probably considered ‘typical’ games for my age/gender like Harvest Moon and Nintendogs….but then I’ll spend hours plinking away at stuff in EVE Online where apparently real girls simply don’t exist. ^o^

  16. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you need to reevaluate this: “And it’s not like I’m growing too old for gaming or something.” I don’t know you at all, but if I had to guess, I’d say you’re no longer willing to spend the time it takes to truly love a game anymore.

    You gave up on Portal and World of Goo because they’re too hard? That makes me really sad. Maybe you’re letting your preconceptions get in the way of a good game?

  17. I have wondered about this as well, Andy. Maybe you’re right. You’re definitely right as it pertains to really old games. It don’t think I would have the patience to play Pac Man, Wolfenstein, Doom or Prince of Persia (2D) anymore. But if Ico or Silent Hill 2 were released today, I’d jump on them! I do feel like an old fart for feeling that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore”. I just don’t see what Portal or World of Goo have to offer that can enrich my life, that is worth the effort of dragging myself through their puzzles.

    And yes, I admit that I don’t like puzzles, or combat, or levelling. And no, there have never been any games without those. But it seems like in the past, some games had something else, something that moved me or enchanted me, something that superseded the annoyance caused by their gameplay. In the best cases, the gameplay was even pleasant, forgiving, amusing (as opposed to demanding, punitive or stalling). Perhaps, technically, this is “bad game design”. But since I am a bad gamer, maybe that’s better for me. 😉

    I’ve also always been attracted to the look of Shin Megami Tensei, Merry. But on closer inspection, the games always seemed so complicated and rigid. I have never had the courage to play one.
    Welcome to the 40 year old gamers club! :)

  18. Maybe you’re letting your preconceptions get in the way of a good game?

    I’m thinking about this.

    I played the first half hour or so of Portal. I had fun. And then I was confronted with a puzzle that I couldn’t solve. This puzzle had like automatic gun turrets, I believe. And I guess I died. I went back to the game a few times in subsequent days. I must have spent over an hour trying to figure out the puzzle. It was not fun. I gave up.

    And tonight with World of Goo, a similar experience. The first thing is easy. And then they tell me to build a bridge. So I do, I succeed but somehow the game says I failed. Something about a number. I got 7 out of 8. And apparently I need to have 8 out of 8 because it didn’t seem like the game was going to let me do anthing else but try again. So I did. With the same result. 7 out of 8. 7 what? 8 what? I don’t know. I did still feel the sensation of challenge, the desire to get it right. But I’ve been burned too many times. So I let go, close the application and drag it to the trash.

    Is it wrong to stop doing something that I’m not enjoying?

  19. “I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to do this to himself.”

    A lot of people enjoy solving puzzles … it is an age-old kind of fun. It can also provide new ways of thinking, new insights about the world. For people who enjoy doing technical work (like programing something new, or proving a theorem), there is the same kind of joy of discovery to that.

    “7 what? 8 what? I don’t know.”

    Blobs of goo. The little animated building blocks.

    “Is it wrong to stop doing something that I’m not enjoying?”

    Of course not. It seems likely that puzzle thinking is just not a kind of thinking that you’re suited for, and that’s going to prevent you from enjoying a lot of these games. Games just tend to attract people who are good at that kind of thinking — after all, it’s what they usually reward. So for a large portion of the audience, the puzzles you’re talking about were not a barrier at all, and the experience was entirely different than yours.

  20. “Which simply means that I spend my time doing things wrong. Which I don’t consider a fun use of my time.”

    By the way, this is an amusing inversion for me, as The Graveyard was a great example for me of a game where I spent a surprising portion of my time doing things “wrong” (according to the design), which is to say I walked off the path, got stuck off camera, then had to puzzle out how to come back, which was quite tedious. And then I walked past the bench, I believe, but it did not really work out (I can’t remember what happens then). And then I walked to the bench, but for quite a bit of time could not figure out how to make my character sit down …

  21. Well, The Graveyard gave you trouble because of mistakes in its design. We didn’t want to hurt the player on purpose -at least not in that way. 😉

    But, this does confirm the point that I’m ultimately trying to make here: that there’s different kinds of people on the planet and that the games industry is only catering to one or two of them. And some of the kinds of people it’s not catering to, really do want to play. Only a different kind of game.

  22. To me it sounds (and i hope i don’t offend, merely and emotionless observation) that you don’t like a game that provides you with a sense of inadequacy because you believe that you are inadequate at something that you see no reason to become adequate at.
    It appears as if you don’t prosper on the stereotypically masculine approach of conquest for the sake of conquest. I like achieving high scores. I enjoy that sense of adequacy and skill that I achieve from getting 400 lines in tetris (though many can do much better, i still feel good about it when i’m alone) or that feeling of dominating another human being in Left 4 Dead, leaping on them as a zombie.
    Most games appeal to a certain Machismo and sense of false adequacy. Most games seek to make you feel cool when you succeed at doing them. It appeals to a lot of people.
    It would appear however, at know fault of your own, that you don’t enjoy being made to feel inadequate especially when you feel that what you are doing has little value unless it’s entertaining. Which, would explain why you don’t enjoy non-user defined goals. Which is probably why you enjoy making games though you don’t enjoy many current games. You enjoy a toolset. You enjoy you feel you’ve accomplished something from a more subjective than objective level. Saying, this game is complete because I believe it so, and it was a success because it did what i wanted and people reacted.
    Strike me if i’m off base :-).

  23. Here’s a thought: maybe you should perceive the games like Portal or World of Goo as if they end when you die.
    The turrets kill you – so that was a story about a girl led into a trap by an artificial intelligence. You shouldn’t retry – it’s the end.

    You got 7 out of 8 – and so the Goos were doomed. The end. The games are short these days.

    Also, did you play Planescape: Torment? There, rebirth after death is integrated into the plotline.

  24. by the way, i just was looking at iFluid, i was considering that. I can’t tell if you die or if it’s too difficult, but it looks interesting. Not even sure what the goal is.

  25. You hit the nail on the head in describing my gameplaying preferences, Ben. In my world, machismo is a pejorative term. 😉

    But I don’t think creating games replaces playing them for me. I’m not so different from most game designers: i try to make for others what others have made for me. Only the things I appreciate in games are apparently different than what most other designers appreciate.
    And if I create games despite of disliking them, it’s only because I see underexplored opportunity.

    In the end, I think it is ony a small aspect of videogames that I dislike. The problem is that it’s exactly the aspect that you have to be good at to make progress in most games. Apart from that, I find a lot of very interesting and enjoyable things in games. And I find it a pity that atmosphere, interactive storytelling, character design, environment design, sound, music, etc, seem to be undervalued in game critique and underappreciated (dare I say underestimated) by most videogame designers.

  26. Also, did you play Planescape: Torment? There, rebirth after death is integrated into the plotline.

    I’m afraid I haven’t. But I enjoyed a similar way of dealing with failure in Grand Theft Auto III: you end up in hospital or in jail and you simply buy your way out. Seriously, shouldn’t the concept of avatar death as a vital part of game structure be completely outdated by now? Or is videogame design simply retro-to-the-core and one of the most conservative ways of using a new medium ever seen in history?

  27. I can understand where you are coming from, Michaël.

    While I did enjoy Shadow of the Colossus a lot, there are very few games that interest me these days.

    When I get into the mood to play a game, more often than not I just fire up Katamari Damacy. I never feel punished when I play it. It’s just a joyful, relaxing experience.

  28. But I enjoyed a similar way of dealing with failure in Grand Theft Auto III: you end up in hospital or in jail and you simply buy your way out.

    There’s more to it in Planescape: Torment. Don’t want to raise your hopes again, but you probably should try it.

  29. Hi Adam, I wish I were as lucky as you. My preference goes towards narrative games. And those are harder to replay.

    As for Katamari, I’m a wimp at that too. I find playing against the clock a total turn-off. And being shot at by your own father just for failing to meet his expectations is not humor that amuses me. I also find the screams of animals and humans as you roll them up rather disturbing.
    But other than that, Katamari Damacy does have a lot to love and I’m definitely looking forward to Keita Takahashi’s new work. I just hope they don’t forget about “tourists” like me and include a mode without time limits.

  30. What about Dead Space? I just sat down with it for the first time yesterday and had a good time with it. I’m finding the atmosphere of the game amazing, particularly in the sound design. It also has a nice feature where if you click the right stick, it illuminates a path to where you should go to complete your next objective. That’s good for me because its no fun getting lost or not knowing where to go. If its difficult for you, play it on easy and just enjoy taking in the horrific sights!

  31. Did I mention that I don’t particularly like running around with a pretend gun in my hand? 😉 Sorry, I don’t like violent games, especially if violence is the only thing they are about.

  32. I wonder if, Michael, you don’t view “dying” as failure. In video games, all the way back since Mario brothers, failure was denoted by dying. In reality, death isn’t a “failure” but simply an end. If i’m not mistaken, it was not your attempt in the Graveyard for the death of the avatar to represent a failure of the player. It simply was another part of the game.
    On another note, dying is indeed part of life, so i think it belongs in video games. Whether or not i think death in video games should emulate “true” death is another matter. To be honest, i’m not really sure. I’ve always thought the concept of a video game, like an action game where you played James Bond or some other “MAN,” where you couldn’t “die” because it isn’t part of the story could actually be fun.
    My supposition is mortality, for some reason, is one of the few themes the genre is stuck in (along with morality). Mortality and morality. Is there nothing more to life?]
    On the other end i also notice that you appear to become annoyed with Games that get you stuck in a ridiculous puzzles. Out of curiosity, how do you feel about crossword puzzles, sudoku, and word searches?

  33. I am not attracted to puzzles of any kind. I do feel their temptation but find them easy to resist because they are often very unimaginative. I do like playing board games with family. But probably more so for the company than anything else.

    I know that death in games is just a state and part of the structure. But my entire point over many many blog posts has been that video games have become something else than just games. That includes the fact that suddenly, video games have become capable of communicating something meaningful. And because they are capable, we quickly assume that they are communicating something. In terms of pure gamplay, nothing could be further from the truth (much like a crossword puzzle generally does not contain any philosophical insights, despite of all the meaningful words in it). But I can understand that to an outsider, video games simply seem like a bunch of murder simulators.

  34. There are plenty of very good games coming around every month…but if you look in the mainstream chances are you´ll never notice.
    Daniel remar makes games on hid spare time and releases for Iji, his latest, you can play as a pacifist and finish the whole game without a single kill. story is pretty good tho he is not much of a writer.
    this is a very fine piece for the price they charge..the story changes depending on what you are doing..all the interactions are mini-games but failure doesnt stop progression.
    Yet to find a a game with such a radical artistic vision like the graveyard. But there are many pearls to be played..

  35. Thank you, Danilo. I’ll definitely have a look at those.
    (In fact I have already played Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble a bit and definitely enjoyed it far more than most). The trouble is that I guess I don’t really like “good games”. It seems like the things that make games “good” for other people often make them bad for me. :_(
    And I find a lot to be liked in the mainstream, actually. I’d love to play a blockbuster game. It’s just such a pity that their gameplay is often designed for a hardcore niche (all but “mainstream”, I might add).

  36. Iji is definitely a challenge-based game. I haven’t played the estamos one yet.

    Most games I can think of that I’ve played recently and could say are not really challenged-based would be very small game-making competition entries like The Lake, Rara Racer, Lucid State Dreaming, the not-quite-yet-finished Pathways, and a few more. Beyond that, some of Daniel Benmergui work like “I wish I were the moon” is pretty close to saying “just do whatever is interesting to you,” although that one can be a challenge if you want to find all the endings.

    Here are links for the games I mentioned above:
    The Lake:
    Rara Racer: (ok, there is some challenge to this one, but it’s not at all important to succeed)
    Lucid State Dreaming:
    Pathways (demo):
    I wish I were the moon:

  37. Oh wait, the pathways demo is gone. For the record it was a very simple choose-your-adventure-style experience where there were no wrong choices per-se, just different stories told.

  38. I had played “I wish I were the moon”. It’s cute.
    I do appreciate the experiments of the indie game scene but I’m afraid I’m also very much in love with how immersive and beautiful virtual worlds can be. And the retro (or downright ugly) look of many indie games can usually not charm me much. It’s almost like the big pixels put up a barrier that is equally hard to overcome for me as stale, formulaic challenge-for-the-sake-of-challenge gameplay. I have aesthetic objections.

    I’m afraid I’m starting to sound like a stubborn little princess who cannot be pleased by anything. “I want a pony!”

    But thank you for the tips. I will have a look at those games.

  39. Ah, that would be a problem with everything I linked, then. They’re also often more kernels of an idea than complete experiences, and they wouldn’t help your schedule much, because playing all the ones I linked probably wouldn’t take up more than an hour of your time. So, no, they’re not solutions to your dilemma.

    I’ll keep an eye out, though :)

    Oh, and I didn’t mention it because I know you know about it, but what about thatgamecompany? Did flOw’s Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment work for you?

  40. Black & White was actually published 7 years ago. And was in my opinion one of the best games ever made. Highly underestimated. Even by its own designer who practically apologized for the game, probably under pressure of the legions of “internet experts” who disapprove of this game.

  41. I can definitely empathize with the frustration with gaming’s insistence on challenge-based play; while I haven’t run into the “no games to play” problem, that’s more because I’m rather forgiving of challenge than because I actually enjoy it. Running into a brick wall when I just want to see the next part of the story is never fun.

    One suggestion I might make, if you have a DS, is The World Ends With You. It’s a fairly unconventional RPG that allows you to set the difficulty to a large degree, since both HP and damage dealt can be scaled, and it has the quite useful addition of a “retry on easy mode” button if you get a game over. It can feel intimidating at first due to the large number of subsystems introduced in rapid succession, but it’s perfectly willing to let you finish without using the majority of them, unless you choose to make things harder for yourself than need be.

  42. I wish I could play Ico. It sounds like a game that I would really like… Same with Okami.

    Might I suggest Aquaria?
    I’ve bought it just recently and it is beautifully done, with plenty of exploration and quite a lot of choice in what to do; it doesn’t feel forced to me at all. I’m glad I got it.
    (People are saying it’s like Ecco the Dolphin but personally I think it’s very different…)
    (Also, some parts of the game might make you feel… a bit lost in what to do next, I guess. But I think that even adds to it, in a way.)

  43. Ok, old post, but did you manage to play Noby Noby Boy and/or Fl0wer in between the no-doubt chaos of finishing The Path?

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