Rob (robyrt) wrote in dreamermaxi,

Competitive Single-Player

Last semester I played a lot of God of War. Slowly, I drew in my roommate, my suitemate, visiting prospective students - pretty much every college male who watched me play eventually asked to play it themselves. The game has a visceral impact, I think because of several factors:
    • Hypermasculinity - the game is so over-the-top with violence and its overwrought epic pseudo-Greek plot that it doesn't become disgusting or lame, but instead makes you believe in it. The earnestness with which our hero follows brute rage (and later, guilt for said rage) makes him a believable antihero. The endless, frenetic but very assailable violence does something deep in the masculine brain stem that makes it loads of fun to watch, and from there eventually fun to play.
    • Prettiness - serious gamers will deride graphics and sound, but they make a game so much more fun, and God of War is one of the best-looking, best-composed games available for the PS2. In particular, the animations for the hero Kratos are just cartoony enough so that you don't wince every time he slices someone in half, but just realistic and smooth enough to break the cognitive barrier and make you feel that you're really controlling him - they've found the sweet spot for a stereotypical hack-and-slash game.

    • Pacing / Learning Curve - the game has several difficulty levels, and it borrows several pages from Prince of Persia's "make it easy once you learn all the moves" sensibility, while offering a harder game for a second playthrough. It simultaneously teaches you about your many moves and powers in a much more friendly and exciting manner than Prince of Persia, which basically drops you into the real game with a couple tooltips. My roommate is a PC gamer, so it took him maybe an hour to get used to the PS2 controller, let alone start playing the game on easy mode, but by hour 8, he was interested in the story, able to solve complex puzzles, and looking forward to major game events.

    The same sort of thing seems to be happening with Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, except with a quite different set of people. My girlfriend Cecilia actually asked for it - she'd remembered playing Street Fighter and liked the 3-button controls of earlier Virtua Fighter games - and until this Wednesday, she'd played about as much of the game as I had, despite not actually living here. That's serious dedication, folks. So why?
    • RPG-esque personal involvement - the game tracks your progress in minute detail, and regularly rewards you with a series of possible things to do at different semi-random frequencies: move up in rank, win prize money, complete side challenges, and play dress-up with your characters. Each character has a different and mostly fun personality, because VF really fleshes out their characters, and the ability to customize their looks to an ever-increasing degree means you'll keep coming back to play virtual dolls. The Sims is a virtual dollhouse; VF4 (and to a much lesser extent, Tekken 5 and Soul Calibur 3) is a single virtual doll, like a collaboration between yourself and a graphic designer on a D&D character.)

    • Difficulty and pacing - This comes in again as a key factor. The beginner mode in Quest let both me and Cecilia have way more fun - Cecilia is relatively successful and she only knows a half-dozen moves, while I've conquered the game with my famous lack of manual dexterity for VF's punishing desire for quick button presses. The "pacing" of facing increasingly difficult and more human-like AI opponents, often with absolutely hilarious outfits, plus the complex reward system that means you're never sure what you'll have a chance to earn next, makes playing a million 3-minute rounds of a fighting game a much more appealing proposition.

    I'm not sure what it says about me that I can just as easily get into a game of dress-up with kicks to the groin as a game of swords and sorcery with a control scheme you couldn't ask to be easier, but there you have it. One game that guys around me love, one that girls around me love. What more could I ask for?
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