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Stories, challenges, and chainsaws; Why do we play video games?

Hello childhood.

Chuck E Cheese.  Remember that place?  I do.  I don’t remember it for the pizza, which I’m a bit hazy on but I think could mostly be described as “bad”.  I don’t remember it for the giant mechanical animals that played canned songs about how awesome Chuck E Cheese was.  I dug those guys, but they were a distraction from the REAL reason to go to Chuck E Cheese.  That reason was Metal Hawk.  The premise was simple:  you are a helicopter with guns and bombs and there is some sort of evil military force trying to kill you.  So blow them up.  I poured quarters (or tokens I think, what’s up with Chuck E Cheese proprietary currency, whatever) into that thing every time I was there.  I never finished it, but that didn’t stop me.  It was one of the first games I remember that truly left an impression on me.  As a seven-year old, that impression was pretty basic;  I liked the fact I had a flight stick and there was lots of things that blew up.  As I’m now an adult, is that enough anymore?  I’m a huge gamer….what’s the draw?  Why do we play?

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Dollars and Sense

This is the moment I realized I had played this before.

I thought Fallout 3 was a great game.  I played it for sixty something hours.  I played the main quest through in its entirety.  I spent hours just roaming the countryside looking for interesting things, of which there were many.  I used internet faqs and YouTube videos to find the bobble head dolls so I could get an achievement.  So naturally, when Fallout:  New Vegas was announced, I was psyched.  New adventurers to be had in the fallout universe?  In Las Vegas?  Sign me up!  It was a release day purchase for me.  I played New Vegas a little over an hour on that first night…..and haven’t touched it again since.  So what happened?  I realized something when I turned on the game for the first time and got to the main menu.  The menu was the EXACT same one as Fallout 3.  I was about to play the same game.  The characters were different, the story was different,  I’m not saying there were no changes.  I just realized while staring at the main menu that while I had enjoyed playing Fallout 3 I just wasn’t interested in playing more of the same.  Now this isn’t true for every series.  I’ve played all the Call of Duty’s, all the Assassin’s Creed games, both Bioshocks, both Gears of War, Halo 3 and Halo Reach.  I am not championing myself as too cool for sequels.  They have their place.  I’m just growing concerned that developers might be cashing in, literally most of the time, on brand names at an amazingly high rate recently.  I’m growing even MORE concerned that we, as gamers, only have ourselves to blame.

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The blog has been stolen by ninjas

Video games have come a long way in terms of story over the past three decades.  Back in the days when 8 bit was the new 4 bit and you had to use your imagination to fill in the gaps between those pixels, the only plot you really needed was “you’re a good guy.  Everyone else is bad.  Kill kill kill.”

Today you have games with writers, real honest-to-god screen writers coming up with dialogue and plot twists, almost like video games are becoming a form of art.  (Eat it Ebert)  Games are now produced with a budget big enough to rival today’s blockbuster movies, and even in the goriest hack-n-slash game, you can find something unexpected.  Still, games can present a unique challenge to writers, since there are certain elements that absolutely need to be in each game.

There needs to be action.  There needs to be a lot of action and combat and Madden football and poker, or, I dunno, random white rhinos charging Cabella or something.  Therefore, most action and adventure games seem to fall into one of four generic game molds, with their story crafted around a simple premise you might find in an old school NES game.

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