Friday, December 14, 2007

"What's Your Favorite Game?"

Ahhh the holiday season. A time of cocktail parties, and festive events trapped making small talk with people I've never met. To the people I meet at this time, I'm either some kind of curiosity, or an untapped information resource they were previously unaware of. "So, Andrea tells me you have something to do with videogames?" the conversation usually begins. "What do you do?" After telling them that I make a website aimed at parents, the initial frosty reception tends to warm up a bit (as this proves I'm somehow not the embodiment of the devil, trying to peddle evil wares to their poor, unsuspecting children) and start asking the usual questions: "Can you get me a Wii?" (no) or "What are you playing right now?" or "Can you get me a Wii?" (I said, NO.) The one that always stumps me though, is "What's your favorite videogame?"

You'd think such a simple question would be easy to answer. Everyone's used to "What's your favorite movie?" or "What's your favorite band?" (come to think of it, I think I'd struggle with those, too) but answering the favorite game question seems so much harder, because invariably the inquisitor doesn't have a fucking clue about the subject in the first place, so there's a 99.9% chance of them just looking blankly at me, regardless of what I answer.

Flicking though a copy of Esquire on a recent flight, I spotted an editorial by Chuck Klosterman called Me, On Shuffle in which he attempted to tackle the issue of favorite music. Rather than name an individual band, he highlighted different passages of music that he loves, and attempted to extrapolate some indication of his taste based on Mick Mars' sleazy guitar lick on Motley Crue’s “Ten Seconds to Love,” and, say, Karen Carpenter's repetition of the word "Baby" at the end of "Superstar."

This struck me as a great way to tackle the issue of "favorite game" and I promptly hatched a plan to shamelessly rip-off his concept, and apply it to 20 years of games playing.

So, in no particular order (and by no means complete - I may come back to this) here's a bunch of examples from which to judge what I really like about videogames. Some of them are specific moments, and some of them are broader examples of pitiful nostalgia, I guess:

- The way that the Assassin's Guild sidequest in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion felt like it's own complete game, and where being a "bad guy" was so well integrated into the storyline that the change in behavior it demanded was utterly seamless. Few games outside of this or maybe Knights of the Old Republic have made being a sleazy, no-good bad guy feel so natural. Er, or maybe that's just a scary insight into my own personality.

- Oh god, this one makes me feel old. Playing Star Raiders on the Atari 400 for hours upon hours and believing it was a glimpse of the future. Seeing it now, it looks like a simple, herky-jerky Lego fight...but at the time, it was like playing Star Wars, or something.

- Solving the "Thor's Hammer" puzzle in the original Tomb Raider with a group of people in the room. It was a truly collaborative experience, and the satisfaction came as much from the camaraderie as the gameplay. In retrospect it was probably just a lame lever puzzle, but it's part in the greater St. Franics' Folly portion of Tomb Raider seems to have stuck in my head for some reason.

- Feeling like a superhero while jumping over buildings, and mindlessly beating the crap out of anything and everything in Crackdown. No one's come close to creating that kind of feeling of power ever before.

- The sense of smug satisfaction from getting a gold medal in any of the crash modes in Burnout Revenge. Come to think of it, just about everything in Burnout Revenge.

- Playing Madden NFL 08 on the Wii with my son, and seeing how happy it makes him.

- That bit at the end of Halo: Combat Evolved when you're driving as fast as you can through the tunnel, while all hell breaks loose around you. I was utterly crap at it, and died over and over and over...but it was just so well scripted, and so exciting.

- The first time you take on a Star Destroyer in LucasArts' X-Wing because it was one of those jaw-on-the-floor moments where a game served up something with a real sense of scale.

- Letting the Tetris blocks get all the way to the top, and somehow managing to bounce back so well that you clear the entire screen. The sense of achievement (and relief) is wonderful.

- Unleashing a relentless, and well-timed series of attacks with Mitsurugi in Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast and beating my opponent with a rare (for me, because I suck) "perfect" result. It was the most believable sense of fighting with a sword I ever remember in a videogame. The sequels have all been good, but nothing will top the excitement of playing this one.

- Leaving Los Santos in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and getting a sense of the scale of the game for the first time.

- Hearing the funked-up version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor from the original Gyruss arcade machine (the first machine with stereo sound.) That, and successfully shooting every alien in a wave. My first memory of learning the patterns in shooters.

- The way the original WipeOut made me feel like I was playing a game from the future. It was the embodiment of everything the original PlayStation stood for. Hi-tech, hip, fucking pretentious techno nightclub gaming. Every time I hear the opening riff of The Chemical Brothers' "Chemical Beats", I think of 1995, and the sense of awe I got from both the game, and the machine.

So based on all of this ponderous bullshit, it seems I like futuristic, sci-fi, bad boy violence, where size matters, and there's some good music. Oh god, I'm such a cliche.