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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Who, How, What, Where, When and sometimes Why?

So I was sitting here wondering what to write about, since I have a moment to write something, and I decided: Oh, what the heck, let’s write about video games again.

Because that’ll never get old.

Today I thought I’d write about what I look for in a game. The short answer is: I want to blow stuff up for points. But that’s a little glib, and in spite of some very good advice I received from people I duped into reading this blog, I want to write more than that.

Besides that, it misses some points that I want to get out there, because I know I can’t be the only one who found Half Life 2: Episode 1 boring and frustrating in equal measures. I’ve since finished it, and as of this writing I am halfway through Episode 2, which I am enjoying much more than Episode 1. That discrepancy made me ponder games in general and how I interact with them. Furthermore, it gave me a really cool idea for another “TAXONOMY OF GAMERS” type article that are typically written either by people who think WASD is an acronym (Hint: It stands for Why Are you Scribing Dreck?) or by someone who is tired of the old “Hardcore” versus “Casual” dichotomy. Since I am neither of those things, I thought I’d try injecting some new blood into an old meme. Next week I’ll explore Rick Rolling.

Basically, my thoughts are this: There are six different kinds of gamers, and they each correlate to the six questions they claim to teach journalism students.

Who? The Who gamer is not a fan of modern pop music, and instead prefers rock operas about handicapped people who are really good at pinball.

Well, no. A Who-type gamer is the sort of gamer who is very into character development. “Who am I?” they ask of the game. To the Who-type gamer, the real draw of the game is being someone interesting while in game.

There are variants within this faction. Some Who-types prefer a highly defined, developed character. Others prefer the blank-slate avatar onto which they can be whoever they want to be. In this regard, the Who gamer can enjoy either a game like Dragon Age or a game like Fallout 3. It doesn’t really matter, since we’re not defining games as being “who-games,” but are rather defining gamers by motivations.

Who-types are also big on MMORPGs, for reasons that should be obvious. It’s not that they’re self-centered; it’s just that they are most interested in making an interesting character for themselves in the game world.

What? The What gamer is all about action. “What am I doing?” is the defining question of this type. This gamer is largely unconcerned with plot or character motivations. He (or she) just wants to jump in and start making things happen.

Games appealing to the What-type gamer involve beat-em-ups, shoot-em-ups, fighters, and first-person shooters that don’t involve a lot of gratuitous puzzle solving. The What-gamer is visceral, and doesn’t want to pause the action so he can figure out how a cantilever works.

No, we’re not talking about you, Half-Life 2 episode 1. Perish the thought.

If you’ve ever gotten frustrated at an FPS because you had to find a key on the other side of a level, or because you couldn’t figure out where you were supposed to go next, then you’re probably a What-type.

Where? A Where gamer comes into being by getting bitten by another where gamer, or by pissing of an old gypsy lady.


Actually, the where gamer is all about exploration. Figuring out where to go, or just wandering around the world to find interesting things and places is this gamer-type’s chief motivator. The where gamer is big on TACOs (Totally Arbitrary Collectible Objects, a term coined in Anachronox that I have adopted in the hopes that it catches on) which are hidden cleverly and diabolically throughout a game environment.

You’ll never hear a Where-type gamer complain about the lack of a breadcrumb trail. The Where-type likes figuring out where he’s supposed to go next… within reason. At some point a game stops focusing on exploring the environment and just becomes poorly designed.

When? “Are we there yet?” asks the gamer type who is all about speed. The When-type gamer is big into racing games, timed challenges, speed runs and pretty much anything involving a stopwatch.

The guys you see posting youtube videos in which they beat Super Mario Brothers in four minutes are When-type gamers. I admire their borderline obsession with shaving milliseconds off of corners, but have never been able to master it.

Why? “Why am I doing this?” asks the Why-type, also known as the method-gamer by nobody but me because I just made that term up. Story is very important to the Why gamer, to the point where he’ll play something with mediocre gameplay just to get the story. Gamers who played Brutal Legend to completion are probably Why-types.

Interestingly, “why” is also the question non-why-types will ask why-types when they talk about finishing the latest Final Fantasy game. (If that doesn’t generate hate mail, I’ll try insulting Twilight fans. My device for ruling the world runs on Emo rage.)

How? (Offensive reference to aboriginal American greeting contemplated, but thought the better of) “How am I supposed to do that?” asks the gamer who loves puzzles. This gamer-type doesn’t need fancy graphics, or complicated stories, or even weapons. The How-type gamer only needs a simple mechanic or two, and a developer with a sadistic streak to make the mechanic interesting.

Gamers who like Portal, Crush and Tetris are of the How type.

RTS gamers fall into this category as well, since the RTS genre is basically a very complicated puzzle revolving around the mechanics of proper resource utilization.

Of course, nobody is going to fit neatly into one category, but just about everyone will be mostly one and occasionally none of the others.

For example, I am mostly a What-type gamer, with very little Where, When or How and virtually no When. Who and Why are interesting to me, but not obligatory. I’d much rather be blowing stuff up for an interesting reason than wandering around a world carefully constructed to be hard to navigate, or that obscures my objectives so I can’t find them.

Basically, my ideal game is Berzerk! on the Atari 2600. Everything else, with the possible exception of Contra, has been downhill but with prettier graphics.