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"Four decorative torch holders hang on the walls above a large, circular pit. Each one holds a different number of lit torches. I sense a puzzle! Or else Ganondorf has no concept of symmetry. Just in case we didn't notice this discrepancy, the camera zooms way in on each of the sconces in order of flame numbers. Subtly panning around the room is for amateurs, apparently."
     -Jeanne, Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker Part 12




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10.16.02 :: Why we play games

The opinions in this letters column aren't necessarily those of Jeanne Rubbo, owner of videogamerecaps.com. Even so, Jeanne owns *us* and has locked us in a dark closet with Tidus and Rinoa until we think of something funny. HELP! In the meantime, send in your comments, queries, whining, flames, spam, opinions, facts, opinions that you think are facts, and general idiocy to mailbag@videogamerecaps.com

Welcome to this week's mailbag. Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, because we received a nice bounty of good letters this week. Today's episode explores gamers' reasons for letting their lives be sucked away by videogames. What is it that brought us into this maligned hobby? While the specific reasons and stories varied, it turns out we all basically enjoy the same things about gaming, as you'll see by the end. We'd call today's column a videogame bonding session, but that seems weird, creepy, and not-so-vaguely fanboyish. So just read the damn thing, will you?

Growing up gaming
What more needs to be said? Take a run through your cable TV guide. You got your choice of movies you didn?t pay to go see in the theater or have already seen 24 times before on video, flamingly gay fellows teaching you interior decoration and sponge painting (I almost wrote "bathing"....eeek!) Shopping channels offering all sorts of expensive crap you would never buy in the first place, Oldie Moldie movies from the '30s and '40s that nobody watched even when they were new and the exact same "infomercial" on twelve channels at once trying to sell you the "Buttguster" or some other brand new piece of physical fitness equipment that doesn?t work. So what ELSE are you going to do with your TV other than use it as a perch for the cats?

Actually, our family grew up gaming - board games every weekend, etc. But as we all grew older and developed our own interests, these sessions grew less frequent. Once friends and family members got married and had kids, there was hardly any time to get together to play games. Then I discovered video games. First Pong, then the Fairchild game system, then Atari, then the SNES and on to the Playstation. I played sports games (who can forget bowling on the old Fairchild - please kill me now), simulations (I loved being able to lose the game and have the world blown up into a radioactive skull and crossbones) and platformers, but I didn?t really get hooked in games until the first RPGs became available. Suddenly, here was a whole "world" to explore, an adventure to experience, characters to enjoy, and you didn?t have to pull teeth to try to get a gang together to play the game. I have a whole closet full of cool board games that haven?t been out of the box in years.

That said, I have a long shelf of unfinished RPGs - most of which either annoyed me at some point, or else I lost interest in, or something better came along and interrupted me. I don?t have game wall posters or action figures. I don?t dress up as Princess Mint and play with my wand in public....(ewwwwww, let?s not even go there...) I don?t sign my emails with anime/vidiot character names and pix. It?s a hobby for when there is too much snow on the ground to get out hiking or when I don?t feel like painting or drawing. I got into the hobby when it was young and managed to keep it in perspective, not making it a ?way of life?... I don?t have a network adaptor (Online gaming.....yawn......like at my age I?ve got a lot of extra hours to waste) but I adored RPGMaker and being able to write my own RPGs. And I was glad to have the Playstation at hand when I was recovering from surgery and wasn?t able to get around for a month or so. Until somebody wants to dust of a board game, I guess I?ll still be playing my RPGs. The bottom line is that it is Instant Fun (just add water)!

CS,

So what exactly are you saying about those of us who for some reason or another have chosen to name our online selves after a video game/anime character, hmm? *glares*

Moving on -- Your indoctrination into gaming is very similar to many people?s, especially "older" gamers. Many of my friends reminisce fondly to the days of the original Pong system, not the console, but the little box you hooked up to your television and played using the dial "paddles". As I recall it, the Pong console system and the Atari seemed to hit this end of the country very close together, so I never had any exposure to the Fairchild system. I do find it ironic for someone who seems to hate sports games as much as you do that you look back fondly to a game of bowling on a game system. Like you, I remember the feeling of "playing" my first RPG-style game, the very first Zelda. (My boyfriend played, I watched, since "You would only mess me up, honey.") I wouldn?t call it a religious experience, since I don?t tend to take games as seriously as all that, but it was a turning point, that?s for sure. The next RPG I remember was the first Final Fantasy released for the SNES, since it coincided with the release of Super Metroid. Since HG was still the main gamer in the house at that time, it was Super Metroid that won the day, no matter how much he liked RPGs. Not that I minded. Super Metriod is still one of my all-time favorite games to this day. But I digress. While I don?t share your rather dismal view of television (thank Yevon for the History Channel and the BBC), I will say that gaming is of great solace when for whatever reason or another, you can?t find anything else to do. Many an afternoon has been whiled away in the AG/HG household with a bowl of cheese dip in one hand and a controller in the other.

-AG

I really don't think you want to "just add water" to your videogames, CS. Consoles don't like getting wet. I could use that last sentence as a springboard into much worse innuendo, but I don't think I will. You readers have good enough imaginations where I don't need to come out and say it.

Anyway, I can't share the enthusiasm for Pong, as it was before my time, but my earliest gaming memories are of playing Pitfall, Frogger and QBert on Mommy's Atari. Mommy has since decided videogames are "for kids," even though I'm younger now (21) than she was when she was playing them (24 or 25). What is it about parents being hypocrites?

-LC

Hot, busty....14 year olds?
Well, last week?s column was a bit of an eye-opener for me. It made me actually stop and think about why I was a fanboy. The world despises people like us, we don?t get laid as often as we?d like, and we waste our savings on our obsessions. So what?s in it for us? I couldn?t answer myself...

But I?m going to derail that train of thought right now, lest I become archetyped as Fanboy Type #2 (courtesy ElMundo?s listings).

I?ll just speak as a fanboy who, while having no delusions about being better than anyone else, actually knows the basics of personal hygiene and manners.

Do I tell people about what I like? Yup. Do I go on and on about it? Nope. I remember telling some old friends about my current anime and video game obsession, and when they didn?t seem interested, I had the common sense to move on to another subject.

Do I staunchly defend what I like? Hell no. Because I?ve learned through experience that arguing about a series? good points won?t make the other person suddenly like it. I can?t control what people like and dislike, so there?s no point to defending something that doesn?t need it.

And I especially need to mention that while it?s popular to point out how fanboys like myself drool over girls that show even a little interest in what we like (in my case, anime and/or video games), I find that to be pretty pathetic. I have no delusions that just because a common interest is had, that she?ll go out with me. Or maybe I just know to keep my mouth shut so as not to embarrass myself or her.

And on the subject of delusions, I know for a fact that there are people-no, fan-people out there that know much more than I do about anime. I would never try to impress someone with my meager knowledge of it.

And finally, I do parade around in anime/video game t-shirts, but that?s because I just like being different from everyone else, and maybe turning a few heads that wanna see the hot, busty 14-year-old Evangelion girls on my shirt.

Alrighty, there?s my fanboy POV, and if this sounded self-important or pretentious in any way, I apologize. Now if you?ll excuse me, I have to update my E/N site about my Belldandy keychain and how only it understands my real feelings.

SO LONELY.

~Alex Magusaka

Alex, you've made me very sad. You had to bring up the desire to be "different." Let me ask you this: how different are you, just because you're wearing an Evangelion shirt? Not only is that a pretty superficial way to distinguish yourself from the ignorant, non-anime fan masses (it pained me to type that, and it should pain all of you to read it), but you're really NOT that different at all. Not when you stop to consider the THOUSANDS of other fanboys who do the exact same thing. It's that crying for fanboy attention again. Like the people who feel compelled to wear nothing but t-shirts that have the name of a band printed on them, you're making a statement every time you put on that Evangelion shirt: "Look, everyone! I like something you know nothing about! LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!" And also, as AG will address shortly, "Don't you ladies wish you had perky boobs, twiggy legs and pale blue hair? If not, I sure wish you did!"

That all sounded pretty harsh, so let me clarify: I have no objection to wearing anime shirts or sporting anime keychains or whatever it is you kids do. I wouldn't have Trigun keychains on my backpack, purse, lunchbox and (of course) keys if I had a problem with that sort of thing. What bothers me is the insistence that this makes some kind of statement. I don't have Nicholas on my keys to show the universe how much of an anime fan I am. I don't wear anime t-shirts and pretend that makes me unique or different. I do those things because I like to. I think Milly looks cute hanging from my backpack. Period.

-LC

Alex, Alex, Alex, you almost had me, right up to the point you mentioned the "hot, busty 14-year-olds." Here?s a bit of advice, youngling. If you want the anime/video game loving girls to go out with you, if you want to stop confessing your feelings to a keychain then the first step is to stop treating said girls like they *are* the girls in your favorite anime or game. Because, let?s face it, those girls just don?t exist. Anywhere. Also, and I know this is a given, but whining about "not getting laid" doesn?t make a woman instinctively want to fix that problem for you.

Now I know it seems like Auntie AG is trying to tear your little world apart. That?s not quite true. While you seem to be a nice boy with a good head on your shoulders, I still see some fanboy posturing in your letter. Trust me, you?re far and away better than many of your race that I?ve had the misfortune of meeting. Feel honored, huh? Now go out there and teach the rest of your clan some manners, some humility, and some perspective (yes, it?s true, not everyone worships at the Church of Gaming). And don?t forget to tell them about the Wonders of Showering?. Now, go put on another t-shirt.

-AG

Power-gaming of the young
Hello all you cats and kittens out there in listen land. Let?s turn the clock back 11 years ago. I was in sixth grade. I had just recently recieved my shiny new Super Nintendo Entertainment system. A few months later, out comes Final Fantasy 2. (The first person to say "BUT ITS FINAL FANTASY 4" will get a good old fashioned hippy @$$ whomping.) My parents, however, were unwilling to cooperate and buy me a $60-$70 video game just because I wanted it.

I could still rent it, though.

This was back in the day when videogame rentals were only 2-3 days long, so a Friday night rental preceded a weekend?s worth of nonstop power-gaming, with breaks for the bathroom and sleeping (give me a break, I was 11). Unable to complete the game the first time I did this, I had to try again. Of course, before the advent of memory cards, I had to start a new game with each rental. This experience was my first introduction to power-gaming. For the rest of my life, whenever I play a game, it has to be finished as soon as possible, for deep inside I am forever dreading that Monday morning when the game has to be taken back to the store.

Love,

Elmundo
Chosen Prophet of the Holy Order of the Lemming

PS: Everyone is crazy but me.

Of course we are, Your Ermineness. Now someone please come in here and tell the voices in my head to SHUT UP!!

*Ahem*

Ah, power-gaming. You bring back such fond memories. For me at that age it was all night Atari/Intellivision sessions with my four cousins who lived up the road from me. We would all pool our games and I would stay with them for the weekend. So Friday and Saturday nights were filled with countless high score contests, squabbles over the controllers and the ever present Iron Man of games, ?How long can you play on just one life?? Happy days, those were. Like you, I like to finish my RPG?s fairly quickly the first time through. Not for fear of a late rental charge, but just because I want to advance the story. Only once did I ever stall for time on an RPG the first time out, completing all the side-quests, etc. before going on. And if you can?t guess the RPG, then I ain?t telling.

-AG

With my current backlog of videogames (which totals to an obscenely high number of titles) you'd think I'd be constantly power-gaming these days, like I, too, did in my youth. Not with RPGs, but still. Alas, my gaming sloth is showing clearly at the moment. Maybe it's because I have hated and always will hate disc 3 of Final Fantasy VIII. Maybe it's because I'm really goddamn tired of Sora making a royal ass out of himself, even upstaging his fellow party member, fiction's biggest asshole, Donald Duck.

No, it's none of those things. I just have more important things to do (most of the time). Essentially, that's where I come down on the "Why do we play games?" issue. I play them out of boredom. If I'm not bored, I'm probably not playing. Of course, I love games, and I like to think of them as higher on my list of priorities than in between "watching football" and "sleeping." Sadly, that's about where they fall. But I know they'll always be there for me on Saturday afternoons, during the Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and of course, when I stay home "sick" from school.

-LC

The Two Tiduses
G?day there, mates.

You wish to know what keeps me playing? It?s a long answer. Mostly it boils down to whether the game is good enough to warrant my carrying on. There are things, however, which keep me (and others, probably) from enjoying certain games, thus preventing me from giving them more than a second glance.

First, we have the games in which the action moves at a crawl. Now don?t get me wrong; I?m aware that there are parts where things need to slow down a bit (particularly at puzzles), but one has to draw the line when RPG battles start getting slow because of attack animations (as opposed to, say, needing to think about the best course of action), or when everything suddenly slows down in action games due to an excess of characters on screen (a problem more frequent on the Days of Yore, but I digress).

Next, there?s the potential for tediousness. All games have it, and all walk a fine line on their attempt to fail it. Yet there are those for whom... IT IS TOO LATE. How many gave up on Star Ocean 2? Or on Final Fantasy VIII, sometime after Disk 2? Repetition can lead to stagnation. Repetition CAN lead to stagnation. Repetition... hey, where are you going?

Finally, to answer your other question (how someone could stand roleplaying the Mighty Wanker for 40+ hours), in my mind there are two Tiduses: there?s the twit voiced by JAT who wanks his way through cutscenes, FMVs and battles, and then there?s the nameless cypher who runs all over Spira.

~Quartz Falcon

I believe this is nearly common knowledge by now among the VGR regulars, but the fine line QF mentioned regarding FFVIII is not at all fine for me. In concrete terms, it's a giant brick wall. It's like the designers just gave up on the game completely at the end of disc 2. Unfortunately, so did many gamers, myself included. I'm still hoping that one day I'll be feeling masochistic enough to play through the adventures of Squall the Butt-Pirate until the very end, but I've seen the ending FMV, and it just doesn't seem worth all that pain to see Squall smile like a fucking out-of-character dork at this girl he has no sexual desire for.

Your point on animations is very well taken, too. Even though you can (sort of) shortcut it, the Ark summon in FFIX nearly killed me. It's. Just. Too. Long. Three separate times while viewing this animation, I thought it was over, just to see MORE crap on the screen. The "short" version was nearly two minutes long! Stuff of nightmares.

-LC

QF,

In my household, the Dual Tiduses are the Wanker King and the Nameless Cypher who Humps Everything in Sight? (courtesy of HG and his sick, sick mind). Once again, you have brought up a good point, namely the repetition inherent in games. After all, how many of us haven?t been up past our bedtimes, trying like anything to get to the next save point only to run into The Land Of Random Battles?? Or screamed as the big bad mega boss morphed into yet ANOTHER high hit point bearing uber-form? It?s sometimes astounding to me that the game designers have yet to give up on that age-old tedium chaser, the mini-game. As LC so eloquently said in her open letter to Square, (and if you haven?t read it, go now or forever face the Wrath of AG), the mini-games themselves are often just as coronary-inducing as the game itself. Who wants to spend three hours trying to null out a chocobo race-time only to get the ultimate weapon for Wanky McWankerson, Jr.? He?s not even going into the next-to final fights, unless you?re like me and you want him to suffer the pains of the damned. I?ll admit I even use Phoenix Down on his butt, just to watch him fall again. Or, as in Chrono Cross, spend your time feeding the bitchy horsey-faced dragons, just to get armor and weapons you won?t need in the next five minutes ?cause you?ve found better stuff in a battle? There must be some primo stuff in the game designer?s bongs these days to thing that such things add pleasure to the game.

-AG

A simple fangirlish list
Why do I play games? So, so many reasons, and luckily none of them are "because my life sucks and games are the only things that make my life worth living" or "because they give me religious experiences." So here they are, in no particular order:

1) Story--I love a good story, and that?s why I?m hooked on RPGs. Interactive movies? Bring ?em on.
2) Atmosphere--The reason I can play ICO over and over and over, despite the puzzles never changing, and despite the very simple gameplay. Also see: Fatal Frame.
3) Recaps--I love me some recapping. I?m always playing games with VGR in mind.
4) Exercise--DDR. Need I say more? Hey, stop laughing. (I can guarantee you?d laugh a lot harder if you actually saw me DDRing.)
5) Cosplay--Yes, I enjoy making costumes and dressing up as video game characters. Playing through the games helps me see how the costumes are put together.
6) Fun--Games are just fun. It?s as simple as that.

So there you go. I?m sure there are at least a couple in there that most people would consider fangirlish and dorky. Oh well. ;)

Jeanne

Jeanne,

What more is there to say? I share your reasons, with the exceptions of #3 and #5, and that?s only because I?ve never cosplayed (yet) and because in my case, rather than recap the game, I MSTy like crazy. It?s not a good night of gaming if you can?t rip on the main character or the dialogue at least once.

-AG

It's okay to sound dorky (and fangirlish, in moderate doses, don't worry). Maybe not all gamers are fanboys/girls, but one thing we all are is NERDY. It's an unavoidable fact. Even the people I know who only casually play THPS and NFL2K (great games that need not be bashed by "true" gamers, okay?) have at least a little bit of geek in them. There's just something inherently nerdy about sitting in front of the TV and making the characters on the screen move with your controller. But since that means there are MILLIONS of nerds out there, it's no cause for concern.

You hit the nail on the head with #6. Games are fun. I don't care how much anyone goes off on games as art, games as religion (*guffaw*) or games as lifestyle (I've truly heard that one, how very, very sad). GAMES ARE FUN. When games stop being fun, they get turned off, at least temporarily. Why would anyone torture themselves with the very un-fun mini-games in FFX? Why, to get weapons to get to the FUN part of kicking Seymour, Jecht and Metroid ass, that's why.

I'll conveniently end my response here, to keep the segue fresh.

-LC


Well, kiddies, it?s time once again to sing the End of the Mailbag theme song. But never fear! We?ll be back next week with a whole new bag of verbose goodies. Until then, put on your Thinking Caps, and riddle us this: what is your favorite mini-game of all time? What about the biggest stinker? (Besides the Chocobo race in FFX ? hell, we don?t know anyone who wouldn?t find that one a boil on the butt of Yevon.) Does it drive you insane to find that ultimate weapon only through some stupid, optional game, or do you crave the challenge one only gets with chasing frogs, pretending you're an Iron Chef or snowboarding? Or, if you're feeling creative, what's your idea for a truly awesome mini-game? Send us your thoughts, rants and diatribes by Tuesday, October 22.

And don't forget that Evangelion sucks!

- AG and Lita-chan

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