Rolling back to back natural ones on a 20-sided die trying to save my party. Accidently letting go of a button in Portal 2 and dropping my teammate to his death. Playing 5-6 straight games of Hanabi with two friends, trying to obtain that perfect game. All of these memories thrive on the interactions they create. These interactions leave everyone with fantastic stories. They spawn laughter throughout the room, sometimes with that wonderful hint of friendly frustration. They also leave a powerful impression on our lives and friendships. Interaction is the only reason I play games.
We’ve all had hundreds of life-changing experiences. I know plenty of people will agree with me; games provided me with a majority of them. Most involved interacting with others in ways I couldn’t predict. One of my favorite examples is the experience I had playing Tales of the Abyss. For those who don’t know the series, it is a very long running and popular Japanese RPG franchise that allows multiplayer, which is quite uncommon in the genre. I played through this game with a group during my freshman year of college.
It started with three of us, each becoming our own member of the cast. We’d plug in the PS2 Multitap and play through the great story together. Eventually, we met more friends that were interested and grew into a full six player party. The game maxed out at 4 players at a time, but that didn’t matter to us. We’d switch off, try different combinations of parties, and play for hours on end. We made countless memories playing Tales of the Abyss and forged some of the strongest friendships I have to date. We all took ownership of creating that incredible experience, together. That’s the most important part about gaming interactions: building it for each other.
That’s where game designers come in. It’s very easy to tell when a developer is in it for a quick buck or trying to build a meaningful experience. And I believe the latter is the true job of all game designers. Most designers understand the unofficial “contract” of gaming. That when everyone sits down and the rules begin to be explained, it’s unspoken that we’re all there for fun, even when that fun means competition. They know what it means to be a part of a meaningful interaction. And it’s personally painful to watch the culture of our current generation of gaming shift away from that.
Seemingly infinite season passes muddle up our online stores. There’s a whole generation of kids that are growing up with micro-transactions being ordinary life. Game franchises are putting out yearly titles with less innovation and more glitches and shortcomings. And sadly it’s not getting any better. Some of the most popular games today provide amazing interactive experiences, but they still have some of the pitfalls of the gaming climate. Overwatch has an extremely huge fanbase and the game provides endless fun in a compact and easy way to share with friends. Some play it casually, others play it more competitively, but I’d be surprise if anyone could find a consistent player that doesn’t have a problem with Overwatch’s micro-transaction structure.
Our gaming culture is drenched in these money-making structures that add very little to the meaningful interactions in the game, but they are allowed a pass because the fans continue to support the efforts, willingly or not. The board game industry is oversaturated with countless game expansions. Games like Cards Against Humanity have dozens of expansions. Most deck building games end up the same way. And many fans of the franchises (myself included) collect everything a game puts out. These expansions don’t usually change the formula of the game much at all. Most of them add more of what the fans already have bought. It’s very easy to enjoy a game and allow the gamemakers to just cash in on their players, but it also supports the financial systems that are bringing gaming culture down.
We all get excited when we find a new favorite game, but I think we as the players should remember what we want in a game. For me, that means putting together the foundation for great interactions. I play fighting games for the competition involved. RPGs give me a fantastic story and world to talk about with others. Board games simply bring people together in fun, easy ways. Personally, I love making games. I try to follow the same standard I expect: make games to bring out the best of these interactions. and players want them to be fun. They want a game they can play for hundreds of hours, where they can be part of a grand epic. They want games that let them experience the journey with their friends. And I think we can all use a reminder of what games are meant to be. Content designed for us to share and experience together, without pressuring players to empty their pockets.