With a past-time as diverse as video games, it’s easy to see why so many people play them. Are mobile apps “video games”? Is Farmville a “video game”? If you widen those gaps, is playing Tic Tac Toe over Windows Paint a “video game”? It’s certainly debatable, but rather than do research on what would technically be defined as a video game (who has the authority to say one way or another, anyway?), I’ll just define what it means to me, and talk about the sorts of games I like and why I like them. (Be warned, this post is twice as long as most). Also the pictures below are all screenshots to help convey what these games really are.
To me, a “video game” is a uniquely digital experience made for the purpose of entertainment. This means that basically everything aforementioned is a video game except Tic Tac Toe. Now, when I define myself as a “gamer”, that means something else entirely. Not having a large enough sample size to know what people do in their spare time, I’d define that simply as “somebody who frequently plays video games in their spare time”. Now that I think about it, I almost can’t conceive what people would do with all their free time if they don’t play video games. I suppose “most” non-gamers would be watching TV or Netflix these days.
But there are so many types of games out there, it’s hard to even define many of their genres. When I pick a game up on Steam, or simply decide which game to play, it is heavily dependent on my mood, how much time I have, how much I want to focus, and whether or not I want to play with people (friends or online).
Even six years ago, I rarely played anything with other people. I played a lot of RPGs at the time, and even the online things I played I never played with friends. I simply never had many school friends and for the longest time we only ever had one console or computer between the three or four of us that wanted to use it.
If I had to pick, I would say my favorite genre is the RPG (role-playing game), but even that is incredibly vague these days. What most genres boil down to though is game mechanics: what can you do in the game and what are the things you do to do it. In an RPG, most often this means to level up, upgrade your weapons and armor, and experience a story. These are games like Fallout, Skyrim, Dragon Quest VIII (no surprise there), and a great many MMO (massively multiplayer online) games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, or Rift. For single player games, I typically like to have a lot of free time ahead of me before I crack it open. You don’t simply boot up Skyrim and only play for an hour or so; the experience is much better when you can play for three or four.
First person shooters, or FPS games, are probably what many non-gamers think of when they think of our stereotype: a ten year old with a headset screaming obscenities at his TV because he just got shot and killed. There certainly is a lot of that, but when I play those types of games, it probably means I’m playing with friends and trying to waste time having fun. Call of Duty is certainly on this list, sure, but these days for me, FPS games mean Titanfall 2 (if you’re looking for what you would describe as a ‘prototype’ of the genre), Bioshock, and especially Overwatch. People think of FPS games as a guy with a gun shooting somebody else with a gun, but really all FPS defines is the camera angle and weapon.
Without making an absurdly long post of all the specific kinds of games I love (Heroes of Might and Magic won’t make it on this list, unfortunately), it would perhaps be best to condense nearly everything else that is relevant for me as a top-down or platformer game. The only thing these terms define is camera angle here: for top-down, you’re looking at the landscape from a bird’s eye view, or at a slight angle if you’re playing an isometric, and platformers means you’re looking at your character with your eye sight parallel to the ground. Typically that means your character is jumping up on platforms (hence the name). Awesome recent games like this include Transistor (isometric), Stardew Valley (top-down), and Owlboy (a platformer I have not played yet). All of these examples are single player games that offer vastly different experiences from one another, so it’s a little unfair to lump them all together. Oh, well.
The single biggest thing to define here, though is the time sink. When playing a game, you should ask yourself whether or not you can “beat” it. With a game like Final Fantasy, a super popular series of RPG games, you can defeat the final boss, put it down, and never play the game having experienced virtually all there is to experience. These are most often story driven games. You play for the story then walk away when you’re through with it. But with games that involve a lot of people, i.e. MMOs like World of Warcraft or popular FPS games like Call of Duty, there is no experience that “completes” the game for you. There is no end goal. It may sound weird, especially for somebody that doesn’t play games, but in the end its the experience you jump into a game for, so its not inherently bad that online games have infinite replay-ability. It’s like watching a football game: You’re not done with football forever when the Super Bowl ends, because there’s a new season and every individual game you watch will be different. It’s the same thing with online games like Overwatch or League of Legends or Starcraft: every game you play will be distinctly different from the last. That’s why these games are the best games to play with friends: there are no requirements. You don’t have to wait for them to be at the same chapter of a story or anything like that. You simply jump on and play a match, and then another, and another until you don’t want to play anymore. To me, these games are almost exclusively for when I play with friends, because the enjoyment I get out of them when I play alone is minimal.
As a side note, here is a link to an enormous (albeit outdated) picture of a flowchart on picking the “perfect” video game for you (I didn’t simply add it because it’s quite a large picture). Sort of a weird thing to say when I just explained how I play different games based on a ton of different factors, but I also like flowcharts, so here you go.