If tomorrow, you woke up and your door was being broken down by zombies, how would you respond? Pop culture has lead many of us to believe that we would be gun-blasting, zombie apocalypse gods. In reality, most of us would probably be dead within a few days, scared out of our minds, or both. Why, then, are we so nonchalant when disaster strikes in video games?
Duh, It’s a Game
The most obvious answer is that games are games. We have nothing to fear from seeing our virtual selves get run down by hordes of monsters. Many players simply stand their ground against wave after wave of flesh-eaters, busting caps until they’re the last man standing. While it’s a valid option, it isn’t always the only option.
When I realized that running was essentially a game mechanic in The Last of Us, I felt the warm fuzzies that sometimes arises when a game just does something right. Many of the encounters in Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic shooter can be resolved by simply running away. Attract a swarm of fungus zombies? Run. Out of ammo for your sweet hunting rifle? Run. Surrounded by bandits? Well, you’re probably dead, but you might as well try to run.
If you find yourself wondering why any of this matters, then you may be among the category of gamers who see a horde of neck-biting monsters as an obstacle to be climbed–a challenge to be tackled. Some of us play games to just shoot at stuff, win, and have a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that–that’s what games were made for. However, I wouldn’t trade the thrill of running down a dark corridor with slimy footsteps and growls sounding hot on my heels for any amount of guns or bullets. Gaming is a window into another world. In a world where rooms full of beasts are waiting to tear you apart, running is your new best friend.
All I Do Is Win
Games have revealed to us the truth that winning is everything. After all, that is the purpose of a game. We need to be more powerful, we need to have bigger guns, and we need it now. If that means we have to mow down every poor sap in our path to collect every piece of loot and gain all the precious experience points, so be it. Why would we settle for anything less?
Left Behind, the recent DLC for The Last of Us, puts players in the shoes of Ellie, a 14-year old girl. Not so powerful. Ellie is tough, sure, but she’s a little girl up against a world full of ravenous beasts, both living and dead. Further, the DLC has no experience points or leveling system of any kind. Winning means surviving with whatever you have (or don’t have).
Game developers have been creeping toward making players more and more vulnerable. My first memorable encounter with this was in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, when I was stripped of my weapons and forced to run for my life through a hostile favela. Now we have survival horror games like Amnesia and Outlast that force us to flee at every creak of a floorboard. We have mods that change existing game mechanics in order to make players less resilient. Even more interesting are games like Minecraft and DayZ that have no win objective other than surviving the next moment.
In video games, winning is everything, but what does winning mean to you?
Experience vs Experience
Do you measure experience in points and perks, or in moments and memories? Both are valid views and my own opinion varies from game to game. I play The Last of Us, Minecraft, and Skyrim like stories that are unfolding with me as the main character. I view Battlefield, Peggle, and The Binding of Isaac more as challenges, where having fun means leveling up and completing objectives.
I think it’s important for gamers to realize this difference of opinion, because it’s the subject of many debates within the gaming community. Not everyone plays games the same way or for the same reasons. At the end of the day, though, we’re all just looking for an experience.
We’re all facing the same foes, whether we’re running toward them or away from them. Yes, I like running from fungus zombies in The Last of Us, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy seeing someone else turn around and stomp one of those suckers into the ground.