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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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Questionable Motives

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The emotions beneath gameplay

What do we actually want out of a game?

Seriously, have we ever just asked ourselves the question, then sat down and thought about it? Have we just had our nose too deep in our favorite stories for so long that we've never really given thought to why the crap we actually enjoy them? Far too often, we just accept the game as is. We know we like a certain style of game, we form camps around every type of game, from role-playing games to first-person shooters, to horror and strategy games. We embrace the intricacies and obtuseness that comes with them, generally unapologetically. But at the same time, we never ask why things in these genres are the way they are. We've blindly wandered into these games thousands of times without so much as a thought to why we relate so well to certain aspects of them. For the first time in my life, I'm going to ask these questions that I never got around to asking.

But why role-playing games?

What is it about this genre that drags out these feelings of wonder and excitement in me? Why is it that every single time I start up a new RPG, I immediately feel like a little kid being read a fairy tale for the first time? Why is it that with each level gained, I feel like I've accomplished something huge, and actually become a little stronger myself? Why is it so easy to attach certain people in your life to certain characters due to their own unique personality quirks, but not to talk them about serious matters that, if you know them so well, you know exactly how it affects them? Why is it so much easier to relate to a convoluted, world-saving plot than it is to relate to your boss telling you how to set up the shelves at work? Do we enjoy chasing after a mate in games because we actually crave the crisp, uncomplicated nature of in-game romances, free of tiny, nagging situations like crumpled toothpaste and dirty socks on the floor?

But why first-and-third person shooters?

What is it about accosting an invading horde face to face that ekes out the slightest bit of patriotism? Why do we recklessly abandon all normal human preservation instinct to run across a layer of gunfire to grab a rocket launcher? Why do we accept the fact that characters without helmets are generally less likely to be hurt? Why do we want to see Master Chief's face when we know what Darth Vader ended up looking like under the mask? Why do we relate better to a gladiatorial battle of super-powered humans than a game of basketball with normal people?

But why horror games?

Why are we so terrified of things that cannot in the slightest harm us? What is it about dark and claustrophobic hallways that bring out a sinister fear of the unknown? Why do we have no problem conserving ammo, but not our own money? What is it about the insatiable part of the human mind that insists on knowing what's around the corner when we KNOW it's something that's probably going to make us lose bowel control? Why are we so keen on facing down terrible abominations from the blackest depths of Cthulhu's briny bunghole, yet we can't bring ourselves to look at notices from our debtors?

But why strategy games?

Is the ability to plan ahead for something a pleasant change from the unpredictable ebb and flow of our current whirlpool of an economy? Does the ability to quickly reload a previous save file change the fact that we just sent hundreds of virtual denizens to their death, and if so, is that eroding our underlying view of the sanctity of the lives of actual human beings? Are we really angry because we lost a match, or simply because we know we were outsmarted by people we feel we should be as or more intelligent than? How in God's green earth does the Firebat from 'Starcraft' smoke inside his helmet?

Or maybe, just maybe, it's that asking questions messes with our ability to suspend our disbelief and enjoy the gorram game for what it is?

Aaron Waite just finished 'Mass Effect 3,' and trust me, the questions he has about that could fill roughly three more articles.


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