Gameological In Stereo


Episode 8: Sense Of Wonder

We try to pin down that ineffable feeling of new-video-game awe. Plus: Teti’s mom returns with another Facebook game review.

By John Teti • September 5, 2012

The annual Tokyo Game Show has this special event each year called “Sense Of Wonder Night.” It always struck me that the best way to guarantee that your event will not instill a sense of wonder is to designate it the official “Sense Of Wonder Night.” I was thinking about wonder recently as I read Scott Jones’ review of New Super Mario Bros. 2. A new sequel used to fill me with such excitement and awe, the Mario games perhaps most of all. Now Mario feels so pedestrian. Are the games really so tiresome, or have I just become jaded? That’s the trouble with wonder—it’s tough to pin down whether you’ve simply gotten too old for this shit. That said, there are still games that give me that giddy anticipation, and Fez, pictured above, is one recent example. Anyway, Scott and I talk it over on the latest edition of the podcast.

In the second segment, my mom joins us again for another Facebook game review. This time: The $100,000 Pyramid, a rather slapdash adaptation of the legendary game show. Plus we talk about this NES knitting machine prototype recently featured on Kotaku:

NES knitting machine prototype

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1,333 Responses to “Episode 8: Sense Of Wonder”

  1. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I suspect we might be the wrong group of people to ask about
    the sense of wonder in gaming.

       Certainly, there
    are external circumstances that contribute to the sense of diminishing
    returns.  We were younger with less
    exposure to the franchise, making ever iteration exponentially more exciting.  And as we’ve grown, the franchise grows and
    continues metastasizing into myriad fractured titles.  We’ve seen so much of Mario that the games no
    longer bear that rarefied energy it would when we were kids.

       But in a more
    fundamental, emotional sense, I don’t believe we carry the same capacity for
    wonder into adulthood that accompanied us so regularly as children.

       I don’t mean to
    posit my own neuroses as universal, but I have this feeling as I get older that
    my immediate exposure to the world is increasingly calcified under a
    barrier.  I feel the same feelings, but
    whatever triggers them has to work harder to break through a crust that
    refracts and dissipates the experience so that ultimately it doesn’t hit as
    hard emotionally, nor go as deep.

       Compared to my
    toddler, who is so fresh to the world all of her senses are completely raw and
    exposed to input.  She completely loses
    her mind in a frenzy of exultation when given a sugar cookie, or weeps
    inconsolably when told she can’t watch another ad for a Play-do play set posted
    on Youtube.

       I don’t mean to
    imply that age has turned me into an unfeeling automaton stripped of all human
    warmth.  It’s that, while I still play
    and enjoy video games greatly, the sense of amazement is an element I mostly
    assign to my youth.  Something like Mario
    64 can still amaze, because it was such a fundamental sea change in what video
    games looked like and how they behaved. 
    But barring pivotal evolutions in our games, everything feels

       I also don’t see
    this as a negative.  While the electricity
    of youth is wonderful, I’ve traded it for a deeper understanding of the things
    I like.  I understand more of the
    context, history, references and significance of the media I consume.

       Not that I’d be
    able to leverage any of that toward New Super Mario Bros. 2.  Sadly, that game does look sort of lame.

    • I think there is still room for wonder as an adult, just in different circumstances.  While I was truly in a state when I first left the cave and headed for the nearby crypt in Skyrim I wasn’t in wonder as much as just immersed.

      But on the other hand, when I first saw the Occulus Rift and read about it’s technology and how it worked with Doom 3. I literally popped a brain-boner of wonder.  I find that there is still a lot of wonder to be had in gaming but it may happen in places you least expect.

      Also, you can’t tell me that you weren’t in awe the first time you climbed a mountain in Minecraft, looked around and thought, “All of this is mine on which to build.”

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        There are many moments in gaming I find wonderful and amazing. As you say, stepping out onto the plains outside of Whiterun in Skyrim was beautiful. It’s just not as sustained and all-consuming a feeling as when I was younger.
        And if you can believe it, I’ve never played Minecraft; only Terraria. And my main feling with that game is “Where the hell is all the copper ore?”

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          My main feeling with that game was “If background walls stop monsters from spawning inside my buildings, that should include long buildings or tunnels that have doors at either end!”

          I ended up playing Terraria first, then Minecraft.  Minecraft held my interest for about four times as long…less variety in monsters, but more fun being fully immersed in the blocky world.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        I am SO excited for the Oculus Rift!  I’ve been waiting a decade for a decent 3D head-mounted display.

        About 8 years ago I bought a pair of 3D shutter-glasses from eDimensional and played through System Shock 2.  The awe was back in full force the first time I heard a zombie groan “Aaarrrrgh-KILL ME!”, spun around and got hit in the face with a pipe.  Sadly the glasses stopped working a few weeks later before I could play any other games with them.

        When I bought a new pair 3 years ago from the same company, I found out they hadn’t updated their drivers in ages.  I was encouraged to wait for upcoming drivers, and then forgot about them for a year.  When they finally DID release new driver software, apparently purchased from a third-party company, they refused to give me a copy because I was out of the 90-day warranty period.  I was considering purchasing one of their other peripherals, but at that point they lost a customer for good.

        I’ve been trying to convince my wife to give me permission to set up an Nvidia 3D Vision 2 system, but the price tag for 120 Hz monitors is still too high.

    • Girard says:

       I think if anything, this makes our age group better equipped to discern wonder – because not everything is automatically wondrous. When assessing things that we enjoyed as children, I think most folks here are pretty good at discerning between that which is mostly enjoyed out of nostalgia (vicariously experiencing the wonder we experienced as “naive” kids) and that which genuinely creates that sense of surprise and delight, that exhilarating compulsion to keep going “upward and inward” to more extraordinary and rareified levels of paradise (as C.S. Lewis put it). Not every video game I played the hell out of as a kid still captivates me as much as Mario 3 continues to, just as not every Nickelodeon show turned out to be as extraordinary and imaginative as Pete & Pete, and so on.

      Likewise, we can discern between a work that is sort of backwards-facing and non-productively nostalgic (like NSMB2) and work that evokes a feeling of wonder like we encountered frequently as kids (for me, parts of Mario Galaxy did this, for some, it sounds like Fez did this).

      That said, I’ll agree that sometimes kids’ low threshold for wonder allows them to be appropriately enamored with stuff that I feel IS wondrous, but most adults don’t notice or care about (like, colors! or bugs!).

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

           You make a fair point that a child’s emotional reaction is fairly indiscriminate.
           For me, and again I must reiterate that I don’t mean to disperse my mental state as an objective, the emotional hook that defines wonderment is dimmed with age.
           We’ve discussed before our appreciation of Galaxy.  There were many moments that I had to stop and simply observe, as everything laid out before me demanded all due reverence.
           But even then, there was a core of calculated assessment that I knew I was seeing something masterfully made and must acknowledge it.  As opposed to my younger self who would just be swearing, pointing, yelling and subsequently telling anyone I crossed paths with for three days what I saw.
           I’ll occasionally lie in bed at night and pull time-travel from the mental Rolodex of dumb things one enjoys thinking about as they unmoor from the waking world.
           I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m unwilling to change any of the major tragedies in my life since they have, to whatever unknowable extent, shaped my current life.
           So I’ve decided the only thing I’d do with time travel would get a 56″ HD TV and the Blu-ray of Lord of the Rings and show it to my seventeen-year old self.
           As much as I love the trilogy now, I think that’s the age where it would achieve greatest impact.
           Or I’d make some savvy real estate purchases.  The later would probably be the smarter of the two choices.

  2. Drew Toal says:

    All this talk of Mario 64. To think I almost chose the Pilotwings N64 package. Pilotwings!

  3. Fez for me was quite a disappointment.  I waited all the years, defend the game and even it’s PR-disaster of a creator, Phil Fish, thinking that this game would really deliver something profound.

    I downloaded and worked my way through all the cubes and a few of the anticubes and I what I discovered was an okay platformer, that while aesthetically pleasing, didn’t really have anything to hook me.  Yes, I’m aware of the cryptographic meta game involving decoding another language but actual gameplay wise Fez didn’t bring much to the table. The rotating mechanic was mostly used to simply compress what would be a linear level into a different shape.  It occaisonally involved a twist on platforming while shifting in mid-air but beyond that, it just didn’t provide.

    I can deal with games that don’t truly bring anything new (Super Meat BOy isn’t truly innovative but god almighty is it fun), but Fez didn’t really goad me on to play except to appreciate it’s art and music.  The gameplay is just rather bland.

    Indie letdown of the year, man…

  4. Elephant, Mustard, Teddy Roosevelt, or Dracula!

    Cookie’s Fortune Cookie Fortune with Cookie “Fortune Cookie” Masterson!

    YDKJ has waaaaay too many catchy jingles. Although if I ever catch myself uttering “It’s the put the answers into order and buzz in to see if you are right… ques-tion” I might have to stop.

  5. HobbesMkii says:

    Mario 64 makes Scott Jones tingly. We heard it here first!

  6. Merve says:

    At the risk of delving into semantics, I think I know the feeling you guys were describing when you were talking about your playtime with Sleeping Dogs. It’s not wonder as much as it is awe. There’s no real sense of mystery or grand discovery in playing the game. What’s captivating about it is stepping into what feels like a living, breathing city, not just a sandbox with a bunch of shit to do. It’s not real, but it feels like an actual place, and it’s gorgeous to boot. My F12 key gets quite a workout when I play; I must have over a hundred screenshots by now.

    I can’t remember the last time I felt a sense of wonder when playing a video game. Maybe RollerCoaster Tycoon? The fact that I could manage a theme park full of rides that I built wowed me for some reason.

  7. Jeff Bandy says:

    “The music is so sad! There’s no bling!” Once again, Mama Teti knocks it out of the park. Love the podcast.

  8. dmikester says:

    The two games that came to mind immediately in terms of a real sense of wonder are Dragon Quest VIII and Okami.  In both cases, those games accomplished a neat trick: creating vast, beautiful worlds that seemed endless from the start, having a lot of gameplay that led you to what seemed like the final boss, having you beat that boss, and then throwing in a plot twist that made it so that not only did you have a LOT more gameplay, but the world got even bigger as a result.  Both games also had fantastic music that added a lot to the sense of escape and beauty of their worlds.

    Dragon Quest VIII’s world in particular was treated with such love; as you progressed, you kept discovering new towns and hidden away houses and areas, and when you got the ability to fly and discovered there were even more hidden away islands?  Forget about it.  Okami gave me a sense of wonder from its world but especially the gameplay with the Celestial Brush technique and its epic plot.

    Other games that came to mind as I was writing the above are Super Mario 64, which I’m in total agreement with Scott about, Grand Theft Auto 3 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for creating a sense of scale and possibility that felt like it hadn’t existed before in their respective genres, Final Fantasy XII for the beauty and eeriness of its hidden areas and monsters as well as its towns that really felt lived-in, Resident Evil 4 for creating an environment where you truly had no idea what was coming next, and Ico/Shadow of the Colossus for, well, everything.

  9. zebbart says:

    Part of what was brilliant and unique about the unfolding of the Mario games was the way they created such strict boundaries and then surprised you with opportunities to cross them. Of course the first boundary was the ground. Probably all of us played the game for at least half an hour, if not more, getting killed over and over on that first surface level. At that point all you know is you can move rightward. You can’t go back left, you can’t get any higher than half the screen height, and you die if you go below floor level. Then when you go down that first pipe there is that moment of amazement, “Whoah, there is stuff below the game!” Then probably after many hours exploring the game you try to see if you can get on top of the ceiling of the underworld. You can! There is stuff above the game, and past the end of the game! And so it goes. In Mario 3 you can fly, and you find out there is stuff above the skyline. If Mario world you find out there is stuff in those distant hills that always tantalized us in the background. This feeling is especially aided by the naivete of youth, when you don’t know anything about game design and you kind of think of the Mushroom Kingdom and an actual world that exists somewhere even though you know better, and so you feel like there probably is stuff past the limits of the screen and Mario’s abilities, if you could just figure out how to get there. I spent tons of time in the first Mario Kart trying to jump over all the barriers and go cruising GTA style (anachronism) across the landscape. Because sometimes there really was something there, sometimes it was not even a short cut but just an extremely difficult alternate path with jumps on both sides, and that made the whole thing feel full of possibility. I don’t get to spend a lot of time gaming now so I don’t know what games succeed at this kind of thing, but VVVVVV did it for me fairly recently. There were a lot of moments of “Oh wow you can actually get over there,” and a lot of creative use of a single button/ability. I think that is a great example of a game pulling off both the nostalgia aesthetic and delivering the real goods at the same time.

  10. chifan305 says: