Welcome to Gameological Q&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. It’s extremely similar to The A.V. Club’s AVQ&A feature. You might even say it’s exactly the same. If you have a brilliant question that would make a fun Q&A, send it to brilliantquestions at gameological dot com.
The question for this installment of Q&A comes courtesy of reader Staggering Stew Bum:
I occasionally refer to the Gameological Hive Mind in my comments, this is usually in reference to how the majority of contributors to this site talk about playing many critically acclaimed and universally loved video games, eg. Binding Of Isaac. But some of us in the Gameological playground are the uncool kids who get beaten up and have their lunch money stolen—we either weren’t aware of these games, never had the opportunity to play them, or perhaps weren’t even interested. So the question is, at risk of having to hand in your Gameological Society passport, which game that it seems everyone else has played and loved can you shamefully admit to never playing? For example, apart from Mario Kart 64 I have never played a Mario game. I have also never played a Zelda game, have no idea what a Metroid Prime is exactly, and have never even been interested in picking up any of the thousands of Final Fantasy games.—Staggering Stew Bum
Maybe this is a weasel-y answer, because I can’t say I have never played the Resident Evil games, but the sum total of my Resident Evil experience is about 45 minutes. I think that’s close enough to “never” for our purposes. I’m not big on zombies or “dark and gritty,” so the trappings just don’t draw me in. The 45 minutes is from two separate occasions when I gave it a try—once for Resident Evil 2 and then again for Resident Evil 5. It’s not like I threw the controller down in disgust; they were both fine. I just never came back because unless I’m playing something for work, I want something to be better than fine. I’ll also add that I might be disqualified because I’m not ashamed of anything I haven’t played—I had to admit to myself long ago that it’s impossible to play everything, and I’m at peace with that. But “ashamed” in the playful way that Staggering Stew Bum meant it? Definitely.
There is plenty for me to choose from here, since I effectively quit playing games from about 2000 to 2005. Tony Hawk bears mentioning, but I’d say the biggest one I totally missed was Halo. I’ve watched people play it, and I’ve listened to plenty of wistful stories of hooking systems together in some kind of primitive network, but never really got the itch to walk a mile in Master Chief’s giant shoes. I was just never too into multiplayer kill-for-alls, and that’s what Halo struck me as being primarily about. While shopping for used games recently, I did give a long, hard look at Halo: Reach, and while I ended up going with Dead Island instead, I think I’m about ready to make amends. I understand that no one gets out alive? Perfect.
War games make me feel unsettled. I just have a hard time rooting for victory when I’m slaughtering so many people (as opposed to Deku Scrubs), and I now know that many of the games are literally commissioned by the United States military as a recruitment tool. For that reason—and also to emulate my hero Drew Toal—I have never played a single game in the Halo universe, nor will I probably ever. So far not a lot of shame, right? Well, may I introduce you to my younger cousins, who play video games like it’s their job—and playing video games literally is my job. They think it’s so cool that I get to futz around with controllers and track down images of Grey’s Anatomy: The Video Game for a living, but immediately ask me, every time they see me, “So, you play the new Halo game yet?” I shamefully always admit that I have not. This happens every time. I’m a big hit at family reunions.
I tend to wear my notoriously middlebrow tastes in games on my sleeve—meaning that while I’ve played hundreds of hours of Call Of Duty, Rock Band, and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, I’ve never touched a lot of the indie games or cult classics that journalists rave about, such as anything made by Tim Schafer or Team Ico. The only thing that actually shames me, however, is that I never owned a Nintendo system between the SNES and the Wii, and missed out on all of the late 90’s/early 2000’s Zelda games: Ocarina Of Time, The Wind Waker, and Majora’s Mask—the former two of which are often heralded as modern classics. Whenever someone mentions “Navi,” I get confused and think they’re talking instead about the giant blue cat people from the movie Avatar. I’m not sure what keeps me from catching up, except perhaps subconsciously I’ve always thought of Link as a strictly two-dimensional hero.
I have yet to play a single game with both the words “Final” and “Fantasy” in its title. Every other year or so I think, “This’ll be the one that finally gets me.” People tell me lovely things about XII. Crystal Chronicles looks delightful. Tactics sounds charming. Still haven’t touched a one. I tell myself it’s because I don’t like turn-based combat, JRPGs, fetch-quests, or the whole Square-Enix aesthetic, but there are examples of games I love that sport each of those features. Maybe it’s been over-hyped. Maybe the rampant fandom distances me like garlic to a vampire. Maybe it was watching my friends play Blitzball in FFX for hours when I was told we would be “hanging out” (this complaint goes double for the Elder Scrolls series). Maybe I feel like the series doesn’t need my support the way less-established games do. For whatever reason, I’ve just yet to feel a need for Final Fantasy in my life.
Like Derrick, I have a bit of a Final Fantasy blind spot despite my general love for visually bonkers JRPGs. While I played through the DS remake of III, and sort of enjoyed the first disc of IX, I have no interest in seeking out any other entries. Especially not VII: The amount of rabid hype I have heard has caused an earnest resentment towards a game I know literally nothing about. I once saw a video of a blocky lady who looked like a pterodactyl getting stabbed, and that was supposed to be a monumental part of gaming history. It did nothing for me. I don’t like being told what is amazing without hearing any qualifications other than its inherent awesomeness. Also, I don’t know how to play the card game euchre, and will probably never learn because I’ve heard the game often involves lots of cheating, and I’m not a fan of that.
Anthony John Agnello
It’s funny, but just hours before the Gameological Q&A call went out, I’d confessed my biggest gaming shame to Mr. Kodner and Mr. Toal: I’ve never played StarCraft. I’ve dabbled, firing up the game at a friend’s house. I even rented the N64 port back in the day. It’s not that I don’t find Korea’s national pastime interesting. Far from it! There’s something about the entire StarCraft milieu of bugs, soldiers, and purple aliens that I find primally appealing, even though I’ve only tasted it in passing, not unlike Shamrock Shakes. The entire real-time strategy genre is my kryptonite though. Whenever I’ve sat down to play StarCraft, or something similar like Command & Conquer, I run away screaming at the first hint of frustration. A cripplingly short attention span isn’t the big deterrent, it’s the whiff of addiction—I know that if I start playing and liking StarCraft, I might stop doing other things forever.
I’m always disappointed when a game wants to tell a story but relegates its writing to the backseat, which means I’m let down pretty often. So why have I yet to play Planescape: Torment, the classic role-playing game that many still consider the best-written work in the genre? I have no excuse for this grievous oversight, but if I had to make one up it would be that its traditional role-playing trappings, all menus and character sheets, become more arcane and intimidating with every passing year. But this is not insurmountable, and since its 1999 release, I’ve bought the thing multiple times. Every now and then I will install it, and tell myself that now is the perfect time to curl up and wrap myself in its dark, beautiful prose. And then I tell myself I should get some potato chips, and soon my hands are dirty with chip dust, and I’m just eating snacks with the lights off and you know what? That’s dark enough. But I will play it one day, honest.
While I’m a huge fan of MMORPGs now, I used to hate them for their power to steal entire weekends from my friends. Somehow, I always found other things to do or people to hang out with, rather than getting sucked in myself, until my love of Warcraft III enticed me to try World of Warcraft. Yet my lingering spite at having friends disappear, and then come back wanting to do nothing but talk about their Guild Wars, EverQuest and Dark Age Of Camelot experiences—along with the massive amount of time involved in really sinking into an MMO—have kept me from ever checking out those genre staples. Plus, all my addict friends have moved on to get their fixes through other games.
My weird, shameful act of video game omission is the entire MMO genre. It’s especially weird given my deep and abiding love of tabletop role-playing games, and fascination with computer and console RPGs that offer some of the depth of an MMO (Elder Scrolls, I’m looking at you). It’s also not hatred of online gaming—I’ve played games online since the bulletin board days, and was such an early adopter of Xbox Live I have a four-letter user name that’s an actual, English word. It’s not even a lack of people to play with, since I’ve had any number of friends who’ve been deeply involved with MMOs from EverQuest to The Old Republic—people who have all but begged me to join their server, clan, or whatever. No, for me it was basically the same thing that kept Anthony from StarCraft: fear of falling so deeply down the rabbit hole I would never emerge. I tend to be a little bit obsessive with games. and after seeing people who possess far more self control than I do get sucked into games like World Of Warcraft and EVE Online, I know that the only way to keep from losing my family, home, and career to a debilitating gaming addiction is to simply never, ever play one.
I think my gaming confession is a bit more embarrassing than those of compatriots. I haven’t played any Grand Theft Autos prior to IV. The reasoning: I wasn’t allowed to. When GTA III was released, I was a mere 11 years old. To be fair, it wasn’t exactly on my radar (I think I was a little too busy playing Paper Mario to care), but by the time Vice City rolled around, my circle of friends (by which I mean the other 12 and 13-year-olds on my block) was enamored with Rockstar’s sociopath simulators. My mother, however, would never allow such smut in her house. I’m glad she put her foot down and took control of what her kid was consuming, but it certainly was a strange about-face from playing Mortal Kombat with her four-year-old son.
I love stealth action games, which is why I’m ashamed to admit that there’s a Metal Gear Solid sized hole in my geeky little heart. I can remember friends playing the original NES version of Metal Gear back when I was a kid, and over the years I’ve heard nothing but great things about the Metal Gear Solid series on all three PlayStations. Yet for some reason, I never bothered to pick up any of the games; and the longer I waited, the more difficult it felt to jump on the MGS mechanized bandwagon. In my defense, it is kind of hard to take a game seriously when it stars a dude who goes by the name Solid Snake, and is rocking a pretty bad-ass mullet and ’70s pornstar mustache.
I must have had a lousy imagination as a kid, because I simply did not understand the appeal of Zork, or any of the Infocom text adventure games. Why would I want to stare at boring text when my PC monitor was able to display as many as four colors? My experience with the games ends the very first time I got eaten by a grue. To me, the reading was a chore, the puzzles were obtuse, and trying to communicate with the parser was a losing battle. I know text adventures were a major part of many gamers’ formative years, and I have friends who insist that a few Infocom titles still hold up as masterpieces. But try to convince me, and I’ll just give you the classic text adventure response: “I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.”