22 October 2010

An anti-social (games) rant. - by Josh Bycer

      Posted 10/20/10 11:57:00 pm  

I like to consider myself someone who keeps in touch with the latest games and design in the industry; however there is one genre that I can't help but turn my face away from and it would have to be social games. I've made up my mind several months ago about my position but I put off writing about it until now. I guess I should spoil this entry now, I'm not a fan of social games and it's not just because I'm rated 10 out of 10 for introverted behavior from a psychology test I took in college.

The first strike against it comes from the game design or lack thereof. From what I've seen and read about them, is that there is no challenge. You push a button and shiny things happen, now if were to generalize things, then you could say that every video game ever made does that. However the big distinction is that in normal games the player has to choose what buttons to press and when, pressing "punch" when you wanted to block in a fighting game is going to make you lose.

When I read other people's thoughts on social games the comparison to playing a slot machine comes up a lot and I find that apt. Which could also be why I'm not a fan of slots either, during my vacations to Las Vegas I try a slot machine at least once and the idea of sitting in front of these machines pressing a button for hours on end does not excite me. I play games both to keep my mind active and for the sheer challenge of it. This is the reason why I play most of the games I like on their harder difficulty settings (one below masochistic).

Strike two comes from the appeal of social games and how it is my antithesis. I'm not going to sugar coat it; I am not a warm and fuzzy person. You will not find me as the life of the party or the guy leaving the bar with a beautiful woman around each arm. I've taken great measure to shield myself from dealing with the crap of society.

I did sign up for a Face book account, after being on Face book for one day a little voice in my head said " Josh ,did you forget? You don't like reading about the details of other people and you are a private crazy person". I said “thank you voice in my head" and never went on Face book again. Hanging out online with my steam friends and my blog currently fulfills my social need at this point in my life. Now let's move away from "personal hour with Josh" and get to my next point.

The culture behind these games leaves much to be desire from me. Having to rope other people to add more things to click on does not interest me in the slightest and having to spend real money to do said tasks really rubs me the wrong way. I've played free to play games in my time and they at least have some meat to them. The required group mentality is also a reason why I never got hooked on MMOs but that story is for another time .

Something about how people are praising social games as some kind of miracle and wave of the future leaves me with a sick taste in my mouth. It's time for another blunt message, nothing that I've seen in social games is new or exciting, what they've done is used basic psychological stimulus to attract non gamers.

What I'm about to say I know is going to sound insulting to the developer in question, but I want to say that I mean this with no disrespect. To me many social games remind me of the titles Pop Cap games put out, in the sense that the same hooks I see in their games are present with social games. Having that one more unlock feel to them, simple controls and bright graphics. The difference and where my respect and admiration comes in is that they build on those hooks and take basic ideas and expand upon them in game.

Games like Book Worm, Plants Vs Zombies and Peggle are easy to understand but with each new level or world besides a new reward there is always a new game-play hook to keep things fresh. This is why I own the games mentioned here and enjoyed them.

My final point of discussion I hate to say goes back to my personality. While I was at my day job I overheard two people talking about one of the ville social games. One of them said and I will paraphrase that she likes to come home after a hard day at work sit in front of the computer and just turn off her brain and play the game. If she is an example of the average user of these games it sounds like the "couch potato" mentality but for games.

For me, I personally can't "shut off" my brain. I'm always actively thinking whether it is about game ideas or thoughts for my blog, my brain never really stops. I can't sit in front of a TV screen for hours on end watching a show, if I'm watching TV I like to have my DS handy to play something, a magazine to read or switch to something else during the commercials.

When I'm playing video games I'm thinking about what I'm doing and what I need to do next. Even with video games I just can't zone out for six hours playing the same game, most often in one day I will play at least a minimum of three different games. To me it feels like the social games phenomenon is just taking all those people who would sit and watch TV for hours on end and put them in front of a computer screen.

What I'm about to say may be the most egotistical thing I've written on my blog yet, of all my game ideas I have not once thought up an idea for a social game, the reason is that it just feels beneath my skills. Hell if I wanted to it would be easy to crank out a social game idea at any time. Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to play Demon's Souls for the PS 3 again, as we all know it is a family friendly casual title for all ages...



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