January 2, 2012
What makes games addicting?
I have found it very rare that I cannot switch of the computer. You could probably argue that I just have great self control, but I would like to think at least for me there have to be very special characteristics to a game for it to be considered addicting. I am by no means a human behavior scientist, but these are the things that make me glued to the computer screen.
It has has all been done. There are always bitter bored people in the world who say everything has already been done before. With games, a lot of the time a new game comes out and really it is just a re-interpretation of an old theme. Just like in the movies how hollywood keeps re-doing old movies (come on seriously, a new Footloose?) the same thing happens in games. However, there are some universes, ideas and gameplay mechanics that pop up brand new and squealing. Portal, although tied to the Half Life universe has a humor very unique to the game. The gun in Portal is also unique to the game.
Attention to detail is one of the things that makes or breaks a game in my opinion. This doesn’t mean I expect every game to be a huge sandbox world where the lore goes in to several books after the game is released. I want the game, in whatever genre it is, to have a special attention to all the little things. Not just textures and functionality but attention to character development and consistency with such development.
Left 4 Dead (Ok I know I am fawning over Valve here) may not be an original idea, zombies have been around in gaming for quite a while now. What makes it stand out, compared to every other zombie shooter is the attention to detail in the maps. The game is actually limited. There are only a few maps, only a few different modes of game play and only a few difficulty levels. The reason I can play it over and over again is because within those maps I can find something new every time that I play. The writing on the walls is one of my favorite treats, it really makes the game come to life. You can imagine yourself writing something on the wall during an apocalypse hoping that your loved ones will read it.
Say what you want about World of Warcraft, but the game has some serious depth to it. On the surface you see ‘kill x amount of x creatures to get x amount of xp’ but if you really pay attention to the different areas, the stories the npc characters tell and the back stories of all of the races you find the reason that World of Warcraft is such a captivating game.
Dragon Age: Origins is another example of a game that has a great amount of lore and depth behind it. Dragon Age 2 was a sorry, lazy attempt to replicate that (don’t get me started on that game)
Have you ever played a game where you don’t even have to pay attention to kill all of the basic monsters? Then maybe you should stop playing on easy! If you are not playing on easy then you might have a boring game on your hands. Games have to be beatable but require some sort of skill or excitement. The happy chemicals your brain makes when you get excited after bagging a dragon is addictive. Every time you jump in Dead Space and that rush of adrenaline happens, it is addicting. Also the desire to know what happens next is critical. The storyline has to have a few twists in it, or at least big choices for you to make. That doesn’t mean every game has to be an rpg either, it just means that popular to contrary belief, successful games have a plot. Nothing is more boring that a game that has no story for you to follow.
I am picky as hell. It is very rare that I finish a game in a timely fashion. If I don’t like a game, I won’t finish it (unless I’m expected to review it) and even then if I don’t deem it worth finishing I will just write a review saying that. I like games that have a certain artistic feel, visceral combat, nice good gory parts and a high replay value. It is hard for smaller companies to create games with a huge explorable world and a huge cinematic sound track but that is probably why I’m not always interested in indie games. I’m just hard to please, I expect a lot from bigger gaming companies.