There are only a handful of videogames that I have really and truly loved like a book, comic, movie or song. The ones that readily come to mind are all post-school for me when computer technology finally got to the point where graphics and gameplay enabled the kind of world building and immersive story-telling that was a generation beyond the Atari 2600 games of my childhood. It’s also when I finally had enough money to afford a decent PC and the games themselves.
I like the challenge of games but I don’t love it; no more than I love the challenge of reading difficult words. The gaming format is mostly an ends to a means for me – a submersion in a world with a story. Every now and then, particularly with Portal, the game part of the game is really worthwhile for me, but I don’t take my primary enjoyment from the mechanics of games.
I think the games I list below are of a particular zone that overlaps two genres known as First Person Shooters and Role Playing Games. The Point of View of FPS games is immersive and compelling; the world building, story-telling and attention to characters of RPGs is what keeps me in a state of imagination, suspending disbelief during the course of the game.
Here’s a list of my favorite games of this type, which with perhaps the exception of Civilization, are essentially my favorite games:
- Half-Life and Half-Life 2: Half-Life was revelatory. A killer story, tension-building game play with serious twists and turns. (I revisited recently this game by playing Black Mesa, which is a mod of Half Life 2 to recreate the original Half Life game) Half-Life 2, several years later, raised the stakes with an expanded world, mind-blowing graphics and improved supporting characters, especially the character of Alyx and her pet robot, “Dog”.
- Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas: I never played the pre-Fallout 3 games so I didn’t have any preconceived notions (like many diehard fans apparently did) about what it should be. What it did was give a Jetsons-style view of the apocalypse, right in the remains of Washington DC. The open-ended world was new to me too at the time and in comparison to the rigid, tracked world in Half-Life, was also a revelatory experience.
- Portal and Portal 2: I’ll admit, I did not really get into Portal the first time I played it and I let it sit on the virtual shelf for a couple of years. I played it and Portal 2 together all the way through when Portal 2 came out and this time, appreciated the combination of world, characters and truly challenging puzzles presented by the game’s portal gun and other physics-bending innovations.
- Bioshock and Bioshock 2: Very creepy, very fun and it took the world-building a step further by layering in a critique and manifestation of objectivist philosophy in the underwater world of Rapture. Bioshock 2 was not a step forward like other sequels I’ve mentioned in this post but it was more of the same done very well. I am loading up the real sequel to Bioshock right now which is the long awaited Bioshock Infinite.
- The Walking Dead: One of the few Telltale games I’ve played and the only one I’ve unabashedly enjoyed. One of the few games to really absolutely, genuinely work on an honest, emotional level.
- Left for Dead and Left for Dead 2: In contrast to The Walking Dead, the two installments of L4D are action thrillers putting you in the middle of a zombie movie set. The thing I really appreciate about these games is that they did a lot of world building, character creation and story-telling that still managed to mostly maintain it’s illusion of immersion even in a coop, multiplayer environment. (You might be detecting a pattern here that multi-player games are not my first choice in videogames)