Monday, May 18, 2009

Conditioned Gaming

Earlier in the year when Australia's summer was in full effect, there was a week in particular where I lost all motivation to play games due to the insane heat we were having. Temperatures were pushing the 40s (celsius) and it was just too draining for me to bother firing up any games I wanted to play. As a result of this, I used the time to come up with some post ideas for this blog. One in particular is relevant to the heat and allows me to ask the following question.

Do the conditions in which we play games, affect the way we play or how we feel about them?

Asking myself that question, my immediate answer is yes. What about yours?

Of course, the question is vague and can cover a broad variety of topics. The first obvious one for me is the heat issue. Each day I intended to play something, but never did because it was just too hot and I wasn't in the right frame of mind to engage with any game. As this was in a period where I was still overwhelmed with games to play, the lack of time spent making progress in them frustrated me as it felt like a waste of time. In hindsight I probably made the right choice based on how I was feeling at the time, but regardless of that, the situation brought the above question to my attention.

Another example could be one's approach to story-based games such as Fallout 3 and BioShock. I can't play nor focus on any game with a narrative I want to engage with if I know there will be distractions. This could include chatting with friends over Xbox Live, or it could be that someone else in the house may choose to start a conversation with you. It might even be something as simple as the phone ringing. Obviously, things like these break the immersion a player may have with a game and brings them right back to reality. It certainly does for me and as a result I will only play games with interesting narratives when I know that I won't be interrupted. Socialising over Xbox Live has shown to me that some players have no problems multi-tasking, playing games while also chatting with other people. They seem to be able to focus on the important parts of the story and also what is being discussed in conversation, and that is something that intrigues me given my own approach to the situation. Perhaps they aren't as interested in the stories as much as I am? Whatever their situation is, the difference between theirs and mine is something that I find intriguing.

Shifting focus yet again, some games seem better when shared and experienced with friends, with a decent example being the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. Both are fun to play on your lonesome but are arguably better when shared with a few friends in the living room, particularly now that they support full bands instead of just the guitar. The addition of friends changes the conditions of play, as well as how the games are approached by the various players and in this instance, makes for a more enjoyable experience.

If conditions affect how we play or approach a game, then is that a good or bad thing? Is our opinion influenced or even defined by these conditions? Can we dislike a game because our sessions with it were interrupted? Can we enjoy a game more because an additional element (friends, lights turned off for a survival horror game, etc.) enriched the experience?

All of the above questions, and many more, come from the original question asked above and each answer will be different based on your own individual experiences. The question I'm most interested in is if conditions do influence our enjoyment of a game, then does that become a topic of importance when considering how we discuss games, or even how we criticise them? Should we be including the way we experienced them in our thoughts or discussion because it could be such an influential and defining aspect of our opinion and if yes, does that then change the nature of the discussion and how other people interpret this opinion?

It's an interesting thing to ponder and I hope to look into these questions sometime in the future.


pete said...

Pffft. When we had our 8-day, 40-degrees-plus heatwave earlier in the year, playing games was pretty much all I wanted to do. In fact, Prince of Persia was started & completed within the bounds of the heatwave ;)

Mind you, I do have decent aircon at my place; it was such a relief, after labouring home from work, to flip the aircon on & flop in front of the 360.

As for social factors in gaming... well, there's a topic for another post ;)

Steven O'Dell said...

Haha, but who will be the author of that post eh? ;)

My gaming setup is in my room so unfortunately I don't have aircon, just a crappy fan that does absolutely nothing. It was rather humid earlier this year too which is unusual for Canberra, so that was another reason it was so draining on yours truly.

pete said...

Oh, Canberra.

Say no more.