The Things That Shape Our Taste In Video Games

The Things That Shape Our Taste In Video Games

I don't really like console games. OK, that isn't true. What I should say is, I never developed a taste for them. Last night I went to a lecture at the NYU Game Center by designer Naomi Clark. Naomi explored how and why we develop our taste in games, drawing on everything from food to film to philosophy to space travel. She attempted to break down what taste is and what purpose our tastes serve both personally and culturally.

(I should mention that Naomi has been a friend of mine for many years. Once for my birthday she brought me a giant Rice Krispie treat, which my roommates and I valiantly struggled but ultimately failed to eat.)

As I listened, I asked myself why I like the games I like and how I've come to consider certain genres and platforms "good", or at least better than others. My parents didn't let me have a console as a kid; I played Duck Hunt and Mario Kart at classmates' houses, my opinions of them infused with the awkwardness of hanging out with people I had nothing in common with while we played with their toys. I had a Sega Game Gear I begged for and dragged with me everywhere, playing Ecco the Dolphin and the first Sonic the Hedgehog and some Olympics game I've never been able to find again every time I could get a spare second. When my Game Gear bit the dust, my parents refused to get me another handheld, and, except for the occasional PC game (Legend of Kyrandia, anyone?), games drifted out of my life.

I came back to PC games in my adulthood, first out of a nostalgic curiosity, and later as part of a graduate degree in library science. I wrote my master's thesis about "affective information behaviour" in Half Life 2, 100 pages of charts and graphs and user theory that was probably as dry as it sounds. However, Half Life 2 remains one of my favourite games because of all the time I spent digging around in its minutia (and also because, let's be honest, it rules). I consider it a "smart" game, because I used it to prove I was smart enough to earn my degree.

I like to think of myself as a smart person, and thus I want the things I like to reflect the tastes of a smart person. But our tastes are shaped for us through our family, culture and environment, as well as being something we shape for ourselves in our efforts to prove who we are or to discover the person we want to be. I like some of the games my friends like because our tastes match; one aspect of our being friends is our shared interest in certain things. But we also shape our tastes to align through what we get excited about and what we share with each other, and this both intentionally and unintentionally creates a space for certain likes and dislikes to emerge.

The Things That Shape Our Taste In Video Games

This man does not like salad (image via Shutterstock)

As someone who only had access to a PC when I came back to games, PC games had to be "good" because I wanted to like good things. Thus, the genres I gravitated toward had to be "the good ones", not just the ones near to hand. I tell myself I like stealth games because they're "good", not because my reflexes suck and because I feel smart when I solve their puzzles. I say I don't like JRPGs because they're "boring", not because I don't want to admit I get frustrated when I find them confusing. I've come to realise how much of my taste in games has been shaped by circumstance, as well as the reasons I've honed to keep my taste reflective of who I want to see myself as and how I want to be seen by others. My tastes are nowhere near as simple and clear-cut as I'd thought.

Of course, as the tired trope goes, there's no accounting for taste. At the end of the day, I'm just not that into, say, sports games or fighting games. That doesn't mean I think they're bad, or it shouldn't mean I think that — for whatever reason, they're just not for me. Part of being a person who writes about games, though, is keeping up with the games people like and, perhaps more importantly, why and specifically what they like about those games. I've had to push myself to consider games I'd never touch on my own, to find their value because I'm surrounded by colleagues, readers and other people I respect who find them valuable. And you know what? It may still mean I'll never play them, but I've learned that a lot of these games are actually really good.

"Good or bad" is probably a terrible axis to place games on, a one-way road to FightTown. But it might be easier to discuss and defend perceived quality than it is to get at intimate, complicated questions of delight, pleasure and joy, as well as the social and cultural forces that bring us to our preferences. Sure, there are plenty of games out there that could probably be considered objectively "bad", but perhaps a more interesting discussion, both for games and for each other, might be to explore how we come to the things we love, what we love about them and how we can share that love with others in a way that allows for different tastes — whatever the hell that means — to emerge.

Why do you play the games you play? Did you have them as a kid, did you want something to play with your friends, did you want to be part of a certain culture or community? When we want to tell someone they're good or bad for playing or never having played a certain game we love, what does it say about us? What do we get out of trying to get others to fall in line with our tastes? What keeps us from admitting that, for whatever reason, some of the things we like just bring us joy? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Top image via Shutterstock.


Comments

    I more or else have given up on console gaming due to the fact that Streaming television and movies has taken over the living room.

    I can't plonk myself on the couch and fire up the Xbox like I use to due to partner using that area to watch Netflix majority of the time. I don't own a second TV so I've just drifted to PC gaming as it can exclusively be "my space".

      Couldn't help but read this with Teemo's voice!

      It's odd I've drifted towards PC gaming lately but my PC is so outdated that i can only play older games, I've been having a great time revisiting my childhood though.

      I've found a PC quicker to boot up and jump into a game compared to a console which is odd as that's the highlight of console gaming, but because I'm overprotective of my consoles i box them up when I'm not using them.
      I totally agree that I find it easier to have PC gaming as 'my space' too, as I can't get that same feeling with the loungeroom i have now.

      If your PC monitor has an HDMI input, you know you can plug an Xbox into that right? I used my Xbox 360 on a computer monitor for a year, until I got a decent PC.

        Yeah i know I'm currently looking at getting a new monitor, trying to make sure it has a headphone jack for all my consoles.
        I also read PS3 looks pretty bad on a 1080p monitor as it does a bad job at upscaling, so I'm leaning towards Samsung monitors that have 'magic upscaling' or whatever it is.

          I used a ps3 on a 24" 1080p monitor for a few weeks. Didn't see any real problems.

    I like all kinds of games, but find I have a preference for 3rd person action/adventure, RPGS (including JRPGs) and VNs.

    There aren't any games I dislike per se but I could live without mobile games and I'm not a huge fan of online multiplayer games such as FPSs or MOBAs.

    My parents didn’t let me have a console as a kid; I played Duck Hunt and Mario Kart at classmates’ houses, my opinions of them infused with the awkwardness of hanging out with people I had nothing in common with while we played with their toys.Hahaha, that perfectly describes my first experience with both of those games. Duck Hunt I'm pretty sure was part of my first experience with the NES at one friend's place, though he was at least part of my circle of friends at school. Mario Kart however, I went to this one guy's place just to play it even though I didn't know or hang out with the guy at all. Good times.

    In a weird way I tend to avoid nostalgia because it always seems to lead to disappointment.

    As a kid I almost exclusively played point and click adventures. These days I barely touch them because none of the new ones feel as clever or well written as the classics and I'd prefer to not play them at all than to be disappointed.

    As for what draws me to games, it's always been the characters and story of a game. The ability to engage and explore another world. I'll play and appreciate pure mechanics for a little while, but to be really sucked in I need a strong narrative.

    Last edited 07/03/16 9:35 am

      I tried the nostalgia thing with movies and it was no happy memories, more a bit of why did I like this?

    Mum encouraged reading fantasy books which led me to rpgs and point and click adventure games which my dad played. Dad was also into military history and had a good collection of 90s military flight sims and historical based games (total war, lords of the realm, caesar). Arcades also influenced my tastes with street fighter, daytona, tekken but I see them more as social games.

    I'm a really antisocial gamer these days; I tend towards single-player PC games like RPGs. My gaming time is my alone time and it's so precious I don't want to share it with anyone else, unlike when I was a kid and console gaming was a very social thing amongst family and friends. It's no doubt a result of getting older and having a full time job and a young child. Basically life gets in the way of my gaming!

    I'm pretty sure I know which Olympics game the author is talking about. It was pretty grand.

    For me there are only games I have to play with a mouse, which I obviously play on pc, and then there is every other game which I can play on consoles.

    I guess you can firmly plant me in the console gamer lot, but I have a capable pc for when the game is only there.

    I've pre-dominantly been a player of PC games, not owning a console until the early 2000's with an original XBOX and even then waiting about a year to buy Halo, it could wait at the time haha

    This also doesn't count all the time i spent playing around with emulators for console games so it's not like i missed out when i was younger haha

    I have always been an anime/sci-fi nerd so RPG's, particularly JRPG's have always been one of my favourite genre's. Amongst FPS, Strategy, Fighting and Platform games =)

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