What Are You Looking For In A Video Game?

We can all agree that video games are a form of entertainment, but just what about them entertains you? What are you looking for, or getting out of them, when you sit down with a controller in hand?

I bring this up because over the weekend I was talking with a friend about Modern Warfare 2, and despite the fact we were both in the same room talking about the same game, we were having two conversations: his as a "casual" gamer who only plays Modern Warfare 2, and only plays it online, and me as someone who plays, well, pretty much everything.

After butting heads for half an hour or so, me complaining about the game's awful writing, him about how there's not enough guns in it, he asked me what I look for in a game. And... I had to pause. Because while I've played thousands of games over the past 26 years, and know inherently what I like and what I don't like, I don't think I've ever sat down and explicitly spelled it out.

So I went home and did just that. Looking over the list, I thought it was pretty interesting, both in terms of how it shapes what I play in my spare time and in how it reflects the stage of my life I'm at, where I've gone from bum uni student playing Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon all day to someone with a wife, mortgage, full-time job and even a baby on the way.

What I Like

Writing - I don't demand a quality plot when playing a game. Those are hard enough to come up with for a movie or book, let alone something as interactive video game. But I do enjoy quality writing. Snappy dialogue, a bit of humour, a bit of emotion. It's why I love Uncharted 2 so much: the story might be a bit rubbish, but the way the characters are driven through it is a delight.

Visual Design - Shallow, perhaps, but here you have it: I like a strong, consistent, polished visual design in my games. Unique weapons, believable landscapes, interesting features. Half-Life 2 has this. So does Mirror's Edge. By contrast, this means that a lot of other games I should be enjoying - like, for instance, most space-based strategy games - I'm not, because they look like they jumped straight off the pages of a 15 year-old high school nerd's sketch book.

Storybook Gaming - I prefer singleplayer games, and I prefer my singleplayer games to be like interactive stories, me pushing the action onwards as I discover the world and complete the game. Because of this, I do not like having to repeat sections 5-10 times. When I'm reading a book or a comic, I don't stop and read the same page 5-10 times. I read it once and I move on!

Hand-Holding - Easy-to-understand menus. Maps that clearly show where I have to go. Easy difficulties. Objectives that tell me how to complete them. This is partly related to the point above, but there's a big different between exploring a world and stumbling around in blind frustration.

What I Don't Like

Online Multiplayer - I have to do this for work when it's called for, but I generally cannot stand playing online. If it's not racist, homophobic assholes ruining Xbox Live, it's being the whipping boy in a match because I'm the only person in the room who doesn't spend 16 hours a day playing the same game.

Games As A Challenge - Perhaps my biggest pet peeve in games. I understand why other people like it, but me, I hate it. I'm talking games that make you learn complex routines, replay levels 10 times, restart at the beginning of a stage instead of a checkpoint, etc. To me, that's a form of masochism. I want to enjoy a game, not be punished by it.

Time Sink - Despite some of my favourite games of all time being guilty of this - like Animal Crossing and Final Fantasy XII - for the most part, if a game makes me log in and complete menial tasks in order to advance, I don't enjoy it. That can mean level grinding in a role-playing game, or even in an online shooter.

After looking over this list, I decided to look over my games collection, see if there was any correlation. And what do you know. The highlights of my remaining PS2 games are Okami, Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. On GameCube? Wind Waker, Sands of Time and Animal Crossing. On Xbox? Full Spectrum Warrior, Jet Set Radio and Beyond Good & Evil.

There were no fighting games. No Japanese role-playing games. No massively-multiplayer online titles. My list was matching up with my collection almost perfectly.

I'd profiled myself.

Which, let's be clear, is no revelation. It hasn't shaken my beliefs in the medium, or somehow put nearly three decades of gaming into a sense of perspective. I just found it really interesting to put it down on paper, and explain away - on the record - why I like what I like, or why I pass on some of history's biggest games or gaming experiences.

It's worth keeping this kind of stuff in mind any time you read about games, too, especially when it comes to reviews. Heck, it's why we review games the way we do, because what one person hates, another may love!

So what about you? Ever wonder exactly what it was you liked and didn't like about games? Or do you blow in the wind, tastes and habits changing depending on where you are in life?


    I usually like good writing. Something that keeps me hooked where I must know the end!
    I have a few casual games for when I hate everything and need something easy to make me forget. These are when I actually like grinding.
    Other then that, the game mentioned above are what I also have.

    Good story
    Decent length
    Nice graphics
    Fun gameplay
    Good characters
    Good character interaction
    Interesting enemys
    Cool setting
    Some sort of sci fi/paranormal/fantasy element
    That the game is serious (serious characters, story and setting) but has a few jokes in it

    single player gamers.. are the new retro gamers.. IMO

    Replay value, including multiplayer if it's relevant. Also Something that has depth, in the story and/or the gameplay.
    Such as Left 4 Dead, which is indisputably a good game but it lacks that depth in either game mechanics and story, that a truly great game has.

    Excellent story, gripping gameplay and a sense of immersion all draw me to my favourite games.

    I'm really looking forward to Alan Wake, as I enjoy reading some thriller books by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and the like. (I prefer sci-fi and fantasy, though).

    Having said that, Monster Hunter Tri has very little in the way of story, and I've already logged in excess of 40 hours on that game (almost double the time I've spent on FF XIII :P ). The novelty of slaying new and powerful monsters, and the skill-based gameplay, are very seductive. It certainly re-validates my purchase of the Wii (ostensibly preceded by Smash Bros., New Super Mario Bros., Zelda Twilight Princess, and Metroid Prime Trilogy).

    It's the little things that I like the most. I might say I'm a sucker for Style over Substance. Evil Genius might not have the greatest and most refined gameplay (it is PRETTY awesome though) but I love it for the asthetics, the sound visuals and design of the thing. Same reason I'm such a big fan of Team Fortress 2, Battalion Wars and Anno 1701 I guess. Give the game a unique-enough style and polish the presentation and I'll be there.

    I like what everyone else likes- graphics, writing, story etc....

    Here's two things:

    But one thing I'm into right now that you don't get alot of in games these days is a change of pace. I don't like all action all the time. I don't like being shot at every second. I'm getting back into Metal Gear- I'm playing through MGS on PSP and MGS:4 of PS3 again. I like the stealthy element of those games where it pays to AVOID action not be put into the thick of it.

    Also I like a detailed game world to explore. My favourite games are generally sandbox titles- with the obvious big note exceptions. But I generally am drawn to big open world games with lots of things to find- that whole concept of 'digital tourism', where one of the great joys of the game is just exploring, and seeing whats in the world thats been created. See GTAIV, Yakuza 3, Just Cause 2- and what I'm looking forward to most, Red Dead: Redemption

    Mr Plunkett, I think I love you. Those are pretty much exactly the same points and reasons I would make. Give me an engrossing story and world to fall in love with over a score counter and move list to memorise any day.

    Definetely agree with you, Mr. Plunkett! I was all ready to get into a spicy debate, but it's awesome to see so many people have similar ideas to me about what constitutes a quality game. I was expecting a lot more 'I just wanna shoot Nazi zombies' blockheads...not to judge or anything :D

    I just realised the other day that I like playing different kinds of games on consoles vs handheld - my fave DS games are Prof Layton and Ace Attorney, mainly puzzle-type games, whereas the best console games are all the epic, sword-smashy ones.

    I completely agree!

    What I'm looking for:

    -Fun to Play, a la Burnout 3 or SVR 2010

    - Keeps me hooked, because, if I don't keep playing a game on the first day I buy it, from 7pm to 1am, then I'm not hooked.

    - Good offline multiplayer, like LittleBigPlanet, that game makes me wish I had 4 controllers.

    - Not being stuck, like in BioShock 2 and Ratchet & Clank TOD

    your comments on multiplayer come accross as a tad whiny, not to mention you forget the magic mute button

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