Most video game-players have someone in their life — an uncle, a parent, a cousin, a co-worker — who just doesn't play video games. Time and again, we try to poke and prod at those people, to better understand where they're coming from and more importantly, how they view our favourite pastime/livelihood/obsession/etc.
And so an article like this one at Financial Times can be very valuable, if also a bit frustrating. The article's author, Lucy Kellaway, does not play video games. In fact, in her words, "Video games have always got between me and the men in my life." From college to the present, she has thought of video games as something that men do apart from her, from her arcade-going college friends to her PS3-playing sons.
And yet Kellaway, a novelist and columnist for the Financial Times, was recruited to be one of several non-gamer judges for the GameCity Prize competition, coming on board to judge seven games: Catherine, FEZ, J.S. Joust, Journey , Mass Effect 3, Preoteus, and Super Mario 3D Land. (Good list; ...interesting judging strategy.)
Kellaway agreed to be a judge, though not because she much cares about the broader cultural conversation about video games. In her words, "The conversation I'm after is even more elusive: I simply wanted to be able to talk to my sons again."
She writes pretty entertainingly about some of the games, from the extreme frustration her son felt while watching her die in Super Mario 3D Land (I think most gamers have been there at one time or another, i.e. "You're playing it wrong!"), and her take on Catherine, which she says is "simply too stressful. I don't find repeatedly being pushed to my death by a giant bottom at all enjoyable."
The relaxing Proteus and beautiful Journey fare much better, and J.S. Joust falls short of similar, older games: "Give me Twister any day."
In the end, Kellaway says that she learned something about video games, and something about herself. Namely, "how bad I am at being bad at things." Surely even the most hardcore gamers can identify with this — how many times have you looked at a genre, be it racing sims, soccer games, or League of Legends, and thought "Man, I'll get frustrated and quit before I ever stop sucking at that. Count me out."
There are other things to take away from the article as well, from Kellaway's gender bias about games — she expresses excitement that New Statesman editor Helen Lewis plays games even though "she's not even a man" — to her general incuriosity about the deeper story behind the games she's playing. But hey, baby steps, I suppose. Everyone comes to it at their own speed, and Kellaway has got a lot of ground to cover.
I particularly enjoyed the bit about the 2D/3D platformer Fez, which Kellaway describes as "pretty and ingenious but it's not exactly Proust. It's not even JK Rowling." She elaborates:
[Fez] was developed by a young man in Elvis Costello spectacles who spent five years ignoring his girlfriend in order to make a game that is supposed to make us nostalgic for the early computer games we played (or not) as kids.
It's all about a blobby character in a fez hat who climbs up buildings; it looks pretty and, best of all, I could do it, just about. In my judge's notebook, I wrote: "Surprisingly enjoyable. Great colours. Like the weird music," but then ran out of things to say.
Ha! Never played any video games and yet she still knows to immediately take a dig at Phil Fish. She may be more of a natural gamer than she thinks.
Game Theory [Financial Times]