Next Time You Play A Video Game, Ask Why You’re Enjoying It

Next Time You Play A Video Game, Ask Why You’re Enjoying It

Why do we play video games? That question and many more, tackled on today’s episode of Kotaku Splitscreen.

First, Kirk and I break down the news of the week before getting into some nitty-gritty about what we’ve been playing (25:48), including Civilization 6, Dragon Quest Builders and Into The Breach. Why do we play games, anyway? LET’S FIGURE IT OUT. Then we talk about the Olympics, whether it’s OK to be friends with Nazis, and all sorts of other good stuff (51:47).

Get the MP3 right here. Here’s an abridged, edited excerpt:

Jason: I was thinking about Civ 6, cause I’ve been playing a lot of it with the new expansion, sitting there clicking away and making decisions. I was thinking about that Sid Meier quote, which is something like, “a video game is a series of interesting decisions,” which is at the core of every Civilization game and a lot of strategy games, like Into The Breach is basically that, a series of interesting decisions.

Kirk: Certainly Divinity 2.

Jason: Yes, you’re just constantly making these interesting decisions. So I was thinking about that, and then I was thinking about other games I’m playing, which are not series of interesting decisions. Like I’m playing Rise of the Tomb Raider, and that is not a series of interesting decisions – it’s more of a flow game, where I’m walking around and enjoying the story.

Kirk: You don’t mean, “Do you want to upgrade your bow or assault rifle next?”

Jason: No, not an interesting decision. And then I was thinking about JRPGs, which I play a lot, although I’ve played some JRPGs recently that I did not like, like the Secret of Mana remake… I was thinking about how in JRPGs, you’re playing them not because of interesting decisions but because you’re going along with the groove of the music, the tone, the themes, the story. So all this came together, and it got me thinking that when we talk about video games, we’re talking about so many different things that it almost feels like it hurts the discourse or makes it harder to have real conversations about video games because so many different genres are trying to accomplish so many different things… I almost feel like we should start an organisation where we separate games into genres and insist that they all be treated as different mediums. The strategy games, the flow games, the rhythm games. We should have different review sites for all of them.

Kirk: [Kidding] That sounds like a great and super doable idea that we should get right on top of. … One of the big problems is that because people play games in different ways, a different game can be a different thing to a different person, which makes it hard to categorise a game. Because one person’s timewaster might be another person’s focused strategy game. You can play games in a lot of different ways, and get different things out of them… It goes back to that thing we’ve said many times, which is that video games are so varied and different and all-changing, that the more video games develop, the harder it is to have something to say about every type of game.

Jason: So I wasn’t serious, obviously, about wanting to classify – but I do think as a thought experiment, the next time you play a video game, think about why you’re playing it, what kinds of decisions you’re making, what your thought process is like going into it. I think that can help you appreciate a game more. So to get specific on Civ 6, I’ve just been zooming out and playing it and thinking about the idea of, you’re constructing this grand civilisation and making all of these decisions, micro and macro, trying to accomplish your goals: Exploring, expanding, making everyone happy, building amenities, building all these districts. It’s a cool feeling to be in this world where you are challenging yourself to make smart decisions, and there’s a great deal of satisfaction when you accomplish those goals and know you did it by executing on all those decisions.

Listen to the full show for much, much more. As always, you can find Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear.


  • good question, not that I can really answer it, nor can I testify why I’m particularly “enjoying” leveling my 25th character in World of Warcraft

    I guess it’s just mindlessly fun to run up to a mob, whack it with a sword and move on.

  • The guaranteed promise of progress for persistence or effort is a regular draw for me, in games.

    It scratches an itch, because that promise of progress or achievement for persistence or effort is something that can’t actually be guaranteed in the real world, where too much is reliant on how much competition you have, who you know, whether you were born rich enough, your genes, or sometimes, just plain dumb fucking luck.

    If you grind long enough in a game, you will eventually get the drop you’re looking for, or out-level your barriers.

    In real life, some people grind their entire lives with no reward, then they die.

  • I can’t really articulate why I do or don’t like particular games. I like to feel a sense of progression, whether in story or gameplay, so I guess this is what motivates me. Like I’ll get annoyed or fatigued with games that keep scaling things like enemy HP so that I never feel like I’m making progress.

    Also as I’ve gotten older I find that I don’t quite enjoy the same games as I used to. I just don’t have the time to sit down and play lengthy TBS or RTS games anymore, nor can I sit down and learn the mechanics of complex simulators. 8 years or so ago that was pretty much all I played. I used to love the technical challenge of learning the systems, but now I just can’t be bothered. I also have very limited tolerance for UI or usability issues, even if the underlying mechanic might be awesome.

  • For me it goes beyond good features or bad, most of my reasoning revolves around whether the things that work matter more than the things I think dont.

    Key to my enjoyment of games comes down to one simple thing: (something I dont think gamers care to even care to ponder) it is not the devs job to make a game I like but make a game THEY believe in based on their vision. In other words, not expecting a game to be what I want it to be.

    EG I think of Dark Souls, so many of the design decisions annoy the heck out of me, when I first started it I hated it so much. It didnt do X, Y, Z that I think games should do, instead when I finally ‘went with’ the game and played the game as they made it, suddenly I loved it. Approach a games on the terms of how it was designed not how i think it should have been.

    Too often these days gamers are demanding devs to deliver the features they want, instead of learning the love the game for what it is.

    Funny enough one of the most value for money games I bought in the last year was Mass Effect: Andromeda, for all its bad reviews, things I didnt like, and bugs, I actually had more fun playing it (for some unknown reason) than so many other games in way better states.

    Lastly one thing I never do is call a bad game trash, or terrible, or insert bad words here. Just because I dont like something that doesnt mean it is devoid of positives or its bad, it just means it is not a game I like. Sadly not many gamers think like that. If I only played ‘good’ games how would I know what i dont like?!

    • Disagree with the last part. There absolutely are bad terrible trash games out there, and they deserve to be called out as such. That’s entirely separate to a game being bad simply because you don’t like it though, and it’s just as possible to like bad games as it is to dislike good games.

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