The topic of playing games correctly recently came up on Idle Weekend (definitely in my top three gaming podcasts, alongside Retronauts and Insert Credit), and it’s nothing if not an interesting topic. Is there a right way to play a game? The easy answer is “sure,” there is a way to enjoy the game as much as possible. The actual answer is a bit more complicated.
What kind of games do you like to play? What do you feel like playing right now? Have you already finished the game, or is this your first go? The way you answer these will have a drastic impact on how you most enjoy a particular game. The right way for you is likely to be ever in flux based on a huge variety of conditions.
I experienced this for myself in a rather intense manner when I tried playing Dark Souls 2 for the first time. I dove in thinking that I should take my time- play carefully, slowly, seeking every nook and cranny and bit of information about the world, and avoiding death as much as possible. I tried this on. DS2 and couldn’t get into it in the slightest.
It had been a while since my romp through Lordran, and the style of games (as well as my gameplay desires) that I had been playing had changed a fair bit. Story heavy immersive worlds were replaced by fast, tight, mechanically focused fun. I was trying to play the game in completely the wrong way for my current mindset. Still on the twitchy arcadey bend that I was, I went back and tried my hand at dual wielding cestus’ and a rapier + sword (for those pesky enemies where a little reach could make or break the encounter). It was amazing.
This brings me to one of my favorite Youtubers – pannenkoek. As a fan of the no sword Zelda run and other self imposed challenges, this caught my attention big time. Playing through Mario 64 with a minimal number of A button presses is fascinating and brilliant. Some might think that this incredible level of interest in the mechanical design of the game is a bit much, that it is the wrong way to play (in the same way that large skip glitches in an RPG completely undermines the narrative flow). For them, I’m sure that’s true, but for those interested in low A button press runs, unpacking the mechanical systems of Mario 64 is certainly the right way to play.
I’ve recently got into programming, and it’s drastically changed what the right way for me to play is. Where before I was all about story all the time, and fun arcade style play was up for a bit, now I largely play games to see the seams of the world – I want to see how they are put together and how they work. Like the physicist who loves his job, I’m completely taken with understanding the math underneath the things that I see. For me, speed running has become high art – it exposes the bare bones beneath and moves things into place to bring about new function.
The real moral of the story here is don’t just find the right way for you to play and sit static in it forever – keep playing, and keep seeking that way that you can best enjoy a fantastic media. There’s fun to be had, and you should certainly seek it out.