When it comes to determining our video game preferences, there are always going to be as many irrational factors thrown in as there are rational. What truly influences our choice? Does the single prized game in every enthusiast’s heart just ride a wave of nostalgia alone? In all probability, the scales are different for each individual. Some are constantly revising their “favorite” game or list of games. Others hold on to one game forever, never allowing anything else to come close. Join me, as we investigate this topic on this week’s Point of Contention.
I’ll admit, I can only point to my own favorite game getting a steam release as the inspiration for writing this post. Finally, for the first time in five years, I’ll get to see if Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords lives up to my deep childhood connection or falls apart under the weight of its numerous faults. It may surprise many of you that this, of all games, is my one, true favorite. Looking at it again after all these years, I finally understand the cries of its many critics. I can see the strings holding up what I used to think was interactive magic work. And in a game as glitched and broken as this, you can really see those strings.
But ultimately, has this broken down my childhood memories? Does seeing something from my childhood through the harsh and judgmental eyes of young adulthood ruin my memories or attachment to this game? From what I’ve found, not one bit. I still consider it my favorite, bugs and all. So this got me thinking. What is it about this game that truly makes it my favorite, since it turns out it’s not half as put together as I once thought it was?
Clearly, nostalgia is a powerful influence, but it’s not the only factor. Why would I pick KotOR 2 over the other plethora of games I played in my youth and adolescence? After a long period of thought and deliberation, I believed it came to one single aspect of games that seals them away in our memory. Atmosphere. Some games have rich atmospheres and others don’t. If you’re confused by what I mean, consider atmosphere to be a mix of the subtle sensory connections a game makes with the player. Color palette, musical tone, story pacing, and location style can all be examples of the parts that combine to make a game’s atmosphere.
KotOR 2, while certainly not containing as bombastic or structured a story as in KotOR 1, has a strong control over its atmosphere. Its story is slow, and subtle. Its locations are dim and slightly devious. Its music drowns the player in padded, dark melodies. There’s a central, permeating theme, a blanket of atmosphere that forces the player to get lost in the world created before their eyes. Ocarina of Time had this, as did Earthbound, Mass Effect, Final Fantasy VII, and many other games that tend to top game enthusiast’s favorite game lists.
I don’t mean to take this column as an excuse to defend my odd preferences. Admittedly, I wouldn’t consider this claim to apply to everyone. My love of Journey, for example (a game VERY invested in its own atmosphere), isn’t shared by everyone, especially those who looked past beautiful cello and stunning landscapes and searched for a challenge that simply isn’t there.
Some of you may agree wholeheartedly that the best games give the player a deep and meaningful experience, instead of merely a challenge or a gimmick. Others of you will undoubtedly oppose such a statement, seeing this mindset as the reason behind much of the reason reliance in the game industry on style over substance. It’s my hope that you’ll come out of this admittedly meandering and vague post to understand why there are such splits among us. We don’t all interact with our medium in the search for a common goal or purpose. Some play for challenge, others play for the memorable experiences games leave us. Some play for other reasons entirely.
And I believe that there is no better place to find what we want when we play that to look at our favorite games, as irrational and imperfect as they often are.