I’m an old lady who likes to play video games, casual and ‘hardcore’. I’ve learned a few things about myself during my foray into the latter, and I’m going to share them with you because I can. First, though, a brief primer on what I enjoyed about the former. One, Hidden Object Games. They’re like the Hidden PicturesTM (apparently, they trademarked the name–who knew?) in Highlight magazine, which I really loved as a kid. It’s funny to me that they try to have compelling stories, but they’re usually pretty nonsensical. Also, the puzzles are often made up of, “go back several scenes and get that one implement that you knew you’d have to use in the future, but we wouldn’t let you pick up”, rinse, lather, and repeat. The graphics have gotten much better in the years which I’ve played them, but I do think it’s a bit ridiculous to make them HD. I also like Time Management Games and Match-3s, and that’s about it for my casual gameplay. Why do I play them? They’re relaxing (well, mostly. Time Management Games can be stressful), and I don’t really have to think while playing them.
Hardcore games are different, but not completely. I have certain hardcore games that I play because they’re relaxing, and I’ll get into that later. The main observation I want to make, though, is that I’m old. Yeah, I know that’s not a revelation, but it’s relevant to this conversation because I feel many games are made for people who are two decades younger than I am. Which is shortsighted because women are now the majority of gamers, and no, I don’t just mean casual games. I mean PC games (though it’s a statistical dead heat), with women playing more RPG than men, while men overwhelmingly play more FPS and MMO than women do. I play both RPG and FPS, and I enjoy both greatly.
There is some dispute as to whether women are mostly casual gamers or not.PC Gamer in the link above says no, but even if they are, some media such as The Guardian speculate it’s because women aren’t welcome in hardcore gaming, either in the development of it or in the playing of it. I have had many of the same complaints about hardcore games. The default protagonist is white, male, and straight, which is a minority of actual gamers these days. I prefer games in which I can pick the gender, race, sexuality, etc., of my character, and I always make them look as much like me as possible. I don’t think someone who has his everything reflected back to him on a constant basis can understand how meaningful it is to make my avatar look like me, even if I can’t see her while I’m playing. It’s ironic, though, because many of them decry the increasing diversity in gaming because it’s taking away from the immersion that they find necessary to enjoy the game. “How can I I enjoy the game if the protagonist doesn’t look like me?” Precisely.
I’ve done that particular rant before, so I’m not going to do it again. Instead, I’m going to address another bias in gaming that is rarely discussed–youth versus older people. Obviously, I’m one of the latter, but this is not going to be about those rascallion youngin’s getting the hell off my lawn. It’s more about the limitations I as an older person have while playing hardcore games. There’s one in particular, and it’s mostly when I play rogue-like/lite games that are bullet-helly, and it’s that my reflexes are slow. Look, I’m forty-four. I’m not going to have the reflexes of a twenty-year-old. I’m just not. So any game that depends on quick reflexes is going to be difficult for me.
I first noticed this infliction when I was playing the game, Nuclear Throne. I was hesitant to play it in the first place because it looked super-hard, but when Ian gifted it to me on Steam, I had to give it a try. It was in Early Access (and just got released), which meant they were updating weekly. I died over and over again, but I slowly learned how to play the game. I got addicted and started playing it compulsively every day, and I loved it so much, I wrote a glowing review of it. It took me forever to finally be able to beat the throne, but it was exhilarating when I did–until I realized that I couldn’t do the looping because there were simply too many enemies on the screen doing too much shit. I made it to the sewers once, I think, but I wasn’t having any fun at that point. In addition, I wasn’t able to beat the throne or even reach it very often, and each time felt less like a victory and more like a chore.
Quick note: The music in the palace just before you’re about to reach the throne is the absolute best. It’s stirring and rousing, and gets you ready for the big fight. I think they might have changed it since I stopped playing the game, but the music in general is solid.
You may have noticed that I mentioned I stopped playing the game in the last paragraph. Yes, I did, many months ago, and I’ll tell you why. After putting several hundred plus hours into game, I realized that I was never going to get better at it than I already was. Two of the YouTubers I watch who play the game on a regular basis (SLEEPCYCLES and bisnap) were asked how to get better at the game, and they said to practice more. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s bullshit. I couldn’t practice more than I already was, or rather, it wouldn’t have mattered. I had reached my cap as a player, and it was disheartening to know that no matter how much I played the game, I wouldn’t get better at it. This is not me being down on myself–it’s me being realistic about my abilities. I simply do not have the reflexes necessary to play the game, and once I realized that, I lost enjoyment in playing. In addition, Vlambeer (the company) was still updating the game as it was still in Early Access, and they were making everything harder. I’d play the game when an update came out, but I didn’t enjoy it. One, you do have to play every day to keep your skills up, and two, they buffed Lil’ Hunter to the point of ridiculousness, and I could no longer get past him. Once that happened, I was done with the game. I haven’t played it in at least a month, probably longer.
Here’s the thing about indie games that are cult hits and have fierce niche communities that love them–the developer starts catering to the core community, whether intentionally or not, and everyone else can take it or leave it. I think it’s a good and a bad thing that there is so much interaction between a game’s developer and it’s community these days for that reason. A game like Nuclear Throne has a fan base that is rabid about the game and insanely good at it. They talk about looping three or four times as if it’s nothing whereas I was proud of myself when I was able to make it out of the wasteland during the first loop. In other words, our gaming experience is vastly different, and Vlambeer decided to serve their needs and not mine. I’m not complaining–just stating a fact. Many of the latter updates were geared towards adding new weapons after you loop, and I lost even more interest knowing I’d never find them or be able to use them I realized the game was not meant for me, and that’s fine. I do wonder if it’s short-sighted of them because this isn’t a game that most people will want to play, but that’s their decision. I do think, though, that being immersed in a community makes you think that community is the norm–which is true about life in general. In this case, specifically, it means that only listening to your community skews your thinking as to what is the norm for society at large. I have no ill-will towards Nuclear Throne or Vlambeer, but it does make me sad that a game I enjoyed so much is now inaccessible to me.
I’m currently playing another game, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth, which is also a rogue-like/lite game, and while there is a similar cap happening, I’m not as frustrated with it as I was with Nuclear Throne. I am reaching the end of it, I think, but that’s more because I’ve put over a thousand hours into it. However, I do feel like Afterbirth, the expansion, (it used to be Rebirth) is reaching that difficulty level for me, and I think I like the game less now than I did before the expansion. Again, I feel as if the expansion was a love letter to the core fans, which is understandable, but that means I’m left out in the cold again.
I don’t want to get too deep into Afterbirth mechanics because that would be a post in and of itself, but I’ve thought about why I’m less frustrated with the parts of it that I simply can’t beat–such as a character who dies if it ever gets hit. There are items that mitigate that, but it can never take more than one hit per room, which is not possible for me. I’m Platinum God in Rebirth, but I never got Real Platinum God because of that character, and I was fine with it. I’m also never going to get whatever whatever God in Afterbirth because of that character and because of a the two other new characters plus because of the new secret boss, which I’m less sanguine about. Again, I feel as if many of the updates (including the ARG–alternate reality game) were included as fan service, and I mean the elite fans, not the ones like me who love the game, but aren’t that good at it. bisnap also plays Afterbirth, and he talks about how easy the game is, and I feel as if we’re playing two different games. There is a normal mode (aka easy mode) in Isaac, but I like playing in hard mode, even though it’s becoming too hard for me now.
I don’t have the same negative feelings towards Isaac as I do towards Nuclear Throne, but I do find myself playing less of it now that it’s moving past me. I was especially mad when they nerfed Azazel because he was my go-to character when I wanted a relaxing run. They’ve buffed him back somewhat, but he’s still not the same, and I feel like it’s yet another nod to the core community and not considering us lesser peons who don’t think the game is a (bi)snap. I think it’s a difficult balance for developers to make, especially indie devs because they have to keep their core fans happy while also appealing to a broader audience–or just sacrifice one for the other. I can’t blame developers who choose to make their games better for their core fans–it just means that games I used to love may pass me by. Again, i want to stress that it’s not a matter of playing better. My hand-eye coordination is simply not the same as it was twenty years ago. I have to accept that my physical limitations means I can’t play certain games as well as other people can. It’s the reason i can play a game such as Assault Android Cactus and love it, but know that I will never get S+ (the best) rankings on all the levels. I. Can’t. Do. It.
So, now that I’ve bitched about what I can’t do in video games, how about a little about why I become addicted to certain games? I tend to play mostly one game at a time. Whether it’s Torchlight or Diablo 3 or Borderlands or Dark Souls or The Witcher 3 or the aforementioned NT/BoI:A, and now Skyrim, what is it that keeps me coming back to a game? With the rogue-like/lites, it’s a matter of wanting to beat one more level. Both NT and BoI: A and Cook, Serve, Delicious (the one game I hundred-percented! I’m really looking forward to the sequel), a really hard restaurant sim game, hit that sweet spot of, “I can do this just a bit better. Let me try again!” The other games are different in that their RPG/FPS, and it’s not about doing a certain level better. With the RPG, it’s about building a character, tailoring her to my tastes, and marveling in her skills. In addition, I mostly play ranged characters, specifically magic users. Allow me to throw fire around, and I’m in heaven. After completing Dark Souls, I started up Dark Souls 2 (with an appreciable rest time in between), but I couldn’t stick with it because for some unfathomable reason, they took out the pyromancy class. I also love roaming around the open worlds, doing whatever quests I want in whatever order. I tend to ignore the main mission because there is just so much side shit to do, but i hate fetch quests and collectibles because the former seems like filler and the latter kicks off the OCD traits I have. At some point, I feel like I have to get every collectible, and that stops being any fun at all.
If I can, I always make my character female and Asian. I touched upon why that is earlier in this post. I play as female unless it’s not an option at all as in The Witcher 3. I didn’t mind playing as Geralt of Rivia, in fact, I really enjoyed it. Partly because he’s one of my video game boos, but that’s besides the point. I like being able to give skills to my character, but again, it’s a fine line because if there are too many upgrades, I can get overwhelmed by the choices or not happy that I can’t get every upgrade available. I’ll usually upgrade my health/healing capacities and anything flame-related, but I sometimes long to be able to use the other upgrades. In some games, you can respec your skill tree, but that’s almost worse because then your initial choices don’t seem to matter. Also, I don’t read anything that tells me how to maximize my build in a game. I’m not a min/maxer of any sort, and that kind of play doesn’t appeal to me at all. During the second half of Dark Souls, I had to refer to the wikis several times for a variety of reasons, and I got to see just how poorly I had maximized my build. I was doing everything wrong, these forum posts informed me (not me specifically, but me, nonetheless), and by all rights, I should not have been able to beat the game. Which I did, let me remind you. Beat it, I mean. I’ve been toying with a post about how not to play Dark Souls and still beat it, but that will have to wait. My point is that one thing I love about open world games is that you can play them in many different ways depending on your build (really, if I play Dark Souls again, I have to focus on one stat, not just spread my points across them all).
By the way, I really want to play Dark Souls 2 because Dark Souls 3 is coming out in March of next year. I’m stoked about 3 because Hidetaka Miyazaki is at the helm again. He’s the brains behind the original Souls game (and Demon Souls, which I’ll never get to play, sadly), but was absent for 2 because he was working on Bloodborne (which is almost enough to get me to buy a PS4). I really don’t like DS 2, though, even though I’ve only played a few hours. It’s partly because there is no pyromancy class as I mentioned earlier, but it’s also because I’m not used to being this bad at a Souls game again. Everything is new, and I was getting killed at what I knew to be fairly low-level enemies, and I wasn’t happy about it. Another big problem is that they retooled the health system so instead of having a certain amount of estus flasks (your health potions, basically) that renew at every bonfire, you only have one flask, and every time you die, you get less and less of the flask each revival. I’m sure there’s a cap to it, but i haven’t reached it yet. Oh, and there are some stones you can crush or something to give you temporary health. I hate it.
I can’t be too mad at FromSoft (the developers, FromSoftware) because they were in a bind when it came to making a sequel to Dark Souls, a surprising cult hit. Souls fans are rabid about everything, and it had to be hard to make a game that was similar enough to satisfy Souls fan, but different enough that it wasn’t merely a carbon copy of the first. Plus, the stun factor from the game simply wasn’t there with the second–it couldn’t be, of course. Still, the second game has been a disappointment so far, and I’m dragging my heels in getting back to it. Ideally, I’ll finish it before DS 3 comes out, but I’m not too sanguine about the prospect.
This is running long, and I want to talk about my recent foray into Skyrim (yes, I know, I’m way behind the curve), so I’ll have to save it for a future post.