Some games absolutely do support such sentiments. But some not only break these negative stereotypes, they defy them. The below thoughtful, emotional games appeal more to higher sensibilities, rather than the primordial bloodlust and fascination with shiny lights embedded in humanity’s monkey brain recesses.
At face value, the “Mass Effect” shooter games seem fairly generic. The player tries to save the galaxy from evil alien machines called Reapers. But while the “ME” games do have all the stereotypical whiz-bang action, that’s not what they’re really about.
“ME” games revolve around story and character. They’re about getting to know the members of your crew. You can choose to pursue romantic relationships, and in another act of defiance against gaming stereotypes, they don’t always develop between a man and a woman.
They’re about the difficult command choices that can determine which of your team live, and which die.
Few other games can make players care as much about people who are really just pixels, or agonize so much over the decisions that effect them.
“Journey,” almost more a piece of abstract performance art than a game, is utterly unique. In “Journey,” you take the role of a nameless traveler who awakens on a sand dune in the desert. A mountain sits in the distance. The game’s entire goal: reach the mountain.
Along the way, it’s possible to encounter other players, but there’s no way to communicate directly with them. “Journey” does not have any chat function whatsoever. You can interact only by aiding other players directly or through a wordless shout.
As you approach the mountain, ruins of a lost civilization materialize and occasionally, you’re treated to visions depicting the fall of that civilization – again, wordlessly.
The brief and minimalistic experience compels players to think about games – and fellow gamers – in entirely new ways.
“Dear Esther” is a game so unusual that some argue it isn’t actually a game at all. Eschewing all concepts of traditional gameplay, “Dear Esther” sends players wandering around a lonely island with fragments of letters written to a woman named Esther as their compass.
The fragments are randomized, so the story plays out differently every time, and players are encouraged to draw their own conclusions as to what it means.
Despite “Dear Esther’s” unusual nature, gamers and critics alike give its haunting storyline, inventive presentation, and stellar soundtrack mass acclaim. For the argument of video games as art, it certainly makes a fine example.
Even the smartest games usually rely on some form of combat, but “Portal” – and its sequel “Portal 2” – are purely puzzle games, and brilliant ones at that.
In “Portal,” players take on the role of Chell, a woman who mysteriously awakens in an abandoned laboratory. Armed with nothing but a gun that opens wormholes, Chell must complete a series of increasingly dangerous tests at the prompting of an artificial intelligence system called GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System).
The puzzles twist the mind and defies physics. Place the entrance to a portal at the bottom of a cliff and the exit on a wall, jump off the cliff and into the portal, and find yourself hurled out of the wall and across an otherwise impassable gap.
“Portal” also offers a witty story full of dark humor. It manages to blend quirky, hilarious characters with the creeping dread that accompanies the realization that Chell is the only living being left in a lab controlled by a psychotic machine.
Like “Journey,” “Ico” sticks conceptually to minimalism, this form intended to push the boundaries of emotion and personal engagement in gaming. Gamers play as Ico the title character, a deformed boy sent as a sacrifice to an evil queen. He escapes and encounters Yorda, the queen’s daughter.
To win, escape the queen’s castle accompanied by Yorda. Yorda and Ico do not speak the same language so players have to rely on more basic types of communication, such as holding Yorda’s hand to lead her forward.
“Ico” has little in the way of combat. The shadowy ghosts of other boys sacrificed to the queen attempt to capture Yorda, and the player must fight them off by jabbing them with a stick or a sword, but that’s about it. Mostly, it’s a platform game, focussed on jumping puzzles and the like.
Interestingly, Ico can’t die. The only way to lose is to allow Yorda’s capture by the ghosts.
The point of “Ico” is for the player to form an emotional attachment to Yorda. The lack of any actual conversation creates an interesting dynamic between the player and the character and induces thoughts about the nature of human interaction.
“The Secret World” is a massively multiplayer role-playing game (MMORPG) based on the idea that every myth, every conspiracy theory, and every urban legend of antiquity forms a secret world hidden within our own modern one.
While most MMORPGs seek to copy “World of Warcraft” by replicating its fantasy setting, easy gameplay, and loot-driven endgame, “TSW” dares to be different.
Instead of copying Tolkien, “TSW” goes the way of traditional horror, channeling the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. Instead of sending players on an endless quest for shinier gear, “TSW” focuses on horizontal progression, offering hundreds of abilities that can be combined in countless ways.
“TSW” has the usual combat missions, but it also has many stealth and puzzle-solving missions – which often require research into real world topics, blurring the line between gaming and reality.
What really sets “TSW” apart though, is the depth of its story, which seamlessly weaves together its own lore with that of multiple real world mythologies to create something magical. The first main story arc has players battling alongside Native American shamans to defend a sleepy New England town from zombies, Lovecraftian horrors, and Norse gods. Somehow, all these disparate elements work together beautifully.