Game Eaters

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I like to watch...

... people playing games. And before you start thinking that I'm a videogame pervert, remember that in South Korea there are three cable channels that broadcast videogame matches. I like playing too, of course, but I still keep a certain fascination about watching people play. Perhaps it's part of my academic side, always observing how people relate to media. Perhaps it's my crazy scientist side, the same side that showed clips from Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive in the US) and Evil Dead 2 in a symposium to my fellow students and teachers of English Literature, and watched their faces instead of the screen.

There is an inherent pleasure in seeing other people play. C'mon, you've done it too. Watching sportsment while they play cannot be so different from watching someone playing a videogame. As in sports, it is more enjoyable to see a game played when we know what it is about; we should have played it ourselves to appreciate good (or bad) gameplay. Only when you've played Guitar Hero can you be astounded at a video of someone hitting all the notes of 'Bark at the Moon' in Expert mode.

This videogame voyeurism probably started with my own limited gaming skills. I've improved a ton, but there are still certain genres that I completely suck at, so I need someone to play them for me. Six years ago, when I started studying games, if I got stuck in a certain level of a game, I would call my brother to help me pass that level or that stupid boss whose strategy I could not figure out. We scholars need to know as much of the game as possible, so at times we must resort to surrogate players to get us through the game. (Stop that disdainful smirk, you've used GameFAQs too, I'm sure!)

I must confess I'm not so interested in watching a video of what the screen shows while someone plays. I like to watch what people do, their gestures, what they say. More importantly, I love to see how people learn to play the game, and improve with every try. Again, Guitar Hero is an excellent example of this--you can see a newbie from failing the first song to happily rocking on in less than an hour. Every game of the Wii, so far, also brings out that sense of wonder, since we're still getting used to the new controller.

However, the biggest kick I get from watching people is when they play a game I had a hand in. When I was demoing my interactive fiction piece (which I'll post here one of these days), I was thrilled to see what people would try that I had not thought of, and later I would try to incorporate it into the game if it wasn't supported. I would not get discouraged if they did not do what they were supposed to, I made a note and tried to make changes for people to understand what they could do. On the one hand, making games gives you a sense of power, since you get players to do what you want (more or less, if you're a good desinger). On the other, it's also gratifying to give players a sense of power too, by which games allow them to do things that they can't do in real life.

The empowerment of players, letting them do things that they can't do in real life (flying an acrobatic plane, swimming in deep waters, fighting aliens, being a thief, a pirate, a rock star, a surgeon) is what I like to watch, whoever made the game. Sharing that power, that thrill to people around is what I like when I watch people play games.

(... Okaaaaaay, watching people suffer while playing games can also be fun. See "Why Doom 3 is rated mature".)


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