The Wimpy Gamer’s Response to Video Games (Narrative vs. Combat)

Growing up with an older brother, I was fated to experience firsthand one of the most disturbing cultural phenomena of our time: The “Halo Party.”

Whenever I heard a series of loud, barbaric shouts emanating up from the basement, I could immediately infer what was going on down there and knew that it was in my best interest to stay away at all costs. There were a few hapless occasions, however, when necessity required me to venture into the basement’s uncertain depths, straight into the war zone itself.

On these occasions, as soon as I creaked open the basement door, a sharp, pungent stench—cheap cologne mingled with body odor—would immediately clog my nostrils. Silently, warily, I would tiptoe down the stairs, plunging ever deeper into darkness.

When I reached the bottom of the stairs, the image before me was like a sort of sick, twisted camping trip. Huddled around the glow of the television screen in a semicircle, my older brother and several of his friends were frantically jostling their video game controls, engaged in an intense game of Halo™. Judging from their sweat-stained shirts, their gaming efforts must have been causing them a great deal of exertion. Whenever a character died, they would emit inhuman, animal yells of frustration. Quickly, trying to remain unnoticed, I grabbed whatever it was I needed from the basement and clambered back upstairs, into safety.

I probably wasn’t the only little sister in America forced to endure the infamous testosterone-fest known as the Halo Party. After all, the game was—and still is—tremendously popular, not just among sweaty preteen boys, but also among a more sophisticated adult crowd (my high school German teacher, a self-proclaimed gamer, was conveniently “sick” on the day Halo 3 was released. Hmmm…).

It makes sense why Halo has amassed such a devoted following.  To be sure, the game boasts impressive graphics and a fairly engrossing narrative; but, as Matt Thumser so aptly put it, people don’t play Halo to admire the beautifully-rendered trees or to ponder the avant-garde extraterrestrial architecture. Rather, Halo’s biggest allure is that it is thrilling, suspenseful. The epitome of a perfect first-person shooter game, it provides harrowing and challenging objectives for the player to conquer. Gunning down machines, slaughtering aliens, operating heavy artillery—indeed, Halo beckons to the trigger-happy masses itching to blow things up. It is also highly competitive, which is why it lends itself so well to large-group social gatherings.

Perhaps I might mention that I am not the biggest game enthusiast the world has ever seen. In fact, aside from dabbling (rather unsuccessfully, might I add) with LOTRO, my knowledge of video games is mainly confined to older, outdated breeds dating back to the N-64 days—games such as Zelda, Mario Kart, and Super Mash Bros. In my novice opinion, however, I prefer video games that craft a rich, vivid story. This could be because I am a nervous sort of gamer, becoming all jumpy and panicky whenever I am faced with the prospect of attack, so I find it infinitely more enjoyable to stroll around, admiring the scenery, than to subject my poor avatar to humiliation. But I do think that a meaningful, engrossing storyline—especially when coupled with a series of interactive objectives—goes a long way towards immersing the gamer.

This is what makes LOTRO the ideal game: it seamlessly incorporates both of these aspects to form one comprehensive, all-encompassing video game. With its abundance of quests and battles, it would undoubtedly appeal to the legion of Halo enthusiasts, who seek the thrill of challenging combat; but it also provides an intricate, magical world and a captivating storyline to intrigue the less-competitive, more story-based breed of gamers. For someone who—to put it bluntly—sucks at video games, LOTRO offers more than pure combat to keep me engaged. Perhaps in Halo I couldn’t stop to muse at the beautiful landscape without being annihilated by a friendly alien; but in LOTRO, at least, I can take a few moments and explore Tolkien’s fantastical realm.

Anna Dickens

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