Video games

Memory games

One of the big things that validates gaming for me personally are the memories. Those landmark gaming experiences that we all have, or the unforgettable pleasure of discovering a game for the first time.

What most interests me though is the unique effect that video games have on the mind. A good game will gradually start to seep into your subconscious and a fantastic game will be all-encompassing, becoming all you can think about. In time both of these sets of feelings will become the basis for future nostalgia.

Forming memories

I personally believe that games can be just as powerful a memory device as song. I imagine that this is due to the combination of musical score and recognisable sound effects. But most of the “trigger” effect is due to the positive influences that come with being immersed in an engaging and believeable world. As such video games have become the signposts in my memory landscape; the helpful shorthand by which I remember a host of details about my life I wouldn’t otherwise.

So a neat bonus of playing games is their ability to tie the more mundane (but as the years progress, priceless) details of my life into my long term memory. Even now playing or watching a particular video game can take me back to a certain moment in time; the ping of the bumpers in Sonic 2, the voice effects of Altered Beast, or even up to the present day with the pop of the achievement unlocked marker. An in-game soundtrack or noise can take me back to the era it was played in, the sights and sounds, my then likes and dislikes, and my fluations of mood, all come flooding back to me in those few seconds of graphics and sound.

It’s a similar sort of sensation to listening to a certain musical album can take you back to a particular moment. For me personally though the gaming reminders are always more palpable, due to the nature of gaming often needing longer stretches of time to enjoy, more patience and more determination.

Nostalgia is a funny thing though, and the mind itself poses a great example of this; as we often compensate for older games by making them seem much better looking in our minds than they actually are.

Our memories are at the heart of our time spent with games and despite their unreliable nature they remain important and useful. After all it is often the quality of older titles that encourages us to look for similar quality in the future.

Effecting the present

A really great game becomes the sole (and occasionally unwanted) focus of your waking hours. This sensation is often how I know if the team of developers involved have done their job right. Perhaps a HUD will appear in your minds eye when out walking, or a series of in-game sounds leap out of the everyday din. I often look forward to this rare effect as a barometer for how quickly a game has won me over, as it becomes so deeply rooted in my subconscious it starts to make me double take in real-life settings.

Have you experienced any of these strange and personal gaming phenomenons? Which gaming experiences triggered them?

Video games

The waiting game

Gamers are patient. The nature of our pastime ties us into the action of waiting, as we sit through months or years in anticipation for our next desired title. Gamers frequently face long waits and have even longer memories. A bad release will continue to mar a game far into its maturity.

Release a game with any sort of major problem and and millions of gamers wait in the wings to tear the release apart. Neither party wants that. So, why do mistakes and delays still happen?

Starting a game off on the right foot

It’s really hard to remain composed about a subject like this. The temptation to name names over the particular gaming misdemeanor which has led to me writing this post is incredible. As such it’s hard for those last few months’ before a game arrives – those moments of tension, disappointment and anger to leave my mind, it has negatively affected the undeniable quality of the game in question, and that’s a genuine shame.

This particular delay is made even more infuriating by the developer and manufacturer’s joint inability to properly discuss the problem. It leads to impassioned and normally quite proud fans (such as myself) partaking in a pastime that I do not enjoy (moaning). This ultimately has a detrimental effect on both the individual game’s community and the wider one.

I can’t help but feel that the majority of game release problems could be fixed by developers simply being more honest and open, about lots of things – but primarily the features of a game. Being more transparent about a game’s limitations early on could nip most grievances in the bud. A games features are all too frequently embellished or made out to be far grander or important than they actually are, and almost every developer is guilty of this in the lead-up to a big release.

Also having to wait above and beyond what is reasonable can lead to you start to resent the game in question for being the only thing you want to play – while still finding yourself unable to play it. It crushes your desire to play anything else. It causes a desperate all or nothing situation. We need that next big gaming hit and everyone – including the people making the games – know it.

Avoiding disaster

The simplest way to avoid this sort of heartache is for developers and publishers to simply talk to us more. Opening up the lines of communication involves the intended audience for the game in the release process, and has the added benefit of making the wait more tolerable. Waiting is a natural part of gaming, and there’s no reason at all why the wait cannot be as exciting as those first few moments with a newly arrived gaming pleasure.

As is often the case with a game, the sense of anticipation leading up to release can sometimes be greater than the game itself. Our ambition for a title almost always surpasses that of the developers, and it would be wonderful if more development teams could respond to this positive influence by simply managing our expectations better. Actively restraining their PR people just a little and letting the quality of the game speak for itself.

Hype is a natural part of a new game, and controlling the flow of information is appreciated by all of us up to a point. Leaving a community to ponder alone for months with no information at all is a bad idea and generally leads to people drawing their own very blunt and negative conclusions. The very best type of hype is the sort created in the hearts and minds of community, it is sort of publicity that cannot be created, marketed or bought. What distinguishes the good releases from the bad ones are the ones which involves us, to the point where we feel we’ve had a hand in the game’s development and growth.

In the spirit of naming no names, there are also those rare diamonds in the rough that always manage (even the most trying) release schedule well. The numerous developers that are already doing this certainly deserve praise and any additional sales from being respectful ro the massive responsibility of managing and maintaining our passion and the emotional impact that occurs in those long and tiresome waits.

Managing expectations

Above all else game developers should be comfortable with letting the consumers of their games discuss the problems with it – at length – and at all stages, and where possible doing their utmost to occasionally respond.

If any problems do arise, it would be nice if more developers and publishers actively engaged in fan discussion by providing regular updates for us to pore over. Doing so in the channels and mediums that suits their audience, such as social media, forums and gaming communities. How nice would it be for companies to be more proactive about these things – to venture onto our preferred method of communication and explain why problem has happened, or why there is a particular delay and when things are likely to be rectified. Developers should listen to feedback whilst always ensuring that any frequent points raised (often in the hundreds of thousands) are at least rectified in the sequel. We all collectively understand the limitations of game development, but often resent being fooled a second or third time.

As is normally the case it is the mystery of the problem that we gamers find difficult in those hard, initial months of waiting. Shedding some light on a game’s shortfalls – and quickly – could so often ease the frequent tension that exists in our community. Which in complete fairness to us, is almost always due to a lack of information.

Gamers after all are extremely patient, but only up to a point.