Easy Mode: Experiential Gaming

I like to play video games to relax. I have an incredibly hectic schedule (like 95% of the population) and so when I have a couple hours of downtime I like to fire up a console and escape from my ever-growing to do list for a little while. And most of the time, playing video games helps me achieve this – even in a faster paced game, you can get caught up in the story and action. That is, until something goes wrong.

For me, this probably happens more often than for others. I was playing Mass Effect 2 a couple weeks ago, having a time, when I got stuck on one mission because I couldn’t control a swarm of husks in this one spot. Try after try I got taken over by those gross things – each time become more disconnected from the experience and more focused on my frustration. After 45 minutes I had to turn the TV off and step away before my controller ended up hanging out of the screen. That is not my idea of a fun, relaxing time. – it’s more along the lines of a rage induced blackout.

Recently, however, I have discovered a new experiential type of game that not only provides the player with the escapism and involvement into the development of the story that I want with my relaxation, but also limits the possibilities of falling into a rage coma that results in the destruction of an entire room.

When Journey was released back in March, the buzz surrounding is was intense and incredibly positive. I typically am not the type to download a game (I love collecting the cases) but this was one that I just couldn’t miss out on. And I am so glad that I didn’t. Not only did I play through the entire game in one sitting, but I did so with a huge smile on my face and tears in my eyes. Never in my life have I been so moved by a game – through only music and art an intricate, moving and personal story was told in my living room.

As a huge zombie fan I knew I would play The Walking Dead Game when the first episode came out the end of April. What I didn’t know is how the way Telltale Games would lend itself to drawing you into the story without needing to rely on X and Y axis co-ordination to pop off head shots into zombie herds. Instead, you interactively lead the story, and make quick decisions that legitimately affects the future of the game – who lives and dies, who eats, and most importantly, who trusts you. Even though it’s spookier than relaxing, the fact that the game does not rely on heavy skill makes it easier to get lost in the experience the developers were hoping for you to have.

The Unfinished Swan, released just last month, is the newest PSN download that fills the space in the market for a game heavy on personal experience and growth over action and blood. Again, without instruction or tutorials, you find your way through the guided story on your own. I love playing a game that allows me to become fully enveloped in it without having the fear of getting stuck on one part that takes me out of the game and back into reality.

What I have fallen in love with about these games is that they aren’t about skill or a heavy challenge – they’re about emotion, and driving the player through a story without breaking the complete immersion they provide. These games do something so different than what the AAA titles are doing, and as a gamer who often gets stuck on difficult parts and is forced to angrily shut off my consoles I am drawn to them. They are short, encompassing, and focus on the story over the difficulty level and the mechanics.

This is not to say that I don’t love AAA titles – I do. But some of these titles require you to strategically plan your attacks, and if you do it wrong you are stuck. Again and again. And I get stuck more than most. Being able to relax and immerse myself in a game like Journey or The Unfinished Swan is the true escape I look for sometimes in gaming, and I am glad that these new games are able to provide me with that experience when I need it.