Monday, November 25, 2013

Gaming Memories of This Generation

Gaming can offer so many experiences. The joy of reaching a high score on the leader board. The anger of getting shot in the back. The competition between you and your best friend as you race around the track. It’s amazing just how many different emotions and feelings you get from one game and how different those emotions are from others who play that same game. This is why games are art: they connect us, on an emotional level that is hard to tap into on any other medium. With the ending of the current generation in sight (though not quite here yet) there’s been a lot of reflection on the best moments of this past 8 years in gaming. Here are a few of mine. Spoiler Alert for those who have yet to play Journey, The Last of Us and infamous 2.

Journeying with a Stranger:

thatgamecompany crafted a masterpiece when they released Journey on PS3. From the unfamiliar and beautiful aesthetic of the desert to your cute little character that journeyed (ahhh, see what I did there?) across the scorching sands towards the mountain in the distance, the game was mesmerizing. However, the best part of Journey has to be the online component.

Without knowing anything, you stumble across a stranger who looks exactly like you. There’s no name tag, no identifier as to who this person is, and there’s no communication, aside from hitting the O button to show your glyph, which is randomly given to you upon the start of your Journey.
I stumbled into the game, clumsy and unaware of the magic this online component would create. After reaching the first level I caught a glimpse of another player jumping across the sand dune landscape. I collided with the other player and flashed my glyph at him/her and received a quick response before he/she darted off to the edge of the map. Frustrated, I followed, flashing my glyph frantically to get the attention of this fellow player, but I received no response. He/she just kept going, continuing to the canyon wall. Just as I was about to turn around and say ‘screw it’, the other player disappeared behind a wall of sand. Curious, I followed and found him/her waiting patiently next to a glowing glyph, the collectibles in the game. I grabbed the glyph and flashed my own in thanks. My colleague flashed his/hers and then darted out of the cavern.

Our time together continued like this, with my fellow traveler darting off in random directions and flashing his/her glyph to show me the way, me following obediently. From level to level we hopped together, until we reached the pinnacle of the game. Together we traveled, through sand and snow until we fell, side by side, together.

To this day I still don’t remember the name of the champion who helped me, but I am forever grateful. I will never forget the magic of the two of us working hand in hand, talking to each other and sharing a joyous experience without uttering a single word to one another, at least not one we could hear from one another. I often think back on that one game play session as one of my most cherished (and constantly advocating as the reason for why Journey would not work on Vita).  Thank you fabled player, for your help and I apologize for my stupidity.

Drinking Beers; Pulling the Trigger:

inFamous 2 is full of so many great moments that I could probably populate this list full of them. However, the moment that sticks out the most is the final moment for the bad ending: the Duel. Zeke, Cole’s best friend in the world who has been by your side (roughly) for two games has no choice but to put his sights on him when Cole decides to sacrifice the humans infected to help bring out the powers of all the special individuals.

After battling to stop the Beast; after a beautiful moment sharing beers together while watching TV; after fighting to the end, it comes down to Cole and Zeke.   Not only is this a powerful, emotional moment, but Sucker Punch decided to leave it non-scripted, forcing you the player to make Cole kill Zeke. It’s heart wrenching to do and that scene still resonates with me as one of the most touching endings to a game in recent memory.

The Beginning of the End:

Speaking of gaming story points, nothing resonates more on an emotional level than the beginning of The Last of Us. The world is falling apart and Joel is trying to get his little girl to safety. Instead of controlling Joel, you’re put into his daughter's shoes. Helpless and scared with nothing to protect you, it was one of the most defenseless moments I have ever felt with a controller in my hand.

When you finally are controlling Joel, running through the streets as explosions break out and people start attacking you from the shadows, nothing matters more than getting Sarah to safety. His brother Billy is killing infected left and right to clear a path so Joel can carry his baby girl away and the sound of their snarling is growing louder as they gather in numbers behind you. It's intense, and scary, and if you fail you will die, and so will Sarah.

But then, that moment when you are finally safe, when you’ve escaped the onslaught, there’s nothing more traumatizing than having her life snatched from her right in front of you, leaving you to watch helplessly as Joel cries while holding her and Sarah whimpers the last of her life out. It was the first time a game literally brought me to tears, and I will never forget it.

Cold As Ice:

I am a Batman nerd. Fanatic really. I know anyone around me on a regular basis is sick of me talking about the Dark Knight and his mythology, but I am just drawn to it. So when Rocksteady brought the series to gaming with the Arkham series, I was floored. I love those games and though I could pick from so many different moments from the series, the two that stand out are the Joker’s song after his demise at the end of Arkham City and the boss fight with Mr. Freeze.

Mr. Freeze takes up shop in the old Gotham Police Department and after a series of events, turns his freeze ray against the Bat. With his giant suit and health depleting freeze gun, Mr. Freeze cannot be taken down head on, and that’s what makes this boss fight so amazing.

Throughout the fight Batman must use every take down available to him to damage Freeze. Once a specific takedown is used, it cannot be used against the walking Popsicle again. This makes battling Freeze challenging and so rewarding, especially in New Game Plus. Planning each takedown takes time and messing up costs precious life as well as the time to once again set up the takedown again. Though it borders on testing your patience, there is nothing more satisfying than when Batman breaks through Mr. Freeze’s visor to punch him with the final blow. It's one of the major moments that makes you feel like the Dark Knight.


LittleBigPlanet has introduced user generated content to the console arena like no other game has done before. Crafting a level is easy to start, but takes patience and mastery to finish. Once you have completed your level, added all the finishing touches to ensure that it works from start to finish and added in your music to make the world pop, it becomes this point of pride for you. It's a part of you and your world you craft in LittleBigPlanet. It’s almost nerve racking to put it out onto the server for the world to see, but you have to. After waiting for minutes, hours or even days you finally get your first run through and… Heart. That moment when you realize that someone else in the world actually enjoyed something that you created is exhilarating, and so worth all those hours of hard work.

Bling, Bling:

Love them or hate them, games now have built in achievements that quite literally mean nothing, except as a point of pride and competition with your friends. And everyone loves them! Okay, not everyone, but almost everyone. The PS3 is my console of choice, so for me it’s trophies. I DO love them. Striving to earn them after beating a game is so much fun for me, especially when I love the game. However, no trophy can top the fabled Platinum Trophy; the trophy of all trophies; the trophy that shows you did everything for that game. Some games it’s pretty easy and others it’s more challenging, and of course for those it is far more enjoyable to obtain.

For me, my proud Platinum Trophy is Gravity Rush, for the PS Vita. I loved that game, but when it came to all the extra stuff I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t want challenges, I wanted side quests. So for those 20 tasks in particular, I refused to trophy hunt in the game. I beat it and put it down after they stopped releasing download content for the title. Months went by and I didn’t even think of the trophies. As much as I loved that game, I wasn’t going back. Then, my roommate John downloaded Gravity Rush. He beat the game and then went on to Platinum it like it was nothing. For whatever reason, the competitiveness in me kicked in. I had to get the Platinum.

So I picked the game back up and struggled. I couldn’t get through the combat with these rare beasts, let alone the challenges. But after a while I started to feel it. I was in the zone! No one could stop me. Challenge after challenge, I flew through them with amazing speed. Every time I only needed two or three tries, max. It was amazing! I seriously could not believe it. When that familiar sound chimed as the icon in the top right corner of the screen showed my Platinum Trophy I beamed with pride. So thanks John, because that was by far one of my greatest gaming moments.

Rocking Out:

The music game craze came and fizzled out in what seemed like the blink of an eye, but for those few years when they were going strong, everyone had them. I loved Guitar Hero for the longest time, but then Harmonix released its band making title: Rock Band.

When the sequel came out, all the original bundles with all the instruments that were once hundreds of dollars finally dropped to an even $99.99. John, Bryan, Briana and I jumped on the opportunity, splitting the game four ways and setting it up in the living room. At first we kinda stared at it, playing here and there. But one weekend we created a band between the four of us. Taxidermic Psychos was the name. I was the singer, Briana was on bass with Bryan on lead guitar and John on drums. We pounded through the campaign, tearing up all of our plastic instruments until they were broken. We had to replace the drum pedal three times.

But it was all so worth it. Every evening we would play together, and we felt like rock stars. We had our customized characters, all a point of pride for each of us, and even created the custom band logo. We would perform while friends were over and they would just watch us run through set lists like no other.

Eventually we worked our way through Rock Band 2 and 3 and now our instruments sit in the closet, much like other rockers out there. But every now and then we get that itch, and we set up the PS3, crank up the volume and prepare our set lists to rock out.

As I said before, gaming is an amazing medium to connect us all together. We can share the same experience or have something totally different from one another while watching and playing the same game. That’s how art works: it connects us emotionally while allowing us to shape our own experiences. Feel free to share your own highlights in gaming, whatever generation it’s from, in the comments below and thanks for reading.

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