Gaming in Real Life

Given that today was the last day of my vacation, I did the usual (somewhat depressing) quick run through the List Of Stuff I Really Wanted To Do But Couldn’t, and came up with one thing that has been smack in the middle of it for a good while, which is to catch up on games.

To give you an idea of how that went, I picked up Mario Kart just before on vacation, but only managed to play it once.

Besides the waste of a perfectly good plastic steering wheel, I think that puts me squarely on the “casual gamer” category – an interesting situation considering that a few years back I would spend an hour every now and then pulling off near-impossible stunts inside some high-octane variant of Quake, and enjoying every microsecond of it.

These days things are a bit different, of course, and I follow with mild bemusement the travails of those foolish few who are trying to get Spore running on their machines.

A moment of silence, please, for those who still think DRM provides a good user experience in software. Thank you.

Not that I spent much time perusing that kind of news – to draw a coarse parallel, I buy and read EDGE with mostly the same mindset I pick up WIRED (i.e., to build my own mental picture of what the industry is like and where it’s heading), but I haven’t the time or the patience to, say, read Kotaku or any other games site.

So yes, PC gaming is pretty much dead for me (please, no jokes about Mac gaming being dead for years now…).

Over the years I’ve found that console gaming is a much cleaner affair1, if only because it doesn’t clutter up your computer with junk or make you feel depressed because your hardware clearly isn’t up to the task of rendering some specular highlight on the slime blob you’re attempting to guide/raise/educate/exterminate2.

Which is a rather roundabout way to get to some of my actual points in writing this.

I’ve become a sort of console gamer, if spirit if not in heart – for I clearly do not spend much time (if any) in front of a TV set playing, and yet I now find it a lot more enjoyable than trying to play anything on a computer3.

There are now two active (i.e., plugged in and not gathering dust) consoles in the house: A Wii for “social” gaming and a few specific games and a 60GB PS3 that, truth be told, is mostly used as a DVD player and media center, hooked up to the “good” (1080i, HD) TV.

The 60GB PS3 is amazing in many regards, and I’ve downloaded every free PS3 demo I can find on their online store, but besides the bundled titles that came with it (so good that I’ve already forgotten about them), I only bought one game for it so far, and that is The Orange Box.

And, truth be told, I bought it because of TF2 and the illusion that I would actually play it every now and then.

I ended up fooling around with Portal for a bit and occasionally slotting in a PS2 disc or two (like Okami, which is still around somewhere), because I can’t find any compelling games for the PS3. PS3 games tend to be big hulking pieces of overwrought scenery and ambiance that require massive chunks of time that I don’t have.

I’d love to be able to play, say, MGS4 for the sheer fun of figuring out the culture behind the game, but it isn’t likely to happen soon.

Whereas I go out and buy Nintendo stuff pretty much sight unseen because it’s guaranteed to be fun, simple to play and hence more than enough as far as getting my money’s worth is concerned.

But Metroid can be played piecemeal on a Wii and is good FPS fun (if I feel like shooting things), and Super Mario Galaxy is simply magical and tremendously fun. Pure, unadulterated, enchanted fun.

I don’t care if it’s a kid’s game – it pushes the right buttons for me as far as spatial awareness is concerned4, and is easier to play in chunks than most games (there is no pressure to play the whole thing in a row, and so I have been playing something like a galaxy per month).

You would think that something smaller and portable might be a bit more my style, but I have (since forever) found mobile phone games to be a waste of time, and my PSP has been gathering dust since I got an iPod Touch.

And, oddly enough, besides the amazing Trism (one of the first apps I bought) I have played zero games on the iPhone or iPod.

So much for the “funnest” and most hyped gaming platform of the year, then – although the AppStore is compelling enough on its own for me to spend a while every weekend window-shopping, which is an order of magnitude more than Sony or “Nintendo”“:com/Nintendo have managed to get from me (now that I think of it, I haven’t visited the Wii one for months now).

Looking forward, Little Big Planet and Mirror’s Edge are on my radar for the PS3, if only because they stand out from the plethora of machine gun and chainsaw games for the platform. I very much doubt I’ll go out and get either on my own, but I will surely add them to my wishlist around Xmas.

And I’m intrigued by the potential of both Sony’s and “Nintendo’s”“:com/Nintendo online stores. Neither seems to be very dynamic these days, but I have hope.

On the online front, I should probably point out that the recently launched Life with PlayStation is nothing to write home about. I personally found it somewhat insulting to not even have Lisbon on the map, for instance (whereas “Nintendo”“:com/Nintendo can give me the weather for a bunch of Portuguese cities, if I ever feel so inclined as to actually check it on a console).

Still, it bears reaffirming that whatever kind of online strategy Sony and “Nintendo”“:com/Nintendo have, it’s not really happening yet.

1 Provided you are willing to pay for your games, which I understand makes me something of a rarity in this day and age. I have mint copies of several widely-pirated games from my college years, something that many friends of mine thought hilarious at the time.

2 Pick one or more.

3 Although I remain steadfast in my assertion that the only real way to play FPS games is with a mouse and keyboard. Jiggling little sticks to try to aim a virtual weapon at a fast-moving target is preposterously inadequate when you spent years honing your hand-eye coordination to the point where you could hit a specific pixel on the target while you both were doing somersaults in mid-air.

4 Yes, I need to keep exercising those clumps of neurons that gave me the edge in Q3. You never know when I might need to use them.

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