This post was inspired by Shaun from At The Buzzer’s ‘Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You’ pledge, which you can check out here. I think it’s an awesome idea and probably one that’s not foreign to any of you. Although they might not do it every day, people step outside of their comfort zone all the time in real life or least think they should. It’s seen as character building and from my own experience, I’ve found that stepping out of your comfort zone regularly can open up many new opportunities for you. So why can’t we apply the same attitude to gaming? Most gamers probably have a favourite genre or type of game that they prefer to play over others and many of them (myself included) tend to just play what they’re used to or the kind of game they’ve had fun playing before. It’s a pretty normal attitude I think. There will naturally be certain games that attract you and there might be reasons you don’t play others. If don’t like socialising you probably don’t play a lot of MMOs, for instance. It might be that you know the controls in your genre (they tend to be fairly standardized these days) or maybe you don’t want to have to learn a new set of rules. However, for many of the same reasons you might want to do be a little more adventurous in real life, playing games outside of your comfort zone could lead to some surprising and beneficial results.
The most obvious result is that it could open you up to games that you might have never have thought of playing before, but discover are actually really fun. I used to be pretty picky about the type of games I played. I didn’t play horror, puzzle or strategy games much, for example. I preferred and still generally prefer a good RPG or FPS over most types of games. For me, gaming was always about not having to engage my brain too much. I liked good stories that I could escape into and I liked making split-second tactical decision, but I didn’t like having to make plans or strategise too much in advance. I did that way too much in my real life anyway. And most of the time, that way of thinking steered me towards games that I enjoyed – games with guns and shooting and worlds for me to explore. However, what that does is cuts off a huge chunk of games that you might very well enjoy, but you just don’t know it yet. Playing Slender: The Eight Pages and Amnesia: The Dark Descent has opened me up to the survival horror genre. Previously, I didn’t like the idea of not being able to just attack enemies full on. It didn’t seem like a particularly fun way to play – walking around being scared and powerless. It seemed kind of boring, to be honest. With those two games, I found out that I was wrong. I discovered the delicious feeling of scaring yourself. It was like watching a scary movie, but much scarier, because you’re actually involved, you actually have to do something. I began to see the appeal. Now I can’t get enough of it. I want more fear! More terror! And I want to see what other survival horror games can do and find out how they can scare me in different ways. I’ve turned into even more of a masochist than I was before! I was pleasantly surprised and would never have realised how excellent some of these games are if I hadn’t tried it for myself and let a few of the not so interesting games put me off.
I also think trying games you don’t normally play makes you more adaptable and well-rounded as a gamer. Personally I’ve found that skills are often transferable across games, as well as across genres. You might think that RTS and FPS have little in common, but I don’t think that’s true. They both require quick reflexes and fast decision-making. Playing widely also hones your critical eye. It’ll help you figure out what’s good and what’s not by giving you a wider perspective and therefore make your reviews or what you have to say sound more convincing. At games magazines people might specialise, but they’re still expected to have a well-rounded knowledge of games and the industry in general. It’s the same with people who play for fun or blog. Obviously if you don’t really care about articulating your thoughts and just want to play for its escapist value that’s fine too, but I think a lot of us gamers like to congregate and discuss the latest games or game-related issues at least a bit. That’s one of the best things about being part of a gaming community, whether that means your group of friends or a forum or something else entirely. As a bonus I’ve found that thinking about games more deeply has give me greater enjoyment of them too.
Playing a variety of games also helps keep things fresh. Playing within a particular genre (or two) over and over, even you’re playing different games can get monotonous and boring. I’m certainly not thrilled by the idea of playing ten Amnesia-style games back-to-back, no matter how good they are. Sometimes people talk about burning out or just getting bored of games. Whenever I’ve felt like that I just try something totally new and that usually seems to cure it. If I’ve been playing a lot of AAA titles, I’ll try some indie games or flash games. I’ll try a different genre, so if I’ve been playing a long heavy RPG I’ll try a short platformer afterwards. Everyone needs a little variety in their lives and trying something new might be the breath of fresh air you need.
Nowadays with the blurring of lines between genres I’m not even sure talking about ‘genres’ is particularly helpful in describing a lot of the games that are out there at the moment. The RPG genre (with classics like Baldur’s Gate spearheading it) used to be strictly defined – they had quests, sometimes a party or just an individual character to control, some kind of leveling system or a way for the character to become more powerful, character customization and more. Now there seem to be hybrids everywhere you look. What genre does the Mass Effect series fit into? Is it a shooter, an RPG or is it something entirely different? It doesn’t have many of the typical characteristics that would make it an RPG or an action game, but at the same time it has a lot of both. I’d probably call it an action RPG third-person shooter, but I’ve heard other terms attached to the series. Even terms like ‘open world’ or ‘sandbox’ don’t have much meaning anymore. Tons of games are open world in some manner now, it’s all about HOW open world it is. My point is that trying to fit games into specific genres doesn’t even work anymore so why even try? You might instinctively not pick up a game because it’s not described as an action game for instance, but it might actually have a lot of elements you like in a game.
Also, games are constantly trying to innovate, whether in small or large ways. Even games within a specific genre are now often vastly different, especially with the constant influx of new tech. Like I said before, no one wants to play the same thing over and over again. Dota 2 wasn’t what I expected it all. It’s most commonly called an action RTS or a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena). When I think RTS, I think base-building, resource gathering and a bunch of other things that I don’t have the patience for. I liked Age of Empires and Warcraft III, but even those didn’t hold my attention for very long and they aren’t games I’d think of playing whenever I have else to nothing to do. ExceptDota 2’s nothing like that. It’s a fast-paced lane pusher with no base-building and where you control one hero rather than having to manage tons of units. True it’s still not exactly ‘my thing’ as much as say Borderlands 2 was, but I enjoy playing it and it’s got me thinking what other strategy games I might be missing out on.
It might seem easier to stick to what you know sometimes, especially you know the ins and outs of the genre of games you tend to play and you have no idea what some of the other are about, but you’d be missing out. Especially now with that games don’t tend to adhere as strongly to genres as they used to and new genres are being created all the time. That’s why I encourage all of you to pick up a game that you wouldn’t normally play and try it out. It might just surprise you.