Ask the Game Trust: Your Guilty Gaming Gap
You already know that the Crispy Gamer Game Trust knows its stuff when it comes to gaming. But where are the writers really coming from? What are their favorite games? Their defining gaming moments? Their favorite members of New Kids on the Block?
To answer these questions, and many more, we present our "Ask the Game Trust" feature. Every week we'll ask and answer a different question about our collective experiences, opinions and general thoughts on videogames and life in general. Feel free to open a similar window into yourself in the comments thread.
This week's question:
What's the best-known game you've never played?
Kyle Orland: World of Warcraft
Why haven't you played it? I've seen first-hand what World of Warcraft has done to some of my grade-school friends. Specifically, it's turned them into terrible bores who can only talk about World of Warcraft! Yes, there is a part of me that wants to understand the secret language they all seem to be speaking, but there's a larger part of me that thinks I, too, will become a 12-hour-per-day addict playing WoW in excess and to the exclusion of other games. Of course, that means that I wouldn't be able to review those other games, so I'd lose my job and then my home and end up living under a bridge somewhere, getting my WoW fix with a hand-crank laptop charger and municipal WiMAX connection. So you see my predicament.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? The non-WoW players completely understand, and usually identify with my reasoning. The WoW players, of course, try to recruit me. "Oh, it's real casual," they'll say. "You can have fun playing just a few hours a week." But I know they're just trying to lure me into their sordid little world of addiction. The first taste is always free, right?
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? A little ... the game has gotten so big and dominates such a large part of gaming subculture at this point that I feel like an outsider looking in a lot of the time. Why couldn't SubSpace have been the hot MMO everyone was still playing? What? You don't remember SubSpace? My point exactly!
What would it take to get you to play it? I'd probably have to be retired ... or at least in a different line of work.
Troy Goodfellow: Grand Theft Auto (series)
Why haven't you played it? I'll admit that the theme of crime glamour has no real appeal for me. I have a hard time playing "evil" in RPGs; the prospect of actually playing a criminal and being rewarded for antisocial behavior tweaks the Church Lady in me. There's also the fact that the game is about driving, and I hate driving in real life. Why would I play at it?
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? They mostly accept it. It's a gap, sure, and almost unforgivable given how huge this series is. But there hasn't been a lot of judgment. Yet.
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? A lot, actually, especially as the series moves towards serious attempts at storytelling and sandbox play, two things that I am deeply interested in from a design perspective. In some ways, it's like admitting you've never seen "Lawrence of Arabia" or "E.T." and then trying to stay credible as a film critic. Fortunately, I have avoided reviewing any games in this genre so I can keep my critic hat for now.
What would it take to get you to play it? Time and the ability to ignore my wife as she tells me how unpleasant the whole thing is. Or a mandate from an editor.
Tom Chick: All sports games (I think they're usually called "NFAA Baseball '09" or something. The specific letters and numbers might vary.)
Why haven't you played it? Because I don't know how it works. I think there's something about first downs and slicing into the rough.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? They don't know. I've learned to say things like "How about that game last night?" at which point I just let them talk. This simple exchange tricks them into thinking I know about real-world sports. Similarly, I've learned to complain about EA "just updating the roster" whenever there's a new sports game. I can write an entire review composed of variations on that.
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? None whatsoever. I blame my mother instead. She never "sent me out for sports".
What would it take to get you to play it? Waterboarding.
Gus Mastrapa: Grim Fandango
Why haven't you played it? I haven't played Grim Fandango because I'm a bad person who hates everything that is good and true and beautiful in the universe. But I think the real reason is because I've been waiting (futilely, I might add) for a reissue of the game on the Wii or DS or Steam or something. But I keep forgetting that LucasArts would rather squander its money on Indiana Jones games it can't finish than re-release games that are, by most counts, universally beloved and woefully underappreciated.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? Those who have played the game generally kick me in the pants. Those who haven't say, "Yeah, I really need to get around to that one too."
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? My guilt is mammoth. I give tons of lip service to the value of good writing in games. To have this (and a handful of notable others) dwelling in my gaming blind spot is a huge error on my part.
What would it take to get you to play it? I'd start playing today if the game were available via Steam or Good Old Games. A widescreen patch would be nice, too.
Evan Narcisse: Super Mario 64
Why haven't you played it? Before I got in the business professionally, I pretty much rocked Sega consoles exclusively: Master System, Genesis, Sega CD. (No Dreamcast, though. I'd jumped onto the PlayStation bus by that point.) I had friends with Nintendo systems growing up, but I never had the unequivocal affection for all things Mario that others do.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? I suppose it's kind of been my dirty little secret up until now. Scott Jones gave me the silent treatment for half a day when I first told him, and he still uses it to shut me down when we argue. "Hey, Scott, you might want to wear a scarf today; it's going to get pretty cold." "Yeah, like I'm going to take advice from a guy who never played Super Mario 64..."
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? A medium amount. It's only since I've been writing about games that I've realized how pivotal Super Mario 64 was as the first 3-D game. But I do feel that while so many games have absorbed the game's best attributes, it might be pointless to play it in the modern day.
What would it take to get you to play it? Not much. I've got a few hundred Wii points burning a hole in my console, so I might give it a whirl soon.
Steve Kent: World of Warcraft
Why haven't you played it? Having made the switch to novelist, I don't spend nearly as much time playing games these days; but that's just an excuse. The truth here is that I have a highly addictive personality and that WoW was one box this Pandora was not about to open.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? You know what? I don't know. This is the first time I remember ever admitting it. So, how are you reacting?
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? Oh, hell yes. This is not just a small gaffe; this is like having visited every state in the Union except New York. This is like knowing all of the heavyweight champs except Muhammad Ali. I mean, have I played Pong? Yes. Mario? Of course. Tetris? Obviously. Halo? Sure. Pok?mon? Yup. Grand Theft Auto? Duh. World of Warcraft? Um?
What would it take to get you to play it? Ain't going to happen, friends.
James Fudge: Dance Dance Revolution/Guitar Hero/Rock Band (series)
Why haven't you played it? I am not a fan of singing badly or playing fake instruments in the company of others, just like I'm not a fan of dancing badly on a plastic pad for the amusement of others. Honestly, I don't care for these kinds of games, and watching and hearing people play them is more disturbing than having to change your grandma's diaper. I am so embarrassed for all of you people who think you can sing.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? We'll find out after they read this.
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? Guilt? I wouldn't say guilt, because I'm not a fan of these kinds of games. I've played plenty of karaoke games and thought they were fun, but I find the additional elements (instruments) in these games intimidating.
What would it take to get you to play it? A whole lot of liquor, or a family get-together involving liquor, would probably get the job done. Did I mention liquor?
William Abner: Half-Life 2
Why haven't you played it? I rarely review shooters and I lack the free time to dig into games that I am not reviewing. I blame the whole wife/daughter thing. I made time for the original Half-Life but never found the time to play what many consider the best shooter ever. By the time I did, the game was old and I had other things on my plate. I guess the short answer is that I just really suck.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? It definitely raises eyebrows, but it's also not something I share at dinner with friends. "So, how's life as a freelance writer/editor?" "I totally have never played Half-Life 2." It doesn't come up. But I remember telling former Computer Games Magazine editor-in-chief Steve Bauman, who told me he could never listen to another word I said about games. Not that he listened to me before that, but still...
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? Guilt? Not really. I'm a sports/strategy/role-playing guy at heart, so I maintain my gamer card status within those groups.
What would it take to get you to play it? I really should play it, obviously. Can I make a New Year's resolution in February? Is that allowed?
David Thomas: Grand Theft Auto IV
Why haven't you played it? Oh, to pile shame on top of shame! When I didn't get my review copy, it slid off the "have to do" pile. Then I just lost interest. So, the only reason I haven't played GTA IV is because I didn't get a free copy. And because I had a bunch of other games to review, of course. So, in a way, GTA deserved it, right?
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? They never know! That's the great thing about playing so many games. I can pretend I played it. It wasn't that different than the previous versions, right? But, honestly, the weirdest thing is that no one ever talks about GTA IV anymore. It was like some Hollywood blockbuster that everyone went to see on opening weekend, talked about for a couple of days, and then that was it.
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? I have learned to live with the guilt. For all the years I have spent reviewing games, I can only think of how many games I didn't finish, didn't play, didn't try out in multiplayer, etc. I have been burdened with unbearable guilt. Yet, somehow I manage. That, and I can always use Wikipedia or YouTube if I need to check up on something.
What would it take to get you to play it? Well, I suppose I have cast my die. When someone hands me a copy, then I'll play it...
Paul Semel: Super Mario Galaxy
Why haven't you played it? It's just not my kind of thing. As much as I loved Donkey Kong Country, I never got into Super Mario 64 and haven't ever been drawn in by 3-D platformers.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? I don't think I've ever told anyone. In fact, the other night I was out for drinks with a bunch of fellow game journalists, and they all were talking about the game. I just kept sipping my beer. But I sort of expect it to be like when they blacklisted Hollywood people in the '50s.
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? Yes, but only professionally. Which is why I held onto the game for so long before finally ditching it: I felt, from a purely professional standpoint, that I should play it. I just never felt that way personally.
What would it take to get you to play it? I'd love to be able to say something like "Elisha Cuthbert, Jeri Ryan, and the female cast of 'Smallville' all promising to have sex with me in various configurations of my choice at the same time for the rest of my life if I did," but the truth is I'd probably do it for a copy of "Cal McDonald #3," that funny Hulk Mighty Muggs action figure, or a live soundboard recording of the Cult from their Electric tour. Or if Nintendo did a version for the Xbox 360 that had some cool Achievements. Or a sandwich.
Ryan Kuo: The Legend of Zelda (series)
Why haven't you played it? This is how my five-year-old mind worked: I can't play Zelda because I have Mario. Zelda is the complicated, less-exciting fantasy game. Mario is the fun, friendly, jumping plumber game. I watched people playing The Legend of Zelda, but I never laid hands on the controller, as far as I can recall. And, I haven't had the bravery to face up to any of the sequels, because I've felt for the last 20 years that I have to start from ground zero to make up for my mistake. What is a Tri-Force?
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? Most of my friends/colleagues are not gaming professionals, so they usually change the subject and say something like "Do you like my new shirt?" or "Oh my god, look at that cute dog!"
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? I love the idea of a game with sprawling adventure that isn't a hardcore RPG, and I love Okami, which Zelda is said to have inspired, so I'm slightly guilty. I'm mainly excited that I have yet to experience it.
What would it take to get you to play it? I think that's mostly a technical question.
Jason McMaster: Planescape: Torment
Why haven't you played it? I don't know. Something always came up. Well, what always came up was that I couldn't stop playing Counter-Strike with every free moment I could muster.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? I stopped mentioning it after a while. People know I love RPGs and always want to talk to me about them. The conversation usually ends up heading into Planescape territory. After a few speeches about how it's the greatest game in the world, I decided to go with the old "smile and nod" approach to conversation.
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? Quite a bit. I've played just about every RPG I could get my hands on since childhood. Seeing Abner mention Darklands when the Crispy staff discussed our first game made me nostalgic. So, the fact that I haven't played a critically acclaimed RPG makes me feel incomplete as a man.
What would it take to get you to play it? Finding a copy and having the time. Not a lot of people out there are clamoring for Torment coverage.
David J. Long: EverQuest
Why haven't you played it? When everyone else was super-excited about the massively-multiplayer game NOW IN 3-D, I was too busy enjoying everything else. Plus, I had played Ultima Online for awhile and didn't think 3-D brought anything to the genre that mattered to me at the time. It was also kind of ugly.
How do friends/colleagues react when they find out? No one's talked to me about it before, but I don't think anyone would care too much. As big as EverQuest was, it's now just another blip in an iterative process of MMO development.
Any guilt about this gap in your gaming knowledge? None whatsoever. I filled the MMO gap with a lot of more obscure designs like Motor City Online, Jumpgate, Time of Defiance, Vendetta Online, Dreamlords and a bunch of others you probably never heard of. I also played EverQuest II for about a year and got the general gist of what I missed the first time around.
What would it take to get you to play it? Obviously, more than the free 10-level trial they offer! I don't think I could be convinced, though I'm usually fine with playing dated-looking games. So much water has gone under the MMO bridge since then.