Tag Archives: Nintendo

Why Video Games Can be Addictive

There has always been a certain addictive quality to video games.  After all, the industry began as a scheme to get kids into arcades and empty their pockets.  Getting the high score in Pac-Man or Space Invaders was enough to sustain coin-operated games until home consoles and PC’s slowly made them obsolete, save for the occasional Dave and Buster’s.

Arcade games weren’t necessarily all that addictive.  Once you ran out of quarters you were kind of done with them.  It wasn’t like a slot machine at a casino, offering potential monetary rewards.  Instead, it was merely a way to pass the time until you ran out of money.

Once games moved from arcades into the living room, the “beat the high score” motivation became essentially meaningless.  Sure games like the Super Mario Brothers series still had “scores,” but no one cared because you weren’t playing against dozens of other opponents drawn from members of the public.  Instead it became about “beating” the game, or “beating” an opponent sitting next to you.

Early 8 or 16 bit games couldn’t handle a lot of complexity, so beating the game usually meant finishing a set of progressively difficult levels or puzzles.  Sports games employed “rubber-band AI,” which caused the computer to essentially cheat if you got too good against it.

This basic paradigm of gaming continued for quite some time.  The biggest problem was that if the game got too hard, a lot of players would simply give up on it.  I never beat the majority of my NES games because I just stopped trying.  If the top levels got too hard, it was frustrating to continue.

There were two exceptions to this – sports games and role-playing games.  Once NES games like Tecmo Super Bowl licensed the names and trademarks of real players and teams, the allure of sports games increased.  It no longer meant just playing against friends and siblings, it meant playing as the real players in a sort of fantasy world where you could win games 63-0 (at least until the rubber-band AI caught up to you).

Early RPG’s like The Legend of Zelda and Crystalis weren’t nearly as difficult as the average NES platformers.  However, the story and the ability to “level” up your character kept you engaged.  Often the two were intertwined.  For example, I would spend hours leveling up on Crystalis just to be able to get to the next part of the story.

That gives us five elements of an addictive game:

  1. Progressively difficult, but not insurmountable, obstacles.
  2. Fulfilling a common fantasy.
  3. Engaging with human players.
  4. A reward system, such as leveling up.
  5. A compelling story.

Not all addictive games have all of these elements, but all addictive games have at least one of them.  Arguably, MMORPG’s such as World of Warcraft have all five elements.  Likewise, popular cell phone games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga may only have #1 and/or #4.  Therefore, a video game can become addictive if it has multiple elements, or if it masters one or two.

Anyway, the next time you wonder why you got sucked into a video game, that’s why.  Several decades of game evolution landed on some pretty straightforward rules to keep you playing.  Understanding those rules may help you pull yourself away.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe


Video Game Preservation Week – NES Games

And so it’s come to this – Video Game Preservation week.  Video games have come a long way throughout their history and now run the gamut from mildly amusing time wasters (see Saga, Candy Crush) to epic visual experiences with the production values of Hollywood movies.

Are video games an artform worthy of preservation?  For the next seven days, I’ll be publishing articles that justify a resounding “yes” as an answer to that question.  Today, we’re going to start with this:

The beloved Nintendo Entertainment System.  Behold its glory.  Many of us have fond memories of spending hours of our youth playing video games on this guy, but were those games art worthy of preservation?  Yes they are – and here are five reasons why:

1)The NES and the Video Game Renaissance

The NES saved the very concept of video games from oblivion.

In the 1970’s, video game consoles first found their way into our living rooms.  There wasn’t a lot you could do with the technology at the time, but Missile Command, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and other arcade favorites were there.  Unfortunately, so were hundreds of awful games.  The final nail in the coffin of this era of gaming was the ET game for Atari 2600 in 1982 – millions of which were buried in the middle of the desert (or so the legends say).

Nintendo saved video games by maintaining strict quality controls, pioneering character based gaming, and marketing itself, at least at first, as an “entertainment system” and not as a “video game console.”  Operating in a commercial vacuum didn’t hurt either.

Now that we made the case for the machine, let’s look at some of the games:

2) Storytelling – The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Crystalis

We have started to expect plot and character development in our video games, but when we first experienced these concepts, it was absolutely incredible.  The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy have become video game phenomenon with every additional version, but I think it was little-known Crystalis that may have had the best story of any NES game.

3) Social Experiences – Blades of Steel, Tecmo Super Bowl, Super Mario Brothers 3

Early video games had two player modes, but they were too limited and repetitive to provide much re-play value after a few sittings.  Several NES games changed this dynamic.  I think the best part about Super Mario 3 was the cooperative two player mode, and Tecmo Super Bowl allowed us to play through a real NFL season for the first time.  Blades of Steel wasn’t as complex as those games, but it was just as much fun.

4) Insane Difficulty – Mega Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Contra

We’ve gotten away from intense and unfair difficulty in video games, but this makes these old NES games all the more interesting to me.  I’m not saying we should bring back ridiculously hard obstacles (the TMNT water level, having to fight Elec Man for the second time, or having to use the Konami Code just to get to level 2), but these games have their own special place in video game history.

5)  Creativity – Metroid, Punch-Out, Kirby’s Adventure

More quality control meant that the NES could push the envelope on creativity, as developers were no longer encourages to just churn out crap.  Metroid could have been a lot less interesting, Punch-Out a lot less colorful, and Kirby’s Adventure could have phoned it in as one of the last games on the NES.  Fortunately, none of these things happened.

There are dozens of classic games that I didn’t mention here, all worthy of preservation for their own reasons.  What do you think?

(c) 2014 D. G. McCabe