Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Platform Evolution

In Jane McGonigal's talk on TED, she compared the time gamers dedicate to playing to the time it took for humans to stand up right. She said that the time gamers spend on gameplay is, in it of itself, a form of cognitive evolution. I agree with this aspect of gaming because I see it in every gamer's experience. People are exposed to different genres of games and therefore develop or "evolve" to master that game. This change is caused by the very evolution of games themselves.

 Jesper Juul commented in his book, Half-Real, that games have drastically changed since the very first recorded form of gameplay, Senate. Many games are computer based now and have gone through several genres like arcade to home console. In fact, I believe that there is already a huge gap in the evolution between arcade games and console games. There are many people, like myself, who play console games that were originally formatted for older arcade style gameplay. Then there are people who grew up playing nothing but arcade games in malls or restaurants. There is a case to be made that if a gamer who plays a certain game on consoles, (and is really good at it), tried his/her hand at the same game on the arcade format, the results would be very different. In fact, there is a strong possibility that the gamer would not perform well.

I am not just making a theory, I have personally tested this on one of my favorite games series, Soul Calibur. I am proud to say that I am a fairly seasoned veteran at this fighting game, but the game was originally on the arcade format. Learning this, I was tempted to think I was just as good at the arcade variant, (or more accurately put "original format"), as I was at the Playstation 2 version of Soul Calibur 2. I quickly learned, however, that the muscle memory and skills of my console gameplay were nowhere near the same as the arcade version. The difference was literally in the formatting. No, I am not trying to blame the game for my bad performance, but the controls themselves were of two different time periods. I was not trained to use the older joystick and button layout that the arcade version offered. Plus, there was the x-factor of how the player was positioned during gameplay. I was used to playing while sitting in a chair or couch, but the arcade version doesn't provide seats so the tension of standing while playing also affected me.

The simple truth was that I was not exposed to this form of gameplay, so I was not evolved enough to play it well. I was trained to play the evolutionary step up from arcades. If I spent just as many hours playing the arcade as I did the console, my performance would improve drastically. However, because of today's market, consoles like PS3 and X-box 360 are more convenient for people who don't want to go to a specific location outside of their home to play a game.

I have seen people struggle to play platform games that are usually good at arcade games. I have also seen gamers struggle with switching between X-box 360 and PS3 games. I am one of these people as well. I tried to play the newest release of the Soul Calibur series, Soul Calibur V, on the Playstation 3 and I dominated, but when I played it on the X-box 360 I was not as good. It was the same problem I faced when dealing with the arcade version. The controls were alien to me. The buttons were the same but the joystick and the d-pad on the left side of the control were different than the PS3 setup. Plus, the unknown sense or feel of the controls just didm't sit well with me. What is really strange was when I played a different game for X-box 360, like Halo 4, and I was not bewildered by the same problems when I played Soul Calibur V. I had evolved to deal with the format of Halo 4 because it is specific to only the X-box, so there was no problem of switching mindsets.

Now it is more than possible to be good at more than one console or platform. The real challenge is having the time to evolve with each one. I can only imagine how complicated future games will be for my generation when we try to play.      

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