What Makes us Talk?

All forms of entertainment provide their own experiences, good or bad. Most will be forgotten, while others stick with us for the rest of our lives.

We remember our very first experiences, of course. “Firsts” really make an impression. Maybe the game was terrible, or the movie entirely cringe-worthy. But when you’re young and have little else to compare it to, these experiences are still magical.

As we grow up, our memory becomes more selective. We only care about the truly unique. Things that break established patterns. Things that make us really think. You might watch a hundred different movies, but only remember a handful of them. We play a thousand different games, but years later, there are only a few stories that we’ll want to share.

When we talk about most forms of entertainment, we discuss our thoughts and feelings. We talk about ideas, or the most emotional or exciting moments. We do this with games as well, as I did in a previous article about Dragon Quest Builders. In that piece, I talked about the profound impact that game had on me.

With most entertainment, we talk about how something affected us. But with games, we can also talk about how we affected the game. It’s unique to gaming. We can’t influence how a book ends, or save someone in a movie. We’re passive observers. In games, however, we take an active role.

So what are we mostly likely to talk about? What do we remember most about games?

Two kinds of experiences

We can separate experiences into two different kinds. The first are ones we like to think about. The second are the kind we like to talk about.

When I think of games, I immediately recall Final Fantasy, Pokemon, and Zelda -- games that have been a part of my life since childhood. Sure, I have many fond memories of them, but they’re not the games I normally want to talk about.

In a conversation about Final Fantasy, I’d talk about how Final Fantasy VIII is my favorite, how the final fight of Final Fantasy X ruined the game for me, and that VI, IX, and XI are pretty good. There’s not much else to talk about. Maybe going into some finer detail, I could stretch the conversation out to almost an hour, but no more than that.

The problem is that as far as unique experiences go, those games are extremely limited. If we both played the same Final Fantasy game, we had a similar experience. There isn’t much to discuss.

Pokemon is a bit easier to have a conversation about. You can discuss team composition, favorite moves or move combos. But again, if you’ve played Pokemon, we’ve played the same game. You, me, and millions of others. There’s a limit.

Zelda: same problems. I could talk about the series from a game design perspective at length, but the conversation will shortly end.

These are all experiences I like to remember, and there are a few things to talk about. But when I think about games I’d talk about at length, the list is much different.

An ongoing conversation

When I say “games I’d talk about,” I mean telling stories, not anecdotes. While they seem similar, there’s a difference. With an anecdote, you’re giving an example to clarify a point. In another article, “Learning to Play,” I mentioned that it took me six hours to get to the first boss in Demon’s Souls. That’s an anecdote. It’s an example that illustrates that I’m bad at video games. A story is more than that. There’s the setup, the action, and the resolution. You can use an anecdote to explain a part of a story. You can’t use a story to explain an anecdote.

When I think of stories, I think of League of Legends, Dwarf Fortress, and Dungeons and Dragons. I want to explore what makes us talk about games, and what developers can do to foster these unique experiences. We'll talk about each of those games in Part 2.