My Gamer Palate

I once wrote a post about games I thought I’d never want to play. In this post, I claimed that I’d never want to play a game so ugly as Skyrim or Dark Souls. I elaborated about the overblown set pieces of cinematic games like Uncharted, sacrificing meaningful gameplay for a B movie plot. I went in depth about my frustration with repetitive Rogue-likes such as FTL. I had this big lesson at the end where I explained it’s okay to dislike Fighting Games and First-Person Shooters if it’s not your thing.

I was 90% finished with the post, and then I never published it. I’m very glad I didn’t.

Obviously it’s okay not to like a specific game or even an entire genre. My problem was that I was writing it as a hypocrite. I hadn’t tried very many of these games. I judged most of them based on their trailers. Essentially, my post tried to justify being a picky eater for video games.

Outside of professional video game journalists, who get review copies for free, it’s natural for us normal consumers to be picky. Video games are expensive. Video games are time-consuming. You don’t want to get a game unless you know you’re going to like it. Even if a trailer looks promising, you can never know if you like a game until you try it. Even then, some games can leave a bad first impression only to reveal their brilliance later on. For example, I completely understand why people dislike Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – the voice acting doesn’t always match the animations, the character designs are bizarre, and the mechanics are poorly explained. And yet the more I pressed on, the more I enjoyed it. By the time the credits rolled, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 had reached the same heights as its predecessor. Months after I finished the game, I still think about it and I still appreciate what it tried to accomplish.

I admit that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 isn’t for everyone. But… what does that phrase even mean? No game, no single game ever made, is for everyone. Mario isn’t for everyone. Animal Crossing isn’t for everyone. Call of Duty isn’t for everyone. No game is perfect, and even if a game did get everything right, there would still be at least one person who wouldn’t like it. The more I hear reviewers say “Game XYZ isn’t for everyone,” the less meaning it has. They’re trying to say that the game may have a lower “mainstream appeal,” but that’s not actually a helpful thing for a reviewer to say. It deters potential fans from trying the game. It may not be for everyone, but it may be for that one person.

However, even if a game is generally for you, it still might not be for you at the present moment. Grilled cheese sandwiches are comforting, but I won’t want to eat them every day. Your “gamer palate” will naturally change from day to day, and it may evolve as time goes on.

When I was a kid, I thought racing games were impressive. Driving a car was a far-off fantasy. I often played Grand Turismo and F1 Championship Season 2000 on my PS1 to fulfill said fantasy. Once I learned how to actually drive, though, the idea of racing games lost its appeal. I thought I had outgrown them, but it turns out all I needed was to advance the vehicle’s technology. As a jaded adult who sees street corners and other moving cars as stressful, the F-Zero and Wipeout series were the SciFi fix to my problem. After Wipeout 2048, I went back and started playing the PS1 Wipeout games. Even more to my delight, some indie studios have kept this sub-genre alive with games like Fast RMX and Redout. And who knows, maybe later on I’ll come around to games with actual cars again like Burnout Paradise Remastered.

As a early teen, all of my friends played Halo and hosted Halo sleepover parties. I spent many Friday nights stretching my hands over the Xbox’s watermelon-sized controller, trying to persuade the two analog sticks to move right. My friends always invited me to these parties, because I was easy kill fodder. When people asked if I liked Shooter games, I had flashbacks to aiming at the floor and said I hated them. It turns out, all I needed was a change in setting and controls. The Wiimote was made to aim at things, and nothing showcased that better than Metroid Prime 3. Then Splatoon 2 offered a fresh way to shoot in general, and its motion aiming became my saving grace for shooting with a traditional controller. Now that I have a decent gaming PC, I can use the mouse and keyboard, a legendary set of weapons that bestow their user with pinpoint precision. I’m finally in a place to give the Halo series another try.

Like I said earlier, I used to roll my eyes at Uncharted and The Last of Us for their try-hard cinematics. If I wanted to see a movie, I’d watch a movie. But then last December I started my project for studying Hideo Kojima and his games. I booted up Metal Gear Solid, and it gave me the most intense shift in perspective I’ve ever had as a gamer. I went in expecting poor storytelling with watered-down gameplay, and what I got was exactly the opposite. I finished the game craving more of its stealth gameplay, impressed by the unique narrative approach, and genuinely touched by the message at its center. It’s true that I often put down my controller to watch the game’s copious cutscenes, but the pacing, mystery, and reveals made up for it. I’ve never played a game like Metal Gear Solid, and I can’t wait to play the rest of Kojima’s games. Someday, when Sony ports more of their blockbuster movie-games to the PC, I’ll give them a try, too.

Why the change? Why is this Nintendo Guy suddenly more interested in these games?

I think one of the reasons is that I’ve grown more mature and less squeamish. Another reason is my improved access to these games — the Nintendo Switch has some of the strongest 3rd-Party Support of any Nintendo console, and it’s no secret that there are tons of games on PC. Furthermore, the perennial Steam sales cut the financial risk of trying out a new game in half. Another reason is that I’ve listened to a larger variety of influencers. Skyrim Grandma got me interested in Skyrim. The journalists on the Triple Click podcast gave me a good sell on Dark Souls. I’m not afraid of missing out, but I feel like these people love those games for a good reason, and I’d like to see those reasons for myself. Finally, even if I dislike a game, I now have the skills (and the writing outlet) to still get something worthwhile out of it. I learn more about game design, and I learn more about what makes a game work for me.

I grew up with Nintendo, and I still largely see myself as a Nintendo Guy. I play stylized games with unique gameplay. Just over a year ago, all of my 3rd-Party games looked and played exactly like that as well. However, over this past year I’ve decided to expand outward from my core gaming diet. My gamer palate loves Nintendo games, but it’s craving new things. I hope this can help me grow into a well-rounded gaming journalist.

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