In recent years, a trend has started to emerge around the fringes of gaming. I don’t remember this happening before, so I’m calling it new. There are games that simply intimidate me.
There are games I don’t like, sure, but these are games that I’m curious about and interested in but I simply find them too daunting to ever get into. If I ever do get into them, I often find myself frustrated because the things I do in them never stack up to the stories I hear around the ‘net.
Losing a ship that costs $9,000.
A couple weeks back, I read a story over on Yahoo! Games about EVE Online. In a twist that sounds like something out of a science fiction film, one player led an entire fleet into a huge ambush by a coalition of other players. In the resultant massacre, a ship was destroyed that was valued at $9,000 US. My eyes melt just typing it.
How can a video game ship be valued at a real dollar amount?
EVE Online’s economy, while not directly linked to the real-world economy, is setup such that calculations like this are possible. EVE’s designer and publisher, CCP Games, employs a real economist named Eyjo Gudmudsson. His job is to monitor the mostly player-driven economy of EVE, creating reports that are used both for outside research and for development decisions within the studio.
The game’s constantly-fluctuating currency, ISK (Interstellar Credits), can be used to buy something called PLEX. This is EVE’s economical link to the real world. PLEX can be used to buy real world products. Primarily, this refers to buying game time, but it can even be used to buy things like graphics cards. The best players in EVE essentially never have to pay for the game because they’re making so much money inside. The in-game price of PLEX can then be used to calculate the value of ships and such.
So, this player infiltrates a corporation and leads them into an ambush, and the ship destroyed is one of only three in the game, valued at 309 billion ISK. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been Ponzi schemes netting billions of ISK, shady ship dealers, and other unbelievable events. As a stance against planned microtransactions a couple years back, players mounted a protest involving destroying computer-controlled objects that shouldn’t have been destructible.
Of course, there are more mundane things happening in the EVE universe at any given minute of the day, but that’s not what I’m there for. I want to be the traitor, schemer, spy, politician, hero; the list goes on. But the higher you climb, the more there is at risk, and the closer it is to real money. The idea that one misstep could cost me or someone I’m working with something not that far removed from real money is terrifying.
Turning to nearly rocket science.
Then there’s Kerbal Space Program. The scale isn’t anything near that of EVE, but it’s intimidating all the same. Kerbal Space Program, which was featured prominently in the Steam Summer sale, is basically NASA Lite.
Your goal is to build a space-faring vehicle from tons of possible parts – fuel cells, crew capsules, thrusters, and all the other little things that make up a spacecraft. You then take that vehicle and get it to launch, at which point it can tilt or twist off in any direction if you made a wrong choice, crashing and exploding tragically.
Then let’s say you make it off the home planet. You can then go to the moon (mun) or the sun, or one of the other planets in the solar system. I hope you planned out how much fuel you’ll need. Once you arrive, you can drop a rover, put down a manned craft and walk on the planet, or just orbit. You can even bring your men back home, if you had everything planned out well enough to get them off the planet.
One enterprising player decided to replicate the Saturn V rocket—sending it to the moon, landing, retrieving, and bringing the three little astronauts back to the home planet. The amount of planning, iteration, and precision involved just blows my mind. This stuff can happen by chance, but there’s a lot of room for stuff to go wrong on these missions, and if something can go wrong, it will.
The intimidation of Kerbal Space Program isn’t fiscal. This is one purely of intelligence. It’s boning up so many space missions that you can’t bear to put another crew of little green men into space lest you truly prove your ineptitude and ability to learn the complex concepts the game presents.
From simple blocks to complex recreations.
The only intimidating game I’ve actually had the will to play for more than a few minutes is Minecraft. The premise of Minecraft is incredibly simple and hardly needs explanation. The exploration and building mechanics are enough to wrap most people up and pull them in.
For months after I first heard about Minecraft, though, I avoided the game. All I ever saw of Minecraft were these insane builds replicating real-world architecture or creating working circuits. No one posts their mining camp longhouses, of course, because they aren’t terribly interesting.
When I play Minecraft, I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything. I endlessly grind for more iron to make more picks to maybe, if I’m lucky, find a couple diamonds, maybe enough to build a pickaxe that won’t last until the next set of diamonds. That makes it sound like I’m not having any fun. Minecraft is a lot of fun, especially since it’s a way for my brother and me to do something together, but there’s always this worm in the back of my mind, telling me I’m not doing it right.
There’s no right way to play Minecraft. You could walk in a straight line and you’re still doing it right. But there’s this idea that I’m supposed to be creating something impressive than a one room farmhouse filled with treasure chests full of dirt and sticks.
What all three of these games have in common is that they’re great examples of what independent games can do. One is an economics experiment turned into a consistently growing MMO, another is a detailed science lesson masquerading as a game, and the last is the closest thing to creative expression in the bounds of a game we’ve yet seen.
They’re all new, interesting ideas that show us what games are capable of, while games like Call of Duty continue to explode (both literally and figuratively). But that blessing is a curse as well.
These open spaces can be scary. When you’re in a straight line, it’s easy to move forward. Even an open world makes more sense; you just do all the things. But with games like EVE Online, Kerbal Space Program, and Minecraft, you can build something truly your own, create and experiment, and even fail in meaningful ways. And that’s really intimidating.