I've always loved documenting video game culture, pushing the argument that interactive entertainment is right up there with classic literature, unforgettable movies, and even priceless paintings. That's why I wrote Porn & Pong, that's why I got my journalism degrees, and that's why I lived on ramen noodles until I made a decent living.

I'm going to let you in on a secret, though: I also do it because I get games early and, sometimes, for free. That's why we all do it.

So you can imagine my excitement when I got a FedEx this week with one of the hottest games coming this year: Gears of War 3. My XBox 360 was freshly unpacked from my move – this would be the perfect way to warm up the game system and test out my new Internet connection.

But as I started to unwrap it, I thought something to myself: "I've never played the first two games." OK, I haven't been under a rock for four years, as I've jumped on some occasional GoW pick-up-games. I even got the chance to play a massive multiplayer game at E3 so many years ago, well before anyone else had their hands on it. But I never owned the games. I couldn't tell you what the aliens look like. I can barely spell Marcus Fenix (yes, I just looked up the spelling). So GoW 3 is sitting here right on my desk, its green hue popping into my peripheral occasionally to taunt me.

I know I sound like a fool, but do you ever feel like you need the complete experience to better understand and, perhaps, fully appreciate a game? Gears of War seems like a messy, brutal FPS, but the storyline actually seems more complex than its surface play – I mean, if there were no substance, I doubt Microsoft could push a half dozen Gears of War novels about meatheads in space. Ditto, of course, for Halo, Eve Online, and the many other game series that have inspired literature.

Consider Mass Effect, with its first, dynamic storyline, and the similiarly complex Mass Effect 2. How many of us are going to jump right into ME 3 when it comes next year? Or think about one of my favorite series, God of War – jump into God of War 3 or, worse, God of War 2 without playing the previous games and you'll miss out on some serious narrative. For me, kicking ass always feels a little bit better when there is a purpose.

I suspect, as games try harder to tell a story, we'll become more determined to play through and understand the overarching theme. And, at least for now, I think I'll grab Gears of War and Gears of War 2 at my favorite used game place before I crack open the latest. I'd hate to miss any of the ride.

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