I bought my favorite game on release day.
It didn't have a reputation right away. In fact, some time would pass before its very name would suffice to derail Steam community threads. Dragon Age II was the new example in what not to do.
I blew through it in two days. I loved that non-sequel to Origins. About a week after release, I discovered that almost nobody else felt the same way. But, I know I'm not alone in my opinion: over the years, black sheep such as myself have crusaded already across the internet on Dragon Age 2's behalf. I'm not writing now to add to that discussion. Rather, I'd like to describe the time I unreservedly loved a particular game, and everyone else thought I was crazy -- an experience which changed how I think as a gamer.
I found myself getting into a lot of extended conversations about game design, as well as the game development and game publishing industries. In the course of those exchanges, I was forced to dig into the deep enjoyment I gained from my favorite game and articulate whence that enjoyment comes. At this point, I could say that someone whose favorite game is well reviewed doesn't have to make excuses, but a better phrasing would be: that person doesn’t get the chance to make excuses. Maybe this whole piece is an example of the sunk cost fallacy, but after thinking in such detail about why I enjoyed Dragon Age II, my fondness for it has grown yet.
These kinds of community experiences, of course, are only possible because of the age of PC gaming in which we now live.
I remember how I became a gamer: sitting down with my dad for the first time in front of Sonic and Tails for the Sega Genesis. It never occurred to me — not for several years — that it might be possible to play with someone else who owned the same game but lived hundreds of miles away. I'm sure multiplayer gaming over the internet was possible then, but there wasn't such a popular awareness of it. This was back when game stores stocked paperback strategy guides for Mario Kart, and the main way to get your professional game reviews and news was in Game Informer.
Now, not only can I buy and download my games from the internet, I can do so through community platforms. Steam tells me what the PC gaming community thinks of every game before I even see the price or the “box.” I can go to the community forums, search Metacritic, and watch a Let's Play with commentary on YouTube. It's an entirely different game selection and evaluation process than I started out with, and it's all centered on technology, which PC gaming has always championed.
Back in the old days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we only had Game Boy Colors (and to buy them we had to walk ten miles through the snow, uphill, both ways), I probably wouldn't even know it if everyone hated my favorite game. Now, the opposite is true, at least for those of us who run our games on the same machine we use to browse the internet; it's impossible to be an uninformed consumer, and we both benefit and suffer from that.
I have always judged developers by how well they keep their promises, but paradoxically I hold on to Dragon Age II, a game emblematic for many gamers as a broken promise.
I believe those gamers went in with expectations, expectations which I didn't have. I believe we bought different games. And I believe that at least digital distribution platforms, especially as those platforms become more socialized, are moving toward a future where that kind of controversy will happen less and less often. How I personally evaluate each new game that I play has become less about discovery, and more about fulfillment versus defiance of my expectations. It's easier than ever before to find games that suit me, but more difficult for me to feel satisfied that they deliver what I expected. For better or for worse, I'm better insulated from surprises. It's a peculiar trade-off which PC gamers must now make, and also one which console gamers can't entirely evade.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of The Overpowered Noobs, LLC.