What kind of gamer am I?† I think Iím kind of the opposite of the hardcore gamer. †

Iím the kind of gamer who wants to explore a new game as much as possible on my own, but I’m not afraid to bring in the big guns whenever necessary: codes, trainers, FAQs, walkthroughs, anything else I can muster.† Iím the kind of gamer who will ding the easy difficulty rating even though I could probably beat the game on normal or possibly even hard.† Iím the kind of gamer who loves sandboxes and lifted restrictions.

In short, Iím a gamer who wants to pick up a game and have pure, unadulterated fun, while eliminating the kinds of situations that would lead me to irately chuck my mouse at the screen.

Unlike the hardcore gamer, Iím only occasionally into games for a sense of challenge, or accomplishment, or achievement.† Iím not in it to overcome difficulty or frustration.† Because, you see, Iíve already got plenty of those attributes in my day-to-day life, and Iím not eager to add to them during the time I have set aside for leisure activities.† And generally speaking, if I do want to mix leisure with challenge, Iíd much rather do it struggling to create a new piece of music or writing an interesting story or essay – you get the same feelings, but with a real sense of accomplishment, because you end up with something real as a result of your efforts. †Admittedly, when my sense of gaming and challenge converge, I do occasionally engage in multiplayer games such as Team Fortress 2 (which, surprisingly enough, Iím somewhat half-decent at). †

For the most part, though, I prefer single-player games, and I see them, reasonably enough, as a form of entertainment, and perhaps a form of catharsis as well.† I play them when I want to relax, unwind, and simply have fun.† And that, in essence, is the core of my philosophy – games are a medium of entertainment, and I have much the same expectations of them as I do of other forms of narrative media. †

Thatís why I choose to play on easy, instead of on a harder difficulty, even if I am capable of doing so: I want to go around and enjoy what the game has to offer, instead of chafing at overly-restrictive rules and strict combat situations.† Take the original Halo, for example – I could get through it on harder difficulties, albeit by engaging in pitched battles, hiding behind things, firing judiciously, and being stressed over the difficulty level, always feeling as though my character was just barely hanging on.† Or, I could set the game on easy, and have a great time running around, shooting the heck out of things, and meleeing Elites in the face for kicks.† Is playing like this challenging?† No. †Does playing like this give you some sense of achievement for pulling through a battle by the skin of your teeth?† Probably not.† But is it incredibly, cathartically, fun?† You bet it is.

This, in essence, is probably why Iím playing Bioshock through for the third time.† By now, I practically know every plot point by heart, and thatís just fine.† Hereís the thing: while most single-player games have little replay value – the play-through was all right, and the story was decent enough, but thereís no real need to repeat it – the essential gameplay and environment of Bioshock means that itís just something thatís fun to play around with. †

For an example, let me compare it to Half-Life 2: Episode 2.† Arguably, both games are excellent examples of their field – top-notch graphics and lighting, innovative gameplay, reasonably compelling storyline.† However, thereís a big difference – in Half-Life, you are constantly thrust into dangerous situations, where even on lower difficulty settings you are often fighting for your life.† And while set-piece battles like the antlion-turret showdown or the final strider onslaught can be intriguing in theory, youíre focused on just getting through them in order to advance the storyline, and once youíve gotten through that crucible, you end up thinking ďwhew, thatís a relief!† Iím sure glad I donít have to do that over again!Ē† And then you donít.

In Bioshock, on the other hand, there are a few difficult-ish battles (generally involving Big Daddies), but overall, you can pretty much run around as a demigod, freely choosing any of a dozen creative ways to completely decimate your enemies, everything from long-distance sniping to up-close-and-personal melee combat, from hacking turrets and using deception to simply harnessing incredible physical powers to throw enemies around like rag dolls.† Itís a game where you can get to a point where you donít really feel threatened, and you can play through it and crush your enemies with impunity.† You get to become your own crazed action hero, destroying the opposition in style, and it ends up being an incredibly fun ride.† Add to that gameplay an immersive, compelling environment and a story that becomes further unlocked the more you explore the environment, and you end up with a game that you want to come back to.† Suddenly, the virtual world isnít a terrifying place where you must struggle to survive and move forward, but instead becomes an otherworldly playground that you can enjoy in whatever way you wish.† And, if you want, the challenge is always still there – you can always unlock a harder difficulty, or decide to play in a particular, challenging way (for example, Iím still contemplating trying a play-through where you donít harvest a single little sister, or where you try to get by using nothing more than various tonics and the wrench).† But the key thing here is that you have a choice – you can choose whether you want to stomp through the game as an unstoppable juggernaut, or whether you want to scrape and scrounge and somehow pull through.† In a lot of games, youíre limited to that second option no matter what difficulty you choose, and that, in my mind, ends up making them something to simply get through, rather than something to have fun with.† And that, pretty much, is why I keep playing through Bioshock, and why I played through Episode 2 once and left it to gather dust.

That, ultimately, is what I want from games – for them to give me that choice that lets me play through the game environment the way that I want to.† When you are able to get this right – when you let people have fun with the game instead of forcing them through it in a certain fashion – you can end up with a game that is fun and enjoyable to play, even long after the story itself has become stale. †In short, my philosophy is this: I want to pick up a game, engage with it the way that I want, and simply enjoy the experience of playing.