Video games are complicated, even in their simplest form: They are digital databases, mechanics-focused, technology-advancing, intricate creations that require a sharp mind to design, program, and code. It’s only natural then that a lot of video games have become increasingly complicated properties, not only in lore and world building, but also in mechanics and scope; loot with stats and systems with depth, sitting alongside seamless multiplayer and shared-world designs. All of these features are becoming more prominent and frequent in video games today, as the medium is advancing and expanding, to tell more intimate, intricate and grand stories, to provide more fulfilling and meaningful experiences; besides I rarely care about numbers and calculations, if they are not in the context of “which gun will do the most damage and will be best suited for me?”.
That’s obviously not a bad thing and from this trend some truly unique opportunities have risen. Take for example Shadow of Mordor: It took a very mechanical approach to making encounters with enemies feel important and meaningful, which created some of the most personal experiences with a game I have had in years, with its critically acclaimed “Nemesis” system. That’s an experience you simply cannot have with any other medium. Furthermore, the rise of share-worlds and seamless multiplayer means that, multiplayer experiences keep advancing and creating new and desirable experiences for gamers; social spaces that are dynamic and entertaining for you and your friends, all in this expansive world of loot, grind, raids and daily missions.
But, as cool and interesting these experiences are, nothing can match the simple joy of “casual” games for me. Not one of these competitive shooters can match the satisfaction I get from besting my opponent in Tetris. The best co-op experiences I’ve had were trying to figure out a puzzle in The Witness or defeat a boss in Cuphead or exchanging non-logical insults in “Oh…Sir! The Insult Simulator”, with another person alongside me, not in the social spaces and hubs of share-world games. The best way to relax and wind down after a long day, is still playing a hand of Solitaire in Shadowhand or making games in Games Dev. Tycoon or exploring America while delivering goods in American Truck Simulator, while listening to some music or a podcast. The most addictive and captivating experiences, are still the Stardew Valleys and the Owlboys for me, even with the 70 euro, massive, AAA games with 1000s of collectibles and side-missions and 100s of hours’ worth of content (they still have their worth and I still play them though). The best experience I’ve had with a narrative in video games was To the Moon; a game mostly made by a one-man developer, using the RPG Maker engine and is mostly pushing buttons to move and experience the story. No branching paths, no larger-than-life plots, no dialogue decision systems with game-changing consequences; a personal story, with minimal but poignant interactivity.
To be clear, this isn’t to suggest that “casual” games are easy to make or have been stagnant in any way: Shadowhand mixes up the Solitaire formula with RPG elements and duels, while highly-praised Downwell is a “casual” game that is impressively deep (pun intended) and smart with its design. Similarly, this isn’t an attempt to devalue or belittle the worth of the complicated, “hardcore” games; I genuinely enjoy and love those experiences as well. It is simply put, a hand of applause for the industry that has managed to expand, advance and evolve itself, without forgetting, disregarding or stopping to be what it once was; a simple, fun, interactive pastime for all. In an industry where even buying a game, is a process of analyzing charts to get the most of a game, at the best deal, this example of simple games that simply do one thing very well and allow you to enjoy that one thing, while watching TV or listening to music, are now more valuable and desirable than ever.
Whether it is for 2 hours or 10 minutes, I appreciate the restrain and confidence shown (due to doing only one thing, but confident enough that that one thing is so good it deserves its own game) and the variety it adds on the market, as well as showing what games can be: They can be epic tales or personal narratives, mechanical beasts or beautiful designs, head-scratching puzzles or strategic and tactical mastermind simulators; yet they also can-and should-be simple pastime activities as well, even if we want to make games a legitimate art form in the eyes of everyone else, we should not forget that it can be so much less-and thus so much more-than that as well, and that being one does not exclude games from being the other. Simply put, sometimes the fatigue of real life, problems and concerns, leaves me unable to focus and in dire need of a relaxing and captivating pastime to zone out to; I’m simply glad that the Tetris, the Pokemon and the Solitaires of the world, have not only continued to be made, but have also grown and improved.