TA Top Five: Gaming Things We're Thankful For

By Mark Delaney, 10 months ago
Here in the states, it's just about that time where we gather around the dinner table, watch some football with our cousins we barely know, and narrowly avoid talking politics as we Americans seek to have an incident-free Thanksgiving. Or maybe that's just my family. However you feel about the holiday and its customs, the sentiments around this time of year often do start to brighten up. As the unofficial kickoff to the "holiday season", Thanksgiving and all that December brings can work wonders for those who need a pick-me-up.

People seem nicer for a few weeks, they come together, seeking out favors for others or ways to make them smile. Aside from the most ardent cynics, there's probably some things for which we can all be thankful. When it comes to games, this is really no different. In the spirit of the holiday, here are some things for which we are immensely thankful in this medium and industry we all love so much.

Honorable Mentions

E3

E3 is a crystal ball of hope and excitement.E3 is a crystal ball of hope and excitement.

There's been much talk lately about the future of E3. The trend of companies pulling out of the show to hold somewhat separate conferences during E3 week is one that continues to rise each year, and now the powers that be have been mulling maybe finally opening the show up to more than just those that work in the industry. However it's reshaped in the years to come, one thing is certain: June is always a highlight for those that love gaming. Game reveals, consoles vying for our dedication, huge surprises -- not to mention the week or more of pre-show leaks -- it makes for a sort of Gaming News Super Bowl.

It's hectic and hopeful and stands as the biggest unveiling the games industry has. For an industry that can remain frustratingly tight-lipped at times, at least it regularly culminates in the week of huge news that is E3.

Acceptance From The Outside

People who don't play games are starting to accept that they're not simply children's toys.People who don't play games are starting to accept that they're not simply "children's toys".

Make no mistake, there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. As games are now decades old, there exists entire generations of people that have never known life without them, which is going very far to change the outdated perception of them as something "just for kids". It can be maddening for those who have to deal with friends or family asking us, "aren't those immature?" It comes from a place of ignorance on their part, of course, where they think games haven't evolved from Pac-Man and The Simpsons Arcade in the past 35 years.

Some games aren't intended for children to ever see them, while others are designed specifically for them. In either event, games should be -- and thankfully are being -- accepted as an art form like any other more and more. Are all movies or books for kids? Of course not, but that's why those mediums appeal to different ages and maturity levels. Why can't games do the same thing? That's been the simple rhetorical question from gamers for years, and now those on the outside, more than ever, are starting to figure it out too.

Top Five

5. Title Updates

Not just for bug fixes, title updates often add more content for free.Not just for bug fixes, title updates often add more content for free.

Once a luxury to the insufferable PC Master Race, title updates have made their way to console gaming over the past decade. It might be tough for some to recall a time when broken games launched and stayed broken forever. That was simply the only state in which that game was ever going to be presented. That's no longer the case, though. Now it's even customary for games to launch with release day patches that can exceed several gigabytes in size. The internet-less gamers among us notwithstanding, this is a great feature for everyone. It gives developers the time and ability to improve on their games if problems arise while giving consumers the end result of that extra work, not to mention new content sometimes, too.

Better games are better games. It's a simple equation. Nowadays it's the exception to the rule when a game goes completely untouched post-release, and though this definitely still happens (as many comments will likely remind us), you have to be thankful for how things have improved.

4. Couch Co-op

Fading but not faded, shoulder-to-shoulder games still have a special place in our hearts.Fading but not faded, shoulder-to-shoulder games still have a special place in our hearts.

There's a certain appreciation you gain for your co-op partner when they're sharing a couch or the end of a bed with you. Online multiplayer dominates the gamingsphere without question, and rightfully so. It enables us to connect to the whole world. Like the internet as a whole, it's a wondrous thing. Still, the lost art of couch co-op will always be welcome. Few games offer it now, but split-screening a LEGO game or Rocket League with my son is one of our favorite activities, and I'm sure I speak for many when I say such activities are immensely fulfilling.

The coordination, teamwork, playful betrayals or controversies, they all collectively make for time well spent. If some of those aforementioned gaming naysayers picked up a controller with their sons or daughters, they may discover a new shared hobby.

Couch co-op will always be championed by those who grew up with it, I think because it's both nostalgic and unique -- and if your gaming session devolves into swear-wordy insults and arguments with your teammates, at least you know where they sleep.

3. Indie Games

Daring and different, independent studios have given us some of the medium's best work.Daring and different, independent studios have given us some of the medium's best work.

I love AAA games. They're polished, often bombastic, and deal usually in action. They are the summer cinematic blockbusters of the games space. But like the film industry, games needed a separate space for toned down or off-the-beaten-path projects. And like movies, they found such a space with indie development. AAA titles can be risky, and their publishers are risk-averse. Such a relationship means publishers minimize risk by focusing on sequels, franchising, and catch-all plots and characters.

That isn't to say they're inherently worse than indies. It's just that indie games can go to places where big budget games never will. Things like Gone Home made walking an accepted gameplay mechanic, while others like Firewatch went all-in on characters and performances in subtler ways than something like Mass Effect has ever shown the ability to do. By minimizing the scope of a project's technical needs, indie devs are left with more time to hone in on what remains and really perfect them, whether that's thematic material or interesting mechanics or anything else their games require. The games industry works best with this diversity.

2. Collectible Guides

There are more issues on this map than that of the electoral college.There are more issues on this map than that of the electoral college.

I don't think I've ever met anyone who loves collectibles in games. It seems the more collectibles a studio inserts in their game the less consumer cache (and maybe cash) they garner. They're seen as a tedious necessity for the complete story at best (see: Quantum Break) and a totally irrelevant waste of time at worst (see: Assassin's Creed). Thankfully, the internet and places like YouTube and TA have invited people from all over to put in the time and effort to create guides for the rest of us.

If I really enjoy a game, I may be enticed to go and chase its collectibles, but I can't imagine ever entertaining the thought in the pre-internet days, even with paper guides back then. The reward would maybe never be worth the effort. Written solutions now bring us evolving conversations, while video solutions show us step-by-step answers to our problems. These strategies are much more advanced and user-friendly than the old days of a commissioned guide that is never altered or amended. The only downside to that is because of the internet, studios sometimes seem even more prone to including collect-a-thons in their games, knowing the answers will be made easily available for players within days, and thus extending our time with the game. Without collectible guides, we may all have gone insane years ago when achievement hunting. Which reminds us...


1. Achievements

bloop!bloop!

Of course, what else could sit atop a list such as this on a site such as this? Achievements, or Trophies, if you prefer, have fundamentally altered the way we play games. Xbox 360's introduction of this system really started something glorious, as evidenced by the fact that every major gaming platform from Apple to PlayStation to Steam (to Nintendo?) has created something just like it for their consumers. Heck, even my Target shopping app has Badges, another analog of the digital reward system.

Personally, I think Xbox's, and by extension TA's, inclusion of a cumulative score is the best version of the Pavlovian metagame but whatever you fancy, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with the bloop! of more rewards being added to your profile.

Achievements have extended the life of our games by asking us to perform specific tasks, replay games on higher difficulties, jump online, or maybe play with a friend. They dare us to escape grueling sections unharmed, complete side content, play at a certain time, or even not play at all for a while. Developers come up with a million ways to get us to play, and while they're not all appreciated or welcomed, the good far outweighs the bad. The Xbox team has certainly recognized the appeal as they now highlight the gamerscore in monthly Games with Gold announcements and offer simple shortcuts to the achievement section (and TA app) right on the Xbox One's UI. On the whole, achievements have made what we love even better. For that we give thanks!

For what are you most thankful when it comes to video games?
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.