Why I Play Video Games

Why does anyone play video games? That’s a great question. Why do I? Why do you?

Other than the developers and professional players, we gamers don’t earn any tangible rewards for playing them. There is no remuneration to be had. Stores sell them. Programmers make them. Artists create the worlds and stories. Musicians create the mood. Voice actors sometimes create the deep connections we feel with the characters. But to be honest we, the players, seldom see anything in return. We spend anywhere from a few minutes to thousands upon thousands of hours playing these games. We could be out with family or friends. We could be working on that great book or painting. Rather than exploring the world around us and making life better for those that can’t do it for themselves, we sit in front of our monitors and push the boundaries of our biological limits to just get in one more turn.

Okay, just kidding, the crazy talk is over. Let’s get real here. I play video games, specifically 4X games, because I am a megalomaniac. Sometimes, I am a benevolent ruler who wants nothing more than to live in an isolationist haven where my nearest neighbor whispers my name behind closed doors with the candles dimmed. Other times, I want to ride my epic mount or tank over to that land beyond the sunset and leave nothing but dust in my wake. Basically, I like to feel all powerful and omnipotent. Who hasn’t had the kind of day that sent them running home as soon as possible to fire up the gaming rig (console/PC/Mac/handheld) and lay waste to whomever they so chose to feel a little bit better about themselves?


Am I a bully? Do I have anger management issues? Have I smashed a controller or mouse out of frustration because things weren’t going my way? That’s between me and my therapist. But seriously, I play because video games allow me to do things that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do in real life. In my day to day interactions, I am a nice person. I am a caring spouse and a patient parent. I try to be courteous to and patient with the people I meet, and less than ideal interactions with them don’t fill me with bile. If I get frustrated with an employee or a customer, I do not seethe inside. I do not hold it in and rush home to exact vengeance upon the innocent denizens within these imaginary realms in an attempt to relieve the anger I built up going about my daily routine. No, that’s not me.

Rather, I like to play out my fantasy of being a hero, a great general, or an emperor that is leading his people to success. I am a savior, and the tools I need to achieve my goal are present in the video game worlds I like to visit. This is why I play.


I imagine myself to be more capable than some of the historic figures I’ve studied or mythical ones I’ve read about. Ain’t revisionism grand? That’s what 4X does for me. It creates an environment where I get to test my crazy ideas against the reality of the world in which they are set. That’s why I want 4X games that are capable of engaging me. Games that can draw me in and help me lose myself in these fantasy worlds for as long as I’d like to stay there.

Books are great. You get to enjoy the vision as it is revealed to you by their authors. Music is fantastic since you can immerse yourself in the sound of creation by it’s composer. Film is a mix of those two. Plays, concerts, operas, are all fantastic means of enjoying your time. But none of them give you the freedom to rearrange the story to fit your mood. None of them can pull you in as you build your own world. They inspire you, but unless you are a writer, an artist, a cinematographer or even a musician, all you are is a spectator in the end. Video games give you agency – the ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone you’ll never be, someone super-human, fantastic, or other-wordly. You can play any and all of those roles.

Yet you are beholden to the programmer of the game, and, sadly, that’s where disappointment usually comes in. Bugs, poor AI, myopic vision and terrible execution – nothing can ruin a good gaming session like one of these. That’s why we need to support good developers, those that communicate with us and yet stick to their own vision and create a world for us to lose ourselves in. I am tired of playing the same game. I am tired of rehashing the same experience over and over. This is why RPGs have a limited amount of replayability for me. It feels like I am playing the same story over and over with little control over my destiny.

I am also tired of the vitriol that can be found in any online community. Yes, even the 4X community which is known for its older and more mature audience. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t play multi-player games. I want to play a game against an AI that will give me a challenge, and not get insulted when I critique the finer points of a game online.

That’s why I keep coming back to the 4X genre. So many viable candidates there to give me just what I want. Diverse worlds full of wonder and danger, unlimited potential for replayability, and vision for miles and miles are just of the few things that keep drawing me in. If I want historically accurate games, there are plenty. Space invasion or conquest? That’s there, too. Fantasy and empire management? There are plenty of worthy contenders. The 4X genre gives me the tools to live many lives without the inherent danger that such endeavors would pose should I actually want to pursue them in the real world. I think that’s why I play video games.

Of course, I also play them to have fun. However, as we age, our ideas of what is fun change. But somehow, 4X has remained fun for me. I don’t enjoy many of the games I used to back in the day, but I still get very excited about 4X games. I wake up in the morning thinking about some far flung strategies, and at night I convert them to practical tactics.

I have copies of console games that I used to drool over, and now I can’t even be bothered to re-install them. But 4X titles? I lose sleep over it if I can’t play them. Okay, okay, Red Dead Redemption is one console game I don’t think I will ever stop playing. Another is Ni No Kuni, but I am also a huge Miyazaki fan. Finally Okami, a game that moved me then, and still has the ability to move me now. How few of those there are, though. Too few.


Back to the 4X dilemma.

I keep hearing that 4X is in a tired old rut, a dark age of sorts. I don’t see it. I think people need to stop fantasizing about what could be, and enjoy what is. Let’s get together, share our ideas and work towards a common goal: the ultimate 4X game. There are three primary settings for 4X: space, fantasy and historical or alternate history. Is there a single game that meets every need? I haven’t found one yet. Is there a single studio capable of meeting all of these wants? I used to think so, but the AAA establishment has let me down time and again and no one else seems capable of filling that role for now. It is time to step out of our comfort zones and try some indie products, but first we must discuss what stands in the way.

There is a grey zone that exists between indie and AAA, where quasi-AAA/Indie studios exist. These mid-level studios are trying to break into the big leagues and leave the minors. But the funny thing is that, in the strategy arena, be it turn-based or real-time, 4X or 4X-lite or the hybrids that straddle the edges and center, there exists a very atypical dynamic. These studios release games which don’t sell millions of copies, yet they sell enough to keep the developers afloat. These studios have a rabid following from very dedicated communities and they keep pumping out title after title. But are they part of the problem, or perhaps the solution in disguise? I just don’t know. Some titles might be strong and innovative, while others merely rehash old ideas. It’s the same kind of criticism that is leveled at sport franchise games. They don’t take major risks or try to innovate too much. These mid-level studios don’t hurt the AAA franchises, but they might unintentionally stamp out the small indie developers.

Meanwhile, these smaller indie studios led by a tiny few are constantly trying new things. They are taking risks in an attempt to push the genre forward. They are vying for our attention, and seldom getting it. They try to climb like Icarus, but often burn out. Why? Because the strong PR machine that’s backing many of the sub-par efforts of AAA studios casts a long and dark shadow. Remember those quasi-AAA/indie studios? Well, they further prevent the typical gamer from discovering the real gems in the genre. If an indie developer can’t get a big publisher to take up their cause, they are forced to do it on their own. Word of mouth can help, as can social media or being Greenlit on Steam but, in the end, it’s not enough. The establishment doesn’t seem to care. It’s sad if you ask me.

I realize that I haven’t named any 4X games or game developers. You are probably wondering why. Because! This is an eXposition, and I am simply sharing my feelings. I am sure that if you follow eXplorminate4x.com at all, you know what I like. If you haven’t, you should. We are a group of players and fans dedicated to the greater 4X community and what it stands for, but that’s a whole other eXposition in and of itself.


So, who’s with me? Who is ready to buck the convention and support these smaller studios trying to push our genre in a new direction?

Let’s put on our war gear. Let’s pray to the gods and raise our battle standards! It’s time we spoke out and told the developers what we want, and held the publishers accountable. Stop buying the same rehashed gameplay and go try something new. 4X is not dead. 4X is not in a rut. Plenty of aspirants out there warrant our time and our attention. Let’s give it to them.

So, why do you play the games that you do?

7 replies »

  1. I’m seeing all this AAA vs Indy = Unoriginal vs Original and I’ve got gotten curious: what do you consider to be AAA 4x games besides civilization?

    From my experience, it’s usually the ‘grey area between AAA and indy’ that produces the more original games. (this is a bit rude but: that definition is very silly. I take it you mean: Independent studios that survived their first game and brand new studios that do have a publisher? Or are you referring to: teams of less than 8 people that have had a profit and absolutely no publisher unless that publisher only has 2 titles on it’s name?)
    The biggest opponents of the ‘gem in the rough’ indies are not AAA or grey area studios, it’s the rough. There are many, MANY indies that develop unoriginal bland titles and that makes it harder to see the original ones. Especially since the original ones don’t always have the same great art assets as some of those bland ones.
    Another big problem that causes original titles to remain unknown is press (reviewers, columnists etc) declaring anything they haven’t seen as an original masterpiece, even if it’s just a rehash of an older game (AAA game even). People read that, try it out and end up disappointed and jaded. Me, I’ve learned to distrust anything called original, since that label is giving to games even if they offer less originality than some iterative AAA titles that hide their originality in the details.

    I play games because I like exploring, because I enjoy a challenge and because game mechanics fascinate me.


  2. Hey Thanks for the response. I have to think about how I want to phrase my response. I didn’t mention any names because I didn’t want to get into a pissing match with everyone about definitions, but you do bring up a good point that was brought up during editing. I think it depends on who else you consider AAA in 4X. Is 2k/Firaxis your only candidate?

    Do you feel that 4X is over-saturated right now? I don’t. The media and reviewers are an interesting lot. It turns out that youtube and non-professional reviewers hold a much bigger sway than the professional types.

    To answer your last bit, that’s why we have a 5X review method, we explain why we score the way we do and we have follow-up podcast and written reeXamination to address the community and how the game shaped up.



  3. AAA is usually used to describe games with big budget or from well known publishers. I indeed only consider the 2k/Firaxis games AAA in this sense. Which is why your article confused me a bit: aren’t most 4x games indy or grey? The 4x genre as a whole is (relative to other genres) niche, which is why most big publishers/studios don’t bother. I could be wrong though, I’m not keeping tabs on all 4x games.
    I dislike the terms AAA and indy because they appear clear when first mentioned but in actuality are vague because the terms are often used in a way that carry a different meaning. Indy stands for independent: a studio without publisher. However, it’s often only used for <5 man teams with limited budget. Take Triumph Studios, it's an independent studio, but no one would call it indy since it's got a lot of experience and has worked with publishers in the past.
    On top of that, I believe stamps like "indy" and "AAA" are also largely irrelevant. Take Star Drive 2. It's created by 1 person. That's an impressive task. It's also something that I don't care about at all when I'm playing it. My experience in the game isn't improved in any way by it being indy.
    Luckily, you guys don't tend to focus too much on these kind of things in your actual reviews.

    I never consider genres to be over saturated. There's always room for innovation in any genre, even the most represented ones. What often gives the impression of over saturation is when poor games in that genre get made. That sucks, but those poor games where in different genres they would probably still be poor games. If a games clones another game, it would still be a clone even if within that genre no other game than the original and clone existed.
    Besides that, there really aren't that many games in the 4x genre, especially relative to it's complexity.

    About the 5x review method: just as long as you don't try to hammer things in those parameters too much :)


  4. Ah, makes sense. The 5X format is a template, but it’s not set in stone. There are some things that just make sense, for example, eXploration should cover geography and eXtermination should cover war. Other things get moved around as needed, but again it just to give structure to the review since there are multiple different writing styles.

    Back to the point, within the 4X genre, I would consider Stardock, Creative Assembly, Paradox Interactive, and now AMPLITUDE Studios as AAA as well. But that is just my personal opinion. In my soapbox session, I didn’t want to point a finger at one particular studio/developer because it takes away from the rant in general. Several things have happened the past few months that involve 4X as a genre that kind of culminated in my frustration.

    Does that make sense?


  5. Hy Nasarog and god job with yours site.

    What I want? Asymmetric games:

    1. Factions : 1 faction god at war but not at money . 1 faction god at money but not at war. Saw first need second and vice versa. I don’t want all the faction to be capable to win the game by the fourth X (explorminate:P)
    2. No spam ( quality over quantity) neither spaceships neither to colonized planets or research buildings and so one. A good way be doing so is in sword of the stars II but is poorly implemented because after X turn doesn’t matter because all planets will be terraformed. ( I personally I will make a chain link between money colonization, research, production, approval etc. Like no money no production, no research, no food low approval and so forth).
    3. Random tech tree and specific for the faction: maybe like in SOTS II with the X% to discover or not the same tech every game you play.
    4. A god map for your empire : because in this days you in maybe more then 50% of the time don’t know where it is something like planet, star base, fleet etc.
    5. God graphics, ( We are in 2015).
    6. God unit designs
    7. Random events. But game breaking random events not minor modification of X% of something minor.
    8. Resource managements very well implemented: like if I don’t have steel how I can produced armored steel? Response : You will buy form the others players or steal from others.
    9. End game to be like victory conditions ( an amount of points in different areas specific for your faction more like Distant Worlds.
    9. Smart AI but not like this day more like this: If i build some ships with shields on them who counter laser weapons after X turns the AI will make ships with ballistic weapons who smash my entire fleet and more important if X faction is in the lead all the AIs will form a coalition so nobody can’t be a game breaker only this will be possible on the late game.
    At the end my Frankensteinsh game should be like this : Factions ( Endless Legend or Gal Civ III or SOTS I), Maps and Empire management ( EU IV), Battles ( Total War Games), Tech Tree ( Sword of the stars II plus MOO II), City or Planet management ( Endless Legend or Gal Civ III), Unit designs ( Endless Legend or Gratuitous Space Battles 2), Random Events and Quest ( Endless Legend), Victory (DW) AI like ……………to be created.

    PS. Sorry for my English I’m not a native speaker.


  6. Hey Titan, thanks for reading and the compliment. Now, to your post. I think you meant good, but anyways, point #9 is interesting, but how would the AI be? I think it would be a little hard pressed. Star dock and Arcen make some amazing AI opponents, but it might be taxed by your ideal game.



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