So I’m a few days late on this whole being thankful thing. Sue me. The pilgrims didn’t crash into Plymouth Rock on time, either. I think. I was tardy to history class that day. And then I skipped ahead in the book to the chapters about World War II because I’d just beaten Wolfenstein and wanted to find out if a certain dictator really was a chain gun wielding robot. Said book was mysteriously mum on the subject.
That said, the fact that I’m neither punctual nor particularly well-versed on the history of Thanksgiving doesn’t preclude me from being grateful for certain things. The following list describes five things in gaming for which I devour a turkey leg in thanks.
5. Chat windows – Although I rarely participate in them myself, the comic relief provided by the gaming community never ceases to impress–and by impress, I mean spur a bout of guilty laughter accompanied by a sigh and a shake of the head. For every ardent role player, earnest question about gameplay, or desperate declaration of “lfg,” there’s at least a dozen people talking nothing but shit. The political and social commentary is astounding, a combination of crude, clever, and unfiltered that serves as a fun change of pace when fetch quests and escort missions start to feel dull. Taken as nothing more than it usually is–talking shit–in-game chat is one of the most entertaining things around. Sometimes it’s even useful, too.
4. Valve – The team behind Half-Life, Left for Dead, Portal, and Team Fortress just plain gets it. Steam is the pinnacle of digital distribution, a wildly effective platform the executives at Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft have probably banned on corporate computers. Greenlight puts the onus for getting games into the Steam store exactly where it belongs: on gamers themselves. And Gabe Newell, who often responds to fan mail and always has a smile on his face, seems like a hell of a guy. In an economy dominated by douche bags out to squeeze every penny possible out of the marketplace, Valve stands above it all as a pillar of quality and general decency. Not that they aren’t out to make a lot of money, of course; they just aren’t assholes about it.
3. Quick inventory and skill menus – Be it a wheel or a list, a trigger or hotkey generated peek into your character’s gear pack or bag of tricks is a welcome addition to any complex RPG. Those that pause or at least slow down the action? Even better. RPG characters always carry a ton of stuff; their future scoliosis should be rewarded by letting them use it as easily as possible.
2. Realistically attired female characters – Developers and pundits alike talk a lot about immersion, about how certain games can draw players in to the point that they forget about the controllers in their hands and become so absorbed in the experience that they don’t realize they’re playing a game. Complicated controls and busy HUDs don’t ruin my suspension of disbelief, but a woman fighting orcs in bikini armor certainly does. Hey, dumbass orcs, do you see that gratuitous patch of bare skin in between her melon-sized bosoms? Stab her there. There’s nothing wrong with a provocatively dressed character when it makes narrative sense, but in most cases, it doesn’t make any sense–and it’s kind of insulting that developers think we gamers are such suckers for that shit. That’s why I’m thankful for Alyx Vance, Faith, and the other strong female leads on this list.
1. Saving – You whippersnappers don’t know how good you have it. In my day, we only got three lives. We had to find more, or earn them by running up something called a score. What? No, not by finding all 279 MacGuffins spread throughout the game world and earning an achievement with a snarky title. We did it the old fashioned way: by jumping on a turtle’s head or stabbing an eagle in the eye as it swooped down from the heavens to try to knock us down a hole. Sometimes, when we lost all our lives, we’d get a continue–that’s three more free lives, but at the expense of restarting the level. I KNOW! Sometimes we’d get two or three continues. Sometimes we’d get a password after beating a level. What? No, that password wasn’t good for unlocking on-disk DLC, it was so we could get back to the highest level we’d reached with all the stuff we’d gathered. If you think you’ve got it tough because you have to remember your initials and your birthday so you can log in to Facebook or reddit, try remembering a series of red and blue dots on a bingo-style grid. Saving is the shit and there are no words to express just how thankful I am for it. It’s the most important innovation in gaming EVER, motion-controlled fishing and on-controller touch screens be damned.