It’s not that I only play strategy games – I love a good RPG or puzzle game. I used to play a lot of adventure games, too. But strategy and war games are my bread and butter, my alpha and omega, the reason I blog and podcast and get paid to begin with.
There is a price to going for depth in a genre instead of general breadth. While most of my colleagues have sunk time into Dead Rising 2 or Halo Reach, I’m still working through the improvements to Victoria 2 and finding the perfect way to use the Akkadians in Bronze.
It’s not just that I am outside many conversations; most gamers I think don’t play every major game as soon as it comes out and only take part in a few conversations anyway. It’s that strategy games condition your mind in certain ways that makes an abrupt change to another genre quite difficult.
It also leads you to believe that if you can master the Cultural Victory in Civilization 5, then playing Rhythm Heaven on your DS should be a piece of cake.
My good friend and colleague Jenn Cutter is a bad influence on me in many ways. Her gaming covers a wider and more Japanese map than mine, plus racing games and things that I have never heard of. Our discussions often refer to rhythm and music games, which she knows very well, and she, in effect, challenged me to play Rhythm Heaven.
I suck at it, and I think I know why.
The obvious explanation is that I, in fact, have no rhythm. Given my general aversion to freeform dancing, this is apparent to any casual observer. But I think there is something more to it than this.
Deep immersion in strategy games and even action RPGs conditions you to expecting certain things from a game. You expect to have the signals and cues appear on screen in a certain way and to have your responses to these cues translated in a certain way. Aural cues are rare and give you some time to respond.
Rhythm Heaven is really all aural. You need to respond purely to a sound and then you have to take that sound and answer it with a physical action. On the DS version, this means flicking the stylus sharply and strongly.
A rhythm game like Rhythm Heaven would work better if I could confidently close my eyes and know that my stylus flicking thing would work. (When I explained to Cutter that I had never flicked my stylus before in a game, she accused me of never using my DS; in fact Dawn of Discovery and Civilization Revolution just never use stylus flicking.)
I’ve written before about the grammar of games, but we have to recognize that many games and genres have completely different languages. I don’t mean in terms of jargon or acronyms – though those matter. I am hardly monolingual in gaming matters, but I am so immersed in one language that the shift to a game where my ears are more important than my eyes and my reflexes more important than my brain is a humbling experience.
But like a language, the only way to fix it is to get more deeply immersed in it. So I haven’t quite given up on Rhythm Heaven, though progress will be slow. I’ve got a couple of ideas in mind about how to regularly get more exposure to new non-strategy games without breaking my budget.
In some ways, I expect this is like someone who only plays Madden trying to get into Out of the Park Baseball or someone who only plays Call of Duty pausing for a ripping game of Imperialism. It’s not just a matter of unfamiliarity – it’s a different brain space, a different way of understanding how your expectations of how a game should work defeat you.