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What Makes Games Great?

As technology has improved,

graphics and physics engines have grown incredibly powerful, and some new games are outright breathtaking. But what makes games truly great?

This article is a part of the Notes from Leadership series, a collection of articles from leaders of the OU Esports Club releasing throughout the fall 2019 semester.

New fantasy and sci-fi titles push the boundaries of what a video game can include. Being a poor college student makes it difficult to afford every cool new game that comes out these days. Still, Borderlands 3 is looming on the horizon for me currently, and I’m definitely excited about that. Nevertheless, polished cutscenes and realistic graphics aren’t enough to make a game stand out as one of the greats in video game history. Of course, games are subject to the tastes of millions of unique players that will either love or hate a game for any number of reasons. This piece covers my own opinions, and I’m sure plenty of people will disagree and have their own opinions on what makes a game great. Discussion is a healthy and constructive way to keep video game culture thriving, so any discussion is welcomed. With that out of the way, let’s get to it.

I believe the best games on the market, old and new, are the ones that provide a great experience for both the casual and hardcore groups of gamers. Hardcore gamers are a powerful force, and they are often responsible for crunching the numbers to find the optimal game strategies, plotting the fastest routes for speed-running, and discovering exploits that can set challenging encounters to Easy Mode. These kinds of gamers are a valuable part of the community, and I personally appreciate the wealth of knowledge and discussion that comes from their analysis and grind. That being said, a game really shines when it doesn’t take studying an essay-length guide to have a build worth playing. A great game has enriching content to match the level of dedication each player brings to the table. This content may come in the form of lore, scattered across an expansive map, and requiring exploration to discover. It may also come in the form of rich, detailed backgrounds and side-plot developments that can only be found by taking the time to talk to and get to know non-essential characters.

On the other hand, a measure of a game’s greatness may also be how successfully it allows the player to feel like a true badass. Saving the galaxy from a race of sentient doomsday machines or repelling a demon invasion by ripping it to shreds with your bare hands are a few pretty awesome ways to feel powerful if you’re into that sort of thing. Being an unstoppable demigod of destruction is great and all, but some gamers need to feel that their success is in the face of extreme difficulty rather than a game option that nerfs enemies until they’re at a manageable level. The mark of a truly great game is the ability to enthrall every level of gamer with an experience that fits the player’s level of experience, mechanical ability, and buy-in to the game. An old game from the early 2000s may have blocky graphics and a map that is dwarfed by a modern title, but the iconic characters and immersive story can be so engrossing that the game stays relevant long past its release. Nostalgia is a powerful force that drags us back to our old favorites over and over again, but there are usually plenty of awesome features that justify that twelfth playthrough. New games deserve some love too, though. Smarter AI for NPCs and enemies means a game can provide a diverse and complex adventure that every gamer can enjoy.

Writing up a list titled “Top 10 Greatest Video Games of All Time” would be completely pointless here, since everyone will have their own opinions and I doubt there’s anyone truly qualified to make a definitive list like that. Regardless of what your game preferences are or what your skill level is, I bet there are common themes in all of your favorites and countless people love those same games for the same reasons. So, in your opinion, what makes a video game truly great?
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Bailey Brown

Bailey is an advertising major, nonprofit studies minor in her third year at the University of Oklahoma. She was given her first gaming device at the age of 9 and hasn't put it down since. She enjoys the exploration and puzzle solving of The Legend of Zelda and claims she can "beat anyone" in Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers. Follow her on Twitter @MissBaileyKay

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