Games that captured the spirit of something you love


#1

I’ve been obsessively playing Super Mega Baseball 2 all week, and I just did a video on Golf Story, and I’m in the middle of editing a video about the first Tony Hawk game, so I’ve been really thinking about how certain sports games accurately simulated the best aspects of those sports. Super Mega Baseball 2 has the best grip on what I like so much about baseball - The feeling of a batter whiffing on a pitch, the anticipation as a high fly ball rises towards the fence and just gets over the edge before the crowd loses it, that sort of thing.

On Waypoint Radio this week, there was mention of a game (I forget which) that felt “like one of the best days at work” according to one of the hosts. This got me thinking about the job I used to have as a summer camp instructor (which, if you do it like I did, is basically trying over and over again to make jokes that both children and adults will laugh at) and the way that making a good joke in Quiplash or a funny drawing in Civic Doodle will make an entire room laugh in unison.

Are there any games you can think of that try to simulate an experience - be it real life like a sport or a driving game or something you do for work, or something conceptual - and end up exemplifying what it is you enjoy about that experience?


#2

Growing up, I was extremely into rollerblading. I skated everywhere, all day, every day, blasting pop-punk on my Sony G-Protection Walkman that played smoothly through all the jumping and jolting I’d put it through. I’d rip down massive hills, leap over planters and up onto curbs, flip around and go backwards, for no other reason than it was fun as hell.

Jet Set Radio nailed that feeling of tuning in, letting the energy of the music take over, and doing wild shit just because it was fun. For two years, when I wasn’t outside rollerblading, I was inside playing JSR in a beanbag chair with my headphones on, blasting Naganuma’s legendary soundtrack.

And man, once I imported those soundtracks on CD, and started internalizing the game’s attitude, feeling the energy of the music and remembering how it’d drive me in the game…those moments were transcendent!


#3

The attention to detail in Abzu really brought me back to when I was a kid and wanted to be a marine biologist, spending hours reading books on all sorts of marine animals (mostly sharks tbh). I loved how every species you could come across in Abzu had a name and a distinct look. It was weirdly rewarding to come across a certain animal and have the name ring a bell, scratching at information I’d retained from years ago.

I also found the way your character in Abzu manoeuvres underwater deeply satisfying, and in a sense a little empowering. I was never a good swimmer but I did spent a lot of my holidays as a kid on the beach, finding whatever excuse I could to get in the water, so it felt extra special to be able to so effortlessly swim to my heart’s content in the game.

More than anything though I found that Abzu just captures that childlike wonder I have for the ocean, evoking the beauty, mystique and slight terror of everything that exists within. It was a wonderful experience to play (and watch others see for the first time).


#4

I spent a solid year of my life living around the “rush” of restaurant cooking. While that’s a lifestyle that ultimately was not for me, there’s something to be said about being on the line at noon and making sandwiches with such frequency and consistency that it almost becomes an act of mindfulness. I guess you could say there’s a flow state to find in commercial cooking. I previously assumed most games centered around cooking are just mini-game collections created for the expressed purpose of mimicking the process of making food and maybe giving the player an idea of what a dish’s recipe is (e.g. Cooking Mama).

Then I discovered Cook, Serve, Delicious! last year. This, too, is effectively a mini-game collection with some light management in between. It also presents the closest simulacrum of that “rush” exhilaration I’ve ever come across in a game. You start out slow with an unpopular hole-in-the wall joint that serves only a handful of pre-prepared food – you simply heat it and send it out. Then, as you progress, recipes become more complex, more customers start showing up, chores need to be done, this ticket wants no pickles, that one wants the works. By a certain point, just as in real life, the game is no longer about the physical act of cooking; CSD becomes a bona fide reflection of how demanding a back-of-house station can be. It’s hard and grueling work, but that feeling you get as you’re nailing every order perfectly, when your body moves gracefully with little thought, and when that 10PM release finally comes makes all the previous stress worth it in the end. Cook, Serve, Delicious! doesn’t teach you how to cook at all. Instead, it teaches you what it feels like to cook for hours on end, for dozens of people, trying satisfy each and every person.

Edit: And though I’ve never played it myself, I feel should give a shout out to Overcooked, a game that – from just about every stream I’ve seen of it – seems to capture that “Expo just took a smoke break, our prep cook no-called, it’s 12:30, and everything is on fire” experience that I’ve rarely seen outside of real life brunch shifts gone bad.


Games That Get to the Heart of Things
#5

Rocket League is the first thing I thought of. While I love sports and sports games, there is always a separation between what happens on the tangible field and what happens in the digital version. You don’t perform the machines of a jump shot, you press a button or flick the stick and the animation begins. Rocket League gets to the heart of sports. The trajectory of your shot is entirely on how your shot mechanics. Nothing has felt more like playing a sport then Rocket League.

I also want to highlight Altitude. Altitude is a 2D, plane death match game that had a few objective modes. One of those modes was Ball, which pitted two teams trying to get a ball into a net-like thing. The community took to playing this on the Football map, which was just an open field with no terrain and a goal on each end. This lead to certain planes fitting certain roles and, again, leading to an experience that felt very similar to playing pick up sports.


#6

Final Fantasy XV is essentially the interactive myth of Noctis Lucis Caelum CXIV. There’s the pantheon of gods, royalty, prophecy, destiny; you name it, it’s there. There are different interpretations of FFVX, like how you choose to believe what’s up in the ambiguous ending and the DLCs with different endings. That’s my entire shit, dude. I’ve loved mythology since I was a little kid. I can’t really verbalize why, but I do, and FFXV embodies it so well.


#7

It’s not an entire game, but the bicycle in Pokemon for me captures the feeling of freedom I remember from riding a bicycle to different places in my neighborhood as a kid. I think it’s important that you start those games on foot so that when you finally get the bicycle you can feel how it compresses the distance between towns. Also I love that music! Anyway more games should have bicycles.


#8

Grow Up. It captured the feeling of wandering and climbing tall trees to look down below at the world. By the time you get to the endgame you’ve climbed so high that gravity gets messed up and up starts losing meaning. It’s really incredible.


#9

Now that I’ve thought of this one, I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t been mentioned, yet. Rock Band and its predecessor Guitar Hero really capture the feeling of playing music like nothing else out there. And not just the performing part, but also the practicing and getting better parts that are oh so satisfying when you finally nail a section in a song at full speed that you’ve always had trouble with.


#10

Arma 3 hits the nail right on the head in terms of communication. I love playing it with my unit and having to communicate effectively in order to complete objectives, using proximity chat when close to my fireteam, my squads close range radio to communicate to our squad leader and then waiting for messages to get passed through the chain of command.

A lot of players get fed up of waiting on top of a ridge whilst orders and ideas are passed up and down the line but I love that in the down time it’s a time to just chill with my team mates and prepare for what we think we will encounter.


#11

While it also mimics the pleasures of winding country roads and what little sliding on dirt I’ve done, Dirt Rally (at least with a nice force feedback wheel and, God help me, a VR headset) captures the physicality and balance of downhill skiing better than any skiing focused game I’ve touched. It’s all there: the way you cautiously skid to bleed off a little steam, the compression in the dips and that release of control on each crest, and that your speed is not limited by how fast you can propel yourself as much as how fast you can process the torrent of incomplete information from your eyes and your body. There’s even that sense that you’re simultaneously managing a traction budget and a balance budget.

I seldom dig out the wheel and the headset and the sessions are rarely so long as an hour, but it is intense and satisfying.