A Low-Key Guide to Video Games for Curious Skeptics
07.20.17

When my husband, Mike, bought a PlayStation 4 last fall, I was skeptical. I didn’t think any mainstream games would appeal to me whatsoever. Aside from playing Mario Bros. on my dusty Nintendo system in 6th grade and Candy Crush Soda Saga on my iPhone, I’d never had an interest in playing video games. Plus, the horrors of Gamergate — a scary event in 2014 where a wave of gamer guys harassed prominent women in the gaming industry — had turned me off video game culture, hard. Suffice it to say, I was not looking to invest in a gaming system.

But one day, out of boredom, I popped a game that came bundled with our PS4, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, into the machine. I didn’t know anything about the Uncharted series. The shadowy figure on the cover of the game gave me little idea as to what it was about. I’d never even held a PlayStation controller before. I expected to fumble through a few awkward minutes of gameplay then throw my controller down in exasperation.

To my surprise, the game walked me through how to use the controller on-screen. And after a few minutes, I figured out it’s possible to change the intensity of the game from balls-to-the-wall “survival” mode to the more chillax, less combat-heavy “explorer” mode and anywhere in-between. It made me wonder what else about video games I didn’t know. I ended up loving Uncharted 4. It has a charming lead in Nathan Drake, pulse-pounding action, a compelling storyline and gorgeous animation. I ended up playing it twice in a row just so I could marvel at the set pieces.

The experience didn’t convert me into a diehard gamer who attends Comic-Cons and breezes through the Final Fantasy series. But after a solid six months of playing video games and loving it, I wanted to write a guide for people who don’t think they like video games, but are a little curious as to whether they might.

Talk to me about video game consoles.

Expect to pay anywhere between $200 and $400 for your console, no matter the brand. Prices vary depending on the storage capacity and whether or not it comes bundled with a game. You can find refurbished consoles for slightly cheaper at sites like Best Buy.

The two most popular consoles are Sony’s PlayStation ($299 for the slim 500GB version) and Microsoft’s Xbox One S ($249 and comes with an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive). Nintendo has their Wii, Switch and handheld 3DS systems, too. Each console has exclusive game titles, which might influence your decision to purchase. PlayStation has sold about 50 million units, roughly twice as much as Xbox’s 24 million units.

This TechRadar video explains their differences nicely.

Ultimately, my husband went with the PlayStation 4 because it has more games he thought would appeal to us, and he was right. It can also play DVDs and stream Netflix, which is a cool perk.

I literally know nothing. What games should I play?

First, video games aren’t a monolith. There are tons of different genres out there. Popular categories include: adventure, first-person and third-person shooters, puzzles, role-playing, sports, strategy and fantasy. Just like movies, there are games created for children, adults and general audiences.

Since I don’t have any girlfriends who play video games that could suggest something I’d like, I consulted Metacritic to see the highest rated games in the last 90 days, the last year, and of all time. (Video games take years to release, so it’s possible your new favorite game may be a few years old.) You can browse the site by platform or type of game, and it even lets you know which games are slated to come out soon. The clean interface is easy to navigate and you can watch game trailers to give you an idea of what each game is about.

LittleBigPlanet 3 was the first video game I picked out. Made for a general audience, it’s fast-paced, trippy and quirky. Uncharted 4, the game that hooked me into this world, is like a hipper Indiana Jones with gorgeous scenery and awesome action. It recently won Best Game at the 2017 Bafta awards. Last of Us Remastered is a game about a zombie apocalypse that’s breathtaking both in terms of story and set pieces. It’s widely regarded as one of the best video games of all time. Seriously, the story haunted me for days after I played it.

I’m currently playing Grand Theft Auto V, which is not for the faint of heart. It’s un-pc, violent, brash and, I’ll admit, loads of fun.

Okay. I think I found a game to play. Should I download it or buy a physical copy?

If you’re looking for convenience, by all means, download away. However, some people enjoy having a physical copy of the game in their library so they can go back and play it at any time. Financially, hard copies make more sense because you can resell your games at a store like GameStop and get some cash back. You can’t re-sell a digital copy.

Also, digital copies tend to be more expensive while physical copies can go on sale or be steeply discounted once they’re a bit older.

What else should I know?

The first thing is that each game has its own way to use the controller. Pushing “x” to jump in one game won’t mean “x” is for jumping in another. It takes a little patience to re-learn the controls.

Secondly, DLC means downloadable content. It’s a special feature or add-on you can access or download directly into your console that is meant to enhance the playing experience. DLC ranges from customizing characters’ outfits, accessing maps and weapons, or even unlocking additional levels and expanded storylines. You’ll see a link to any available DLC appear on a game’s main screen. It’s not essential to enjoying gameplay, but it’s a nice perk when you finish a game and want to dive deeper into the world.

Lastly, game companies are like record labels in that they have a roster of titles. Rockstar Games does the Grand Theft Auto series, Naughty Dog put out the Uncharted series and The Last of Us. If you like a game, check out other titles by the same studio.

Why should I pick up a controller?

Video games are a terrific way to unplug from the world and immerse yourself in a story. Unlike watching a TV show, listening to a podcast, or passively scrolling through Instagram, video games allow you to make choices. So many things in life are out of our control; there’s a comfort in entering an immersive world where you have complete agency.

Video games also offer a sense of camaraderie. For the majority of popular game titles, you’re part of a team that works together to accomplish a goal. And tracking your progress through the game can give a sense of accomplishment, something Snapchat most likely will never do.

You don’t have to be a blood-thirsty first-person shooter; there’s a wide variety of games out there to suit your gaming style. Give it a shot. You might love it.

Happy playing!

Anna Goldfarb is author of the humor memoir, “Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through.” She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their three-legged cat, Eleanor. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Collages by Ana Tellez. 

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