A few weeks ago I was working some pretty long hours compared to what I'm used to, and came home pretty tired and wanting to crash. Like most nights, I wanted to play some games, but I wanted something I could relax with. Looking at my shelf, I found very little that fit that requirement. Most everything I own are action games in one form or another. If I was at an earlier point in Final Fantasy X, I would have chosen that as its random battles are something you can take your time with. However, where I am now, each battle is a nail biting affair where I hope some monster doesn't get lucky and wipes out my whole party in one turn. I wasn't in the mood for a shooter. Burnout Revenge and Burnout Paradise can be somewhat cathartic when you're blazing through the streets at two hundred miles an hour. The problem is that it requires a high level of concentration and reflexes to avoid smashing into the obstacles in your way. I usually can't manage that even at the best of times. I finally settled on Rock Band. I played my favorite songs for a while on medium so the challenge was minimized. This worked admirably to destress me after work. In fact, after a while I bumped up the difficulty to hard and practiced that for a while.
It made me think about the kind of things I generally want from the games I play. I think more than anything, I want a well told story that sucks me in accompanied by gameplay that is addictive, intuitive, and, well, fun. I'm usually stressed out when I'm playing a game. Trying to survive a vicious firefight in Half-Life 2 is an exhilarating experience, and nothing is as thrilling and heartpounding as fighting an epic boss battle and coming out victorious. The key word there is heartpounding. While it may end with a smile on my face, I usually need to take a break and do something else before continuing after an experience like that.
A game like Burnout, Skate, or Rock Band usually has the addictive part down, at least at first. But the difficulty curve steadily (or not so steadily) increases as you progress. Eventually I don't have the patience to spend time getting good enough at the game to keep going, so I put it down and move on. They're fun, but they're not lasting experiences. Rock Band is a bit of an exception because there is a constant supply of new content to try.
I think my favorite games are ones that I don't actually remember playing. By that I mean that the story and characters were so amazing that I don't remember the actual gameplay. The Longest Journey is probably the best example of this. The only puzzles I remember are the incredibly frustrating and illogical ones. For the most part what sticks in my mind are the wonderful writing and characters that moved the plot along. Half Life 2: Episode One is another example of this. Alyx is the only AI companion in a game I've ever been happy to have along with me. In these and other games, I forget I'm playing a game and feel like I'm just along for a wonderful ride.