Heard good things about video games but not sure where to start as a beginner? Your kid really wants a video game and you want to buy it for Christmas because it’s Black Friday sale season, but overwhelmed by the choices?
In this post, I won’t exactly tell you what games to buy, but instead I’ll tell you what factors to consider! They always say; give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. So I’m guess I’m trying to teach you how to fish for games here. 😛
Why Video Games?
Well, why not? Just like how watching movies, reading novels and listening to music are fun, video games are equally fun and more interactive! And contrary to many people’s beliefs, playing video games actually have scientifically proven benefits, which I wrote in my Benefits of Playing Video Games series:
I won’t cover video game genres (action, role-playing, sports, etc) in this post, so if you want to know more, do check out the following posts I wrote a couple of months back:
Are Video Games Only for Kids?
Well, that’s like asking, “Are movies / story books / jigsaw puzzles / etc only for kids?” to which I’ll say, it depends!
Just like how there are books for kids and books for young adults, there are video games for kids and even “edutainment” for educational purposes, and there are games that are more appropriate for older gamers (such as survival horror with blood and gore). There are business tycoon games for those who want to build and expand their own restaurant, and there are role-playing games for those who prefers a good story! The important part is to find a game that suits your / your kids’ preferences and taste. 🎮
And now, we’ll start! 😀
PC Gaming or Console?
There are 3 different types of devices you could use for gaming:
- PC: Stands for personal computer, these could be desktops (with monitors) or laptops with Windows / Mac OS / Linux operating systems. However, when one mentions PC, usually they mean Windows PC as there are fewer games available for Mac OS and Linux. 🖥
- Console: Dedicated machines plugged to the TV and played from the couch, like PlayStation 4 and Xbox One!
- Mobile: Yep, your smart phones and tablets could play games too! However, this isn’t covered in this post due to my unfamiliarity with mobile games. 😅
I won’t go into detail on PC vs console gaming because this article does it pretty well!
Personally I went with PC gaming, a mid-end gaming laptop (with Windows 10) plugged into the TV and played with a Bluetooth controller, so it’s like playing with a console! So why didn’t I just go with the console then?
- Multipurpose: For me, a laptop is a must-have because I do a lot of stuff on it – writing, music, art, blogging, etc. Even if I were to buy a gaming console, I’d still need a laptop for my other stuff, and I prefer to buy a single multipurpose device rather than two specialised devices!
- Device price: While a gaming laptop is more expensive than a gaming console, I would have arrived at around the same price if I buy a standard lower-end laptop plus a gaming console. So why not a single, more-powerful-than-standard laptop? 😀
- Game Price: This is a sad fact; depending on the region you’re in, the exact same game (digital copy) can have a way higher price on the console than on the PC, especially when there are more competition for PC games than console ones. My husband and I just had this problem recently; almost double for the PlayStation 4 game compared to the PC. 🙁
- Game Selection: There are way more games to choose from on the Windows PC than on the console! That’s because a lot of console games are also available on the PC and games made by smaller individual studios are usually released on the PC. Even though there are console-exclusive games, I prefer to have more selection than those specific games. 🙂
- Controller support: A lot of PC games now actually have controller support, though they can take more work to set up the first time than a console. This works fine for me, especially when I’m a couch potato gamer. 😆
Recently I learned my lesson; just because a game’s artwork and graphics are cute doesn’t mean it’s for kids!
Just like movies, video games have a rating system that tells you the age appropriateness of a particular game, plus additional things like the content descriptors. Not only this helps us select games that are age appropriate for us (I’d certainly get bored easily if it’s a game meant for 3-year-olds 😅), it also helps us avoid content we wouldn’t like (for example, I don’t enjoy blood and gore so I avoid those 😶).
Below are the two main rating sites I refer to:
Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is the non-profit, self-regulatory body that assigns ratings for video games and apps so parents can make informed choices. The ESRB rating system encompasses guidance about age-appropriateness, content, and interactive elements.
~From ESRB.org: About ESRB
Yep, these people over at the board rates video games and apps so that we know generally what is expected in them before we buy them! These are official ratings that actually go onto the box if you buy the physical game copy (it’s usually at the bottom of the back), or if you’re referring online, you could go directly to their website to search for a particular game. 🔍
ESRB ratings have three parts:
- Rating Categories suggest age appropriateness
- Content Descriptors indicate content that may have triggered a particular rating and/or may be of interest or concern
- Interactive Elements inform about interactive aspects of a product, including the users’ ability to interact, the sharing of users’ location with others, if in-app purchases of digital goods are completed, and/or if unrestricted internet access is provided.
~From ESRB.org: ESRB Ratings
Common Sense Media
Sometimes ESRB doesn’t have a rating for a particular game, or it doesn’t have enough details to help you decide if a game is safe enough for your kids. When that happens, you could refer to Common Sense Media, a non-profit organisation that provides parental reviews for not only video games but also movies, books, etc!
What I like about this is that it reviews games and stuff from a parent’s point of view and includes what a game generally contains (violence, etc). It also includes sections like what you could talk to your kids about in relations to the game, and whether it has strong stuff like partial nudity, drugs and whatnot. It’s good if you want to pick the right game for your kids. 😀
Game Business Models
There are many ways a video game may cost you money, and this section will hopefully answer your questions on how they work!
The standard way to get video games – buy a copy of the game and you can play access its full features as much as you want forever! (Or until your machine reaches end-of-life. 😛)
Like its name suggests, you only need to buy the game in order to experience it fully from start to end. Some developers also include additional content (called “downloadable content” or DLC, which I’ll cover later) at no additional cost, as long as you own the base game. 😀
Examples: Minecraft, Terraria, Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest
Monthly Subscription (a.k.a. Pay-to-Play)
Pay $xx dollars a month and you can play a game or access a collection of games as much as you want! (Kind of like cable TV for video games, I guess. 😆)
Also called “pay to play” games, you can play anything the developers have to offer (including DLCs) for the months you pay for. There is no additional cost for any additional content, but at the same time you don’t own the game, so you lose access to the game(s) the moment you terminate your subscription. 😶
Personally I don’t do pay-to-play games, because I’m the type to replay games after a while so I prefer to own a game. 😆
Examples: World of Warcraft, PlayStation Plus
Base Game + Paid DLCs
Basically the base game is the one-time purchase game you bought, except the developer releases DLCs that you’d have to pay to access!
DLCs (or downloadable contents) are additional contents released separately from the base game, and can range from sometime simple such as cosmetic costumes (that do nothing to gameplay except making the character look nice) to big expansion packs that add a lot of content to a game such as new areas to explore, new characters, new storyline, etc.
Are paid DLCs good or bad? Like many things, it depends. Not everyone likes what a particular DLC includes; for example, many years ago the developers for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion released a paid DLC for horse armour, which many gamers criticised because, well, how many people want to pay to get pretty armour for their characters’ horses, which they might not ride all the time? (I wouldn’t. 😅) On the other hand, Witcher III: Wild Hunt has a really big expansion pack called Blood and Wine that could contend for the Game of the Year award!
For me, I’m a bit of a slow gamer and am always behind on my gaming list, so I don’t pre-order games or buy them shortly after launch. I usually wait a year or two for a sale, which may include base game + DLCs bundle, and even then I’d scrutinise the DLCs to see if I really want them. Because in the end I’m the gamer, and I’d pay for what I think is a good value to me. 😀
Examples: Diablo III, Elder Scrolls series
Just when you think you have access to everything the game has to offer… and suddenly you realise you have to either spend a lot of time and effort to obtain a powerful weapon or gain experience points to grow in power, or spend some money to have it instantly given to you!
Yep, that’s a microtransaction, purchase of virtual goods that usually cost small amounts of money. Microtransactions are usually prevalent in free-to-play (F2P) games so that the developer has some revenue in order to keep on developing games, and games like this are called “freemium” games, or even pay-to-win (P2W) games if it becomes too much. 😶
Real story: a group of friends and I once played a war-based tactical game online, which was free-to-play, and being working adults, we do spend a bit here and there to enhance our gaming experience. The sad part? We realised later it’s a pay-to-win. The #1 player in the server has seemingly unlimited cash flow; even after 20 players banded together to defeat him (plus our friend who was the #2 in the server), the next morning he grew to more than double his original power… which was only possible if he spent thousands of dollars. So yeah, do be careful of free-to-play games. 😅
Examples: Middle Earth: Shadow of War, any free-to-play MMORPG games
If you want free-to-play games with no additional cost whatsoever, there are a lot of mini-games you could play on Adobe Flash on various websites! However, the catch is that they’re not published games – basically any random dude can just create an account, make a flash game and post it up there. 😅
Examples: Desktop Tower Defense, Grow Island
Controller or Keyboard + Mouse?
Of course, you’re stuck with the controller if you’re playing on a console! But what if you’re on the computer?
Again, this is a personal preference; some prefer to play with controllers, others prefer keyboard + mouse. Some like me play with both, depending on the game! ⌨🖱
For me, I grew up playing video games with a controller so I prefer to play most games with a controller, but I prefer to play base-building or shooting games with keyboard + mouse. 😀
AAA vs Indie Games?
Despite what you might think, AAA (pronounced triple-A) games doesn’t mean they’re above rank A! They’re games that are developed by large studios, usually with a massive budget, and are highly promoted – the video game equivalent of blockbuster movies. There are some speculation that AAA stands for: “a lot of time”, “a lot of effort” and “a lot of budget”. 😆
Indie games, on the other hand, stand for independent games, which are developed by usually much smaller studios (or even individuals) that often do not have the financial support of a publisher; they often rely on crowd-funding campaigns to fund their game development. Indie games are usually only distributed digitally, not physically.
Are AAA games better than indie games? Again, it depends. (I’m saying that a lot today, aren’t I? 😆)
Just because AAA games have huge budgets doesn’t mean the game will turn out good. Some are good enough to keep me playing, yet others made me lose interest in less than 10 hours. 😅
On the other hand, because any random person could spend time to develop a video game, many indie games are, well, bad. But hey, some of my favourite games (that happen to be award winners) are indie games! Did you know Minecraft was an indie game? And did you know World of Goo was developed by a grand total of 2 people? 😀
Where to Buy Games?
Usually for these games you could waltz into a video game store and take a pick! Or if you prefer to buy digital copies, you can head over to the official web store of your console’s publisher, such as PlayStation Network for the PlayStation, and Xbox Store for the Xbox. 🎮
I would have suggested Wii Shop for the Wii too, but I didn’t because I found out Wii Shop will be closed in 2019. 😶
Of course, I saved my favourite for last! 😆Like console games, you can get physical copies from a video game store near you, but for digital copies (especially for indie games), there are a few options:https://gadgets.ndtv.com/games/features/steam-vs-origin-vs-uplay-vs-gog-vs-windows-store-a-definitive-guide-860248?amp=1&akamai-rum=off
This not-too-long guide covers the pros and cons different PC game web stores pretty well, which are Valve’s Steam, GOG.com, Electronic Arts’ Origin, Ubisoft’s Uplay Shop. Though it doesn’t include other stores such as Amazon!
My personal preference? Steam, which is a major digital distributor around the world! Although there are complaints of how one has to shift through mountains of junk games to get to the good stuff, I like the variety as Steam includes a lot of indie games, plus it usually has periodic sales with crazy discounts that are adjusted based on the region’s purchase power, which is great for where I live. 💸
Bonus: Wow, It’s Sale Time! What Do I Buy?
Yep, I decided to post this now because it’s currently Black Friday / autumn sale time on my preferred online game store, Steam!
If you’re still wondering what game to buy during this sale and the pages upon pages of games drive you nuts (there are thousands of games on sale on Steam), a lot of PC gaming sites publish their own list of recommendations and game highlights so you could have a look and see if you like them, without wading through the pages!
Here are some sites I often refer to:
- GameSpot: Steam Black Friday 2017 Deals: Best PC Game Sales On GTA 5, Fallout 4, Shadow Of War, Pyre, And More
- Rock, Paper, Shotgun: Tired of Black Friday already? How about Steam’s Autumn sale instead?
- VG 24/7: Our picks of the best deals in the Steam Autumn Sale for Black Friday 2017
Otherwise, read on for my own gaming preferences to see if you like them. 😀
Some Games on Discount I Already Own
- Assassin’s Creed II ($9.99), Brotherhood ($9.99), Revelation ($9.99): A trilogy of the well-known Assassin’s Creed series (3D action stealth game) with protagonist Ezio Auditore! Okay, so these are pretty old games (released in year 2009 – 2011) and I could have gone with the more recent Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Syndicate or Origin (I’ll probably get them next year), but this trilogy remains as three of my favourite games since I played them on the PlayStation 3! 😀
- Divinity: Original Sin ($13.49): A turn-based tactical RPG that really makes the player strategise during battle. Enemies are stepping on pools of water? Zap them with lightning! Too many enemy archers? Cover the battlefield with smog and they won’t be able to hit you! If you like this game, you could also look at Divinity: Original Sin 2, which was just released a couple of months back. 😀
- Hollow Knight ($9.89): My current favourite 2D action platformer! I previously wrote a post about how much I love this game; need I say more? 😛
- Ori and the Blind Forest ($9.99): One of my favourite 2D action platformer! I also previously posted about how much I love this game. 😆
- Portal ($0.99), Portal 2 ($1.99): How would you like puzzle solving with some space-defying mechanics? Try Portal and Portal 2, first-person-shooter style games with puzzle solving involving guns that create portals! They may be old games (released in 2007 & 2011 respectively), but I still love them today. 😀
- Scribblenauts Unlimited ($4.99): Arguably for younger audience, this is an adventure game that involves one to solve problems by materialising anything writing words in a magic notebook! (I’m sure this will help kids to expand on their vocabulary.) And if you like this and also DC Comics superheroes, you could get Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure!
- Terraria ($5.99): A sandbox game very much like a 2D version Minecraft, but with more progression, more weapon choices and battle strategies, more bosses to defeat! It’s not as expansive as Minecraft and it’s 2D instead of 3D, though you can still unleash your creativity with the building part! Would you believe I clocked over 350 hours on this game over the past few years? 😆
- Trine ($2.24), Trine 2 ($2.29): Like puzzle solving, action games and medieval fantasy? Then you might want to try the Trine series, a sidescroller mixture of puzzle solving and action! There’s also a package bundle with Trine 3, though I haven’t played Trine 3. 😶
Some Games I Really Want But Can’t Buy Yet Due to a Long Gaming Backlog
- Okami HD ($19.99, no discount): A PC release of one of my favourite games! An action RPG game where one controls Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess in the form of a white wolf as she travels across feudal Japan to defeat Orochi, the evil eight-headed serpent. It’s not out yet, but it will be in a couple of weeks. 😀
- Prison Architect ($7.49): A building simulation that may have cute graphics, but it involves a lot of management and advance planning in order for your prison to thrive! I like games that involve planning and making your economy / etc run more efficiently, so I’m looking forward to this!
- Stardew Valley ($10.04): Ever dreamed of moving to the countryside and having a farm? Then try this 2D agricultural simulator! I’ve heard it’s good and is reminiscent of the Harvest Moon series I previously enjoyed. 😀
You might find a lot of these are not-so-recently released games; I try to buy games when they’re a bit older because they tend to be cheaper, and during sale because I try try to stay within my budget of $10 per game (up to x number of games I can finish before the next sale starts, usually 3 – 5 games). This is to prevent myself from going crazy and buying everything I want during sale time, and I’d feel bad spending $70 for a newly-released game when I could buy 7 older games worth $10 during sale. 😅
Long Story Short
Do Your Research
As with anything you buy, do make sure to read up on the video games before actually buying them! Whether they’re right for you / your kids in terms of appropriateness, genres, etc, only you would know. 😀
Beware of Impulse Buying!
Sometimes the word SALE and the prices are so enticing that one can’t help but to buy and stockpile them for later! I’ve already gone into this mode a few times, and now I’m paying for it by having 5 different games I haven’t started playing since I bought them during the summer sale, which I’ll probably take 3 months to complete at the rate I’m going. So do be careful. 😅
And Remember, Everything in Moderation (Including Games)
Video games may be good for us, but as with everything else, too much of a good thing is not good!
This YouTube video (starts at 40:39) on Hello Counselor (a Korean talk show featuring people’s concerns) has a segment with a woman’s concerns on her husband, who is addicted to an online game. This will be what happens if a gamer doesn’t manage his/her love-turned-obsession for gaming!
If you have any questions about video games, do feel free to reach out to me! I may not be able to tell you about games I’ve never played before (which is a lot, because I’m not much of a gamer now compared to my school years 😅), though I hope my limited experience will help. 😀
A Short Self-Compassionate Letter
It’s nice of you to write this mini-guide to help others make informed choices about buying video games. 🎮