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Game On: It’s OK to dislike a popular video game

UPDATED: Thu., July 15, 2021

“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD” releases for the Nintendo Switch today. The “Zelda” franchise’s estimated 117 million game sales prove that it’s a massive hit with gamers.  (Nintendo Co.)
“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD” releases for the Nintendo Switch today. The “Zelda” franchise’s estimated 117 million game sales prove that it’s a massive hit with gamers. (Nintendo Co.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Ask any gamer and they’ll likely admit to being opposed to one or more games that are exceedingly popular. “Call of Duty” has no shortage of haters despite being the third bestselling video game franchise of all time. And not without good reason – when the series took off just over a decade ago, the movement and gunplay were silky smooth next to its peers, and the graphics were almost unparalleled.

For all its merits though, not everyone enjoys a gritty military first-person shooter no matter how well-crafted. Similarly, I have found precious few open-world games I enjoy. The likes of “The Elder Scrolls,” “Fallout” and “The Legend of Zelda” are held in top regard by many gamers, but I’ve quickly grown bored of every single game I’ve played in each series. I couldn’t make it past the first four hours at best.

Their massive worlds full of hidden lore, secrets and a near-endless supply of side quests make for an immersive and epic campaign for most. I get overwhelmed by the possibilities, and if the plot and setting don’t hook me, I quickly become disinterested. But that’s not because my tastes are superior or more refined or any such nonsense – many open-world games are meticulously well-crafted and worthy of praise – they’re just not to my taste.

Accepting this fact has been challenging. One part of me is inclined to think millions of gamers are delusional, and another wonders what I’m missing. It all comes down to the old adage different strokes for different folks. I’ve met many who couldn’t get into my favorite games – “Left 4 Dead,” “BioShock” and “Minecraft,” for instance – and sometimes it all just comes down to taste because each of those titles were bombarded with positive critical reception.

If anything, the fact that someone can dislike a whole swath of popular games and still consider themselves a gamer is testament to the incredible amount of variety present in the medium today. There are many games we call “side-scrollers” and “platformers” today in retrospect, but in the early 1990s, practically everything under the sun fit the bill – “Super Mario,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Earthworm Jim,” “Prince of Persia,” “Pitfall!” and the list goes on.

If you didn’t happen to like the predominant genre of the time, your options were limited. For almost two decades now, shooters have been almost obnoxiously common following the explosive success of “Halo: Combat Evolved” in 2001, but even amid the ongoing third- and first-person shooter craze, there has been no shortage of other excellent titles showcasing and evolving a plethora of other game genres.

In that time, indie games have taken off in popularity – the likes of “Celeste,” “Spelunky” and “Terraria” prove that indie titles can be some of the most imaginative on the market. Although it’s all well and good to classify games by genre and declare that some types entice you more than others, the ever-evolving nature of the medium means you’re bound to be thrown a curveball from time to time.

When I reviewed “Cyberpunk 2077” in November, I fully expected to be as unimpressed as I usually am with open-world games, but the setting was so immersive and the characters so genuinely interesting that it easily won me over. On the flipside, “Half-Life 2” had me convinced that an apocalyptic setting combined with a tight narrative was my cup of tea, but “The Last of Us” practically bored me to tears.

For a variety of reasons, I just couldn’t give a damn about the characters, so the narrative hook felt deeply by millions just wasn’t there for me. That certainly puts me in the minority given the game’s 95/100 Metacritic score and its dozens of accolades. When you really come down to it, it all comes down to preference.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding little or no enjoyment in a popular video game, and the same goes for any sort of media. The important thing is not being a jerk about it – just let people enjoy things no matter how bizarre it might seem. I’m still scratching my head over the success of the “Star Wars” franchise, but you know what? I’m fine with it.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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