We examine the tricky art of recommending games to friends

We examine the tricky art of recommending games to friends

This week, I talked to Derrick Sanskrit for our weekend-plans thread. Derrick is going to be spending some time with a pretty obscure new Nintendo game, as is his wont, but we spent most of our time talking about the risky but rewarding task of recommending games to friends and family. As always, let us know what you’re playing this weekend down in the comments.

Matt Gerardi: What are you playing this weekend?

Derrick Sanskrit: I am going to be playing a ton of Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder because I’m a ridiculous fan of the series. I love the Chibi-Robo! games. The one on the GameCube completely changed my perspective of what a modern video game can be. While there was bad guys and fighting, it was mostly about being a good person and helping people out. The dynamic soundtrack was something that I had seen in games before but hadn’t worked as effectively as in that game. It made me happy to mop the floor because there was this sweet acoustic guitar riff every time you did. So I’m pumped that there’s a new one.

Actually, I love everything the developer Skip does. The bit Generations series on the Game Boy Advance was beautiful and, again, unlike anything else that was happening in games at the time. Every couple of months, I check on the fan translation of the third Chibi-Robo! game that only came out in Japan because I need it in my life.

Gerardi: Anything else you’ll be playing?

Sanskrit: I just picked up Joe Danger Infinity on the iPhone. I love the Joe Danger games from Hello Games. They’re this great four-man studio of guys who used to work at Criterion Games on the Burnout series. They made this wonderful toy-like version of Excitebike. It’s great stupid fun. The new one came out on the iPhone this week.

Last month, they showed off the trailer for their next game called No Man’s Sky, and the Internet just exploded because it was this amazing thing that no one had really tried to do in games before, and this four-man studio is doing this amazing thing. Then, the week before Christmas, their studio flooded. They said it’s not going to impact development, and they’ll still put out Joe Danger and No Man’s Sky, but they were trying to promote the new Joe Danger on Twitter, and they said, “We would send people images and videos, but they were lost in the water.” So I’m happy to give them bucks. If people want their last big game, Joe Danger 2: The Movie, it’s in the Humble Bundle right now, so you can pay what you want for it, along with Bit.Trip Runner 2 and Papo & Yo.

I’m going to be playing these games, but I’m going to be playing them while I coach my roommates through the games I got them addicted to. Just before the holidays one of my roommates discovered Katamari Damacy. He had heard of it but hadn’t played it. Right before Christmas he said, “I think I’m going to play this Katamari thing you’ve been talking about.” So we put it in, and he played it for 14 hours in one weekend. The first stretch, he sat there for eight hours and played from the beginning.

Gerardi: Was it the first game?

Sanskrit: It was Katamari Forever on the PlayStation 3.

Gerardi: Even to just get 14 hours out of a Katamari game is impressive.

Sanskrit: In fairness, when Forever was released in Japan, it was called Katamari Tribute because it was like, “We’re cherry-picking the best levels out of all the Katamari games, and we’re making one big 1080p edition.” So it really is the best of Katamari, but even then, sitting there and playing one game for eight hours, especially something as simplistic as Katamari, is like, “Wow, you got really into that, didn’t you?”

Gerardi: I can see why it would grab someone right away. It’s big and crazy and colorful.

Sanskrit: It’s what my mom thinks of when she thinks of video games because it was the easiest one for her to grasp. It’s something I have fun with. I like talking to people and figuring out their interests and then trying to figure out what game they might enjoy based on that. I feel like everyone assumes video games now are just shooting people in the face, which a lot of games are if you believe the media, but there’s a whole lot else out there.

With one of my roommates, I was gauging her interest in TV and movies and stuff and I said, “Hey, have you heard of this game Lollipop Chainsaw?” And I describe it to her and she’s immediately like, “Oh my God, I want this in my life.” So we popped it in and she played it. She loves the sense of humor and the tone and the art style, with the half-tone dots and grindhouse everything. Then she was talking to her boyfriend about it, and he said, “Oh, it’s a lot like that show Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” So that’s super fun for me. I get to watch all of that stuff happening again.

Gerardi: That’s great. It can be tough sometimes, though. There’s an inherent sort of risk-reward thing going on when you recommend something. Even when I’m taking the other person’s interests into account and then telling someone to try something, it’s rough when your recommendation just doesn’t click with them.

Sanskrit: Yeah, you’re not going to knock it out of the park 100 percent of the time, but you should learn from your mistakes along the way, figuring out what they didn’t like about any individual game. I think my mom would love Flower, but you have to already understand the idea of “goals” in video games in order to progress in it, so I will not give her Flower. Conversely, I handed her my Vita with Proteus on it, and she just blissfully explored the island for 20 minutes.  

I keep trying to talk my sisters into playing Gone Home. Both of them have experience with video games, but not first-person games. So it’s daunting for them. They see it and they think, “Oh, I don’t think I can do that.” I tried to explain that it’s really not as complicated as they think it is, but there is that barrier to entry that seems intimidating.

Gerardi: The first-person thing is especially intimidating. The whole idea of “I have to control my head but also my legs but also individually” is a big jump for a lot of people. It does always feel nice to just introduce people to new things and have them stick. My problem is that I sometimes skew toward games I think people should play, mostly with my friends who I know play a lot of games. For example, I’ve taken to buying my games on Steam for my friends as Christmas gifts, like a stocking-stuffer type of thing. So I bought a bunch of people Papers, Please.

Sanskrit: That’s the weirdest gift to get somebody! That’s like the Louis CK joke about buying someone a puppy and it’s like, “Congratulations! In eight years, you’re going to be really, really sad!”

Gerardi: I know, I know. I said that in my note that came along with the gift. I basically said, “This my favorite game of the year. You’ve probably heard me talk about it, so I bought it for you. You might not enjoy it. You probably won’t enjoy it. It’s pretty much designed to not be enjoyed, but you should play it.”

Sanskrit: It could’ve been worse. You could’ve given them Cart Life. That’s a beautiful game and somehow more depressing than Papers, Please.

Gerardi: It’s way more depressing than Papers, Please. So yeah, pure “you should play this because it’s important” recommendations are a little different and can definitely lead to more of that soul-crushing ambivalence from the recommendee.

Sanskrit: But it’s great when it works out! My little sister loves the sort of freemium template of iPhone games, but she was getting tired of Candy Crush and Robot Unicorn Attack. So I gifted her a copy of Little Inferno, because with that game, you have to buy it, but the whole thing is a joke about freemium games. She absolutely flipped out over it. Every time I visited her over three or four months, she had it on her screen. She doesn’t even care about unlocking the new toys and things to burn, she just likes burning things. I should probably be concerned about that. Maybe I’m protecting the public by allowing her to burn things in a safe place.

Gerardi: Now that’s a different take on recommendations. That’s a subversive recommendation. “Hey, I noticed you like this thing. Well, how about you try this satire that makes fun of the thing you enjoy?” Did she pick up on that satirical part of it?

Sanskrit: She definitely gets the tone of it. She loves getting the letters from the girl next door and burning similar objects together. Then, when the achievement pops up for doing that, she says, “Oh, I didn’t know I was supposed to be doing that. I was just trying to have fun.” Yes, you’re supposed to have fun. It’s a game.

Gerardi: And it is fun to burn things.

Sanskrit: It’s super fun to burn things. That’s all I learned in Boy Scouts.  

Filed Under: Games

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