Friday, April 13, 2012

Devil's dopamine

Diablo 3 is finally upon us, and with under a month to go until it's launch, it feels further away to me than ever. The level of 'schoolgirl giddiness' is reaching fever point. The game has been eleven years coming, and for me it can't get here soon enough.

The thing about Diablo to me is that it's a very neatly perfected experience. In the same way that Call of Duty is to shooter fans, Diablo knows exactly how to push the hack 'n slash RPG buttons. It has such a clearly defined, and deceptively simple gameplay rhetoric, that to someone who's never played, and is just watching you over your shoulder, the cycle of play can seem mind numbingly boring.

This is the genius of Diablo's design. It bypasses the critical lobes and strikes right to the brains pleasure centers with trickles of warm dopamine. It's an almost pure grind and reward based system, and if you're the kind of gamer that's susceptible to this kind of thing, it's like a digital drug.

So just when you might have finally weened yourself from Blizzards other gaming addiction of choice, World of Warcraft, Diablo 3 is arriving. Time to take that week off from work, (just sight personal reasons and hopefully the boss will ask no more questions), stock up the pantry with some high protein, easy to prepare food rations, and fill the fridge with your favorite caffeine laced, high sugar carbonated drink, and get ready to descend into a state of gaming bliss.

If you can't wait a month, and God knows, I'm finding it tough, here is a list of games that know how to dangle that 'virtual candy' in front of you, and illicit the same kind of reward based, psychotropic response that Diablo does so well...

Titan Quest, 2006 - Diablo's sexy cousin. Rinse and repeat Diablo gameplay, with a mythical, classical antiquity vibe. You'll come for the delicious graphics (even by today's standards), and stay for the three skillpoints you get every level, and random rewards like 'Cleopatra's swift gladius of flame'.

Call of Duty, 2007 forward
- Play any Call of Duty multiplayer post CoD 4: Modern Warfare, and you will find it hard to stop. Long after you should have become sick of the levels, and the refined shooter gameplay, the perk and gun unlock system will keep you playing, because you just really need the new scope and paint-job for the G36C!

Burnout Paradise, 2008 - I'm not a huge racing game fan, I dabble, but I've never reached the fanatical level that games like Forza or Gran Turismo seem to demand from their fans (both of which could easily be put on this list), but I do have a special place in my heart for this racing gem. It gives you a beautiful, colorful open world city to explore, great arcade racing mechanics, nice sountrack and cool, slick presentation, and then dangles these awesome car rewards in front of you. You know you don't need to unlock every car... but you need to unlock every car!

Dawn of War II, 2009 - It's hard not to love the Warhammer 40k universe. I've never played the tabletop game, just admired it from afar, and Dawn of War II stands as it's best representation in video-game form, or so I'm told from Warhammer players. I loved it. A great strategy/RPG hybrid, and upon completing every mission you get to level up your badass space marines, and you get wargear, oh the wargear! Chainswords, huge power hammers, massive plasma guns; nothing feels better than the first time you can don your squad commander in some mean looking terminator armor.

World of Warcraft, 2004 - I don't need to say much about this one. Even if you've never played it, reputation alone points to it's addictive qualities. This is the game that has had me doing some of the most ridiculous, tedious things in game, just to get some kind of carefully calculated, dopamine inducing reward. I've spent countless hours completing in-game achievements, just so I can add the title 'the explorer', or 'the Argent Champion' to my character. When you are in the throws of a serious WoW binge, you just know your life will be content and complete if you can just unlock that black proto-drake, but it's never enough. There is always something else around the corner that you know your little character is just going to 'need'. WoW turns you into a grown man that patiently sits around trying to 'dress up' your character to be the meanest and look the coolest, like a six year old girl dressing up her Barbie dolls. It's sad, it's silly, but I love it.

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