Weird Games Are Good for You (and Good for Gaming)

No one fully understands why we like the things we do. Even the most beautifully crafted games have their detractors, and even bug-laden pieces of crap have fans. Sometimes, we love or loathe something for reasons that have little to do with its quality.

But while the tastes of gamers aren’t an exact science, developers can make safe bets. It doesn’t matter what you think of Call of Duty, Madden, or even Pokémon; there are fans who will gobble up every new entry in each of those franchises. Certain IPs have reliable mainstream appeal, and they will sell even if the game doesn’t live up to expectations.

In an ideal world, the success of these games would give their studios the freedom to experiment. The revenue from Call of Duty could help fund stranger, riskier games. Sometimes, niche games can become surprise hits, or develop a cult following.

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Unfortunately, franchises eventually hit a point of diminishing returns, and high development costs mean game development is more perilous than ever. When a single game can bankrupt a company, risks become harder and harder to justify. Still, those weird games are vitally important to the gaming industry.

See, one of the things we do know about preferences is that we can learn to like things. Study after study has shown that we like things more as we become familiar with them. Whether it’s food, music, or a game, repeated exposure can make us like something we once loathed.

However, there’s a catch.

While the mere-exposure effect works like a charm on things that are complex or unusual, it has the opposite effect on all things uncomplicated. Catchy pop hits become grating when played repeatedly, and simple flavors become less appealing the more you consume them.

The same holds true for video games. It’s why indie games are so appealing and why franchises we once loved can quickly lose their luster. We need some eccentricity in our games, and there’s only so much of the same old we can take.

I don’t get the appeal of most first-person shooters, and I’m sure most people are mystified by my love of dating sims. But no matter why we like the games we like, we occasionally need to enjoy something that falls outside of the norm.

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Weird games may never have mass appeal, but they’ll always be great for gaming.

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