In this post I'm going to talk about the different roles that games can try to fill. I like to talk about which games I consider "best", but the truth is that some games (eg. Prismata and Doki Doki Literature Club) just can't be compared because they fill different roles. Here are the three that exist as far as I'm concerned:
- Competitive Games
This type of game seeks to be something people never finish, but that you can improve at and compete with others to be the best. It includes two games I like to praise: Prismata and Go. Note that this doesn't say anything about the genre - Counter Strike: Global Offensive is a competitive game as well (I've never played it but I know people who are into it in the way that I used to be into Prismata). In fact, even sports fill this role. This type of game has two really big draws:
Assuming the game is designed well, it never gets old. You can play Go for a lifetime without solving it or feeling like you've "finished" it.
It can be enjoyed even while you're not actually playing matches of it. You can study it, analyze your mistakes, figure out how to play it better, discuss strategies with other players (even if it's an action game there's usually some element that can discussed like this), and even train apprentices. It's also often great for spectating, which allows you to enjoy the game without the stress or commitment of actually playing.
The only bad thing about this role is that you can't really dabble in a competitive game. This is because if you know you don't plan on getting "into" it, you can't appreciate the depth in the way that you have to to fulfill the point of a competitive game. Making matters worse, since you never "finish" a competitive game, you can only experience so many of them. Being into just Prismata and Go at the same time took up almost all of my gaming time (back when I played several hours of games a day). I don't think I could have gotten into a third competitive game without dropping one of them. And they don't leave a mark on your soul like story games do (see below), so if you do drop one you don't really take anything away from it. All the enjoyment of playing it is in the past.
- Story Games
This type of game seeks to act as both a work of fiction and a game at once, taking advantage of the special properties of interactive media to enhance the story. A game that does this incredibly well is Doki Doki Literature Club (I can't say any more without spoiling it).
This type of game has huge potential for emotional impact. If the story is done well, they can leave a mark on the player's soul that leaves them thinking about it for years after they've finished it, or even for the rest of their life. It can be even more powerful than a book or movie ever could, because the interactivity of the video game format helps achieve a level of immersion that's simply not possible in a non-interactive medium.
The con is that games of this role are inherently short-lived. No matter how well-designed the game is or how good the story is, the player eventually finishes it, and then the game has nothing left to offer them. Difficulty settings and branching storylines can do a lot to help replayability, but you can't achieve infinity by adding finite numbers.
- Casual Games
This type of game focuses on accessibility and appealing to a wide audience. They are replayable and (good ones) can be played with large groups. A good example of a game that fills this role and does it well is Codenames.
The draw of this role over competitive is that you don't need to be "into" it to play and enjoy it. You can introduce someone to this game and have an enjoyable match with them right from the start, even if you're an experienced player. The main ways they achieve this include: a ruleset simple enough to be learned while playing, team play or even fully copperative play (such as Codenames: Duet), no player elimination, making it hard to tell who's winning until the end, and (if not fully cooperative) some sort of way to give a weaker player a chance against a stronger player. This last one can be achieved in many ways. Prismata, although it is a competitive game, shows a great way to do this that doesn't involve randomness: performance variance. Each game of Prismata has a different set of units available for purchase and therefore a different optimal strategy, and since your "skill" is essentially how well you play in each set averaged out, odds are not bad in any single match that a weaker player will pick a better strategy than a stronger player.
The downside - and it's a huge one - is that they can't really be taken seriously. You can't get "into" a casual game, because it doesn't have the depth of a competitive game.