Let me essplain.

I am a casual gamer.  That's all I can afford.  And by "afford," I mean time-wise, because that's what you're spending.  I'm relatively competent at playing through story-mode on something set to "moderate dumbfuck."  I enjoy the experience of gaming when the design and the game play and the artistry all come together.  I think Roger Ebert is wrong.  Games are art.  They have been since the beginning, just as films were from the moment someone pointed a camera at a train.  The mere fact that you're communicating ideas and experience to someone else makes it an art.  That's what art is.  It's the way we record and share things.  Things that are real.  Things that aren't real.  Things we think about and dream about and wish for and things we fear more than anything else.  And theoretically, games can do that.

So far, not so much.  Occasionally.  I think in fits and starts.  I think we are entering a period of artistic confidence and expression akin to cinema in the 1930s, where people start really testing the medium, growing from the early crude stuff to the big expressionist "ART" stuff to the confident entertainment dream machine of the 1930s in Hollywood.  Games are growing more and more impressive every two or three months now instead of every two or three years.  The seismic shifts in the industry keep happening.  Games are more and more becoming things that people can't easily define.  And the more and more we invest in them, the more important it becomes to find and encourage real strong interesting visionaries to play with this particular art.

I try games out.  If I like something, I'll finish it.  If I can't finish it, because of sheer manhours lost to it, then I'll eventually set it aside with the idea being I'll chip away at it later.  I rarely do.  GTAIV was awesome, and I was all about that all summer long.  The online deathmatches... holy god.  So much fun.  So bizarre and experiential.  I love that Aronofsky name-checked GTAIV when talking about his favorite moments of the year.  I have a couple of moments playing opposite friends that were the most amazing and enjoyable moments of pure play I can remember since childhood.  Where I was just free, without any real consequence.  That's the not-remotely-secret appeal of gaming, that moment where you can lose yourself in an experience, and it's "real" in that context.  When games are at their best, what happens to you in the game matters.  It is in your best interest to keep your avatar alive.  I like that sort of game experience.

Today I stopped by a GameStop near the house and took the plunge.  FALLOUT 3.  And the Prima Guide.

Lately, I'd been giving my spare moments to FAR CRY 2, and I honestly think that's a difficult game to sum up, having not finished it.  Having not really gotten past the first half of the first map.  I feel like I had a lot of time with the game, and I played some amazing maps, like the fort that I accidentally took twice.  But it's not compelling.  It hadn't hooked me.  I hear the game gets its mitts on you later, but I'm not sure when I'll put that in again in the near future.  That might be a rainy day game, something to take another run at from the save point I've got.

FALLOUT 3 is all I've been hearing from the gamers I trust.  FALLOUT 3.  One friend IM'd me that he would drive to my house and kick in my PS3 if I didn't buy FALLOUT "because you're fucking wasting that machine, man."  I am scared of anyone who takes his games that seriously, so I have to assume he's serious.  I'll mail him my receipt so he doesn't order a hit on me.

In the meantime, looking at that Prima Guide, it's a crazy huge 465 page tome with a massive fold-out map.  It's daunting.  I'm not sure I'll ever conquer it, but when I read all the amazing press it's gotten from any number of hardcore online gamers, and when personal friends are telling me (without even asking if I game) that I have to play it... at some point, you listen.

So it's the potential of this thing, this disc I haven't put in the machine yet (and won't until I finish this week's work), that I love today.  I took the map out of the back of the book and opened it up on my desk.  It's gargantuan.  Two sides.  Hundreds of items marked on each side.  Again... daunting.  I think it sounds amazing, and I still remember how huge an impression the world of "The Road Warrior" made on me as a kid.  And even before that, when I read Ellison's A Boy And His Dog, and then tracked down a video tape of the movie, all because of a book I read that compared the source material to certain films, and that one in particular.  If Bethesda's really pulled off this post-apocalyptic thing people keep telling me about, then I'm reeeeeealy excited to play this over the holidays.