Video Games Don’t Need To Have A Point

I’ve played video games my entire life. My earliest memory is playing on the N64 with my stepdad. Playing them is second nature to me, so much so that last weekend when my mum’s boyfriend Bob asked me, “What the point?” as I played Exo One, I didn’t have an answer.

He wasn’t asking in a malicious or judgemental way, he just wanted to know what the point of this weird game where you control a spherical spaceship that can turn into a gliding disc was. It’s a fair question, especially from someone who’s never played a video game before. He asked how I scored points and I said I couldn’t. He asked what the story was about and I said I didn’t know. If I can’t win and there’s no story, what’s the point?

I played it because I was hungover and needed something pretty to look at. The glorious sci-fi soundscape and stunning planetary vistas had me transfixed. Even I didn’t know why I was playing, I just knew I didn’t want to put the controller down. Bob watched on too, similarly entranced, and my mum looked at us both and laughed.

After he asked what the point was, I sat there with my mouth open for a few seconds, thoughts swirling in my head trying to find some justification for it. There is a story in Exo One, I just hadn’t figured it out yet. I told Bob as much as I played. “Oh, this is the ship the dead crew found schematics for, but I don’t know who’s flying it yet.” It’s the kind of sci-fi I love, nebulous and weird. It was making me think as I played, but the trance I was in thanks to the rhythm of the rising and falling and the rain, sunshine, and wind effects meant I was mulling it over subconsciously rather than trying to rationalise anything.

Even though there wasn’t a high score I could get to beat my friends, the gameplay was its own reward. Soaring through the clouds and crashing back down to the ground just to roll down a hill and slingshot the spaceship toward a beacon of light shining up into the sky was exhilarating and calming all at once. The only measure of success was my own sense of pride in quickly finding the best spot to roll down after my gliding came to a stop, or figuring a way up a large mountain to see the views that awaited me on its peak.

As I played, more of the story revealed itself and the plot started to form in my head. Different planets offered different gameplay challenges, but I still didn’t know what the point was. I kept looking for it, but then I realised video games don’t need to have a point. They’re art, and does art need to have a reason for existing beyond art’s sake? I say no. What’s the point of a painting? What’s the point of a book, or a play, or a song? Why do games need to have a point? I don’t want to justify how I spend every hour of my spare time – that’s some capitalist bullshit right there – so what does it even matter what the point is? In the end, I told Bob I didn’t know what the point was. We both shrugged and carried on playing.

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