I've been playing through Tony Hawk's Project 8, and it's a great game. "Nail the Trick" is a great addition to the series gameplay, and the new free-roaming world is fantastic. The controls are better and tighter than they've ever been, and the graphics are a huge step above anything the series has had so far. The multiplayer is awesome. The soundtrack is varied, and has even introduced me to some new artists I am coming to like very much.
So. Why don't I ever play it?
Well, it's the same reason I can't seem to get into some of the games everyone else says are good. I wanted to keep enjoying Oblivion after I'd finished all the story quests and side-quests - I heard about people having high-larious misadventures with emergent AI and random encounters. Not me. I wanted to like Lumines, Geometry Wars and Meteos. I did. But I invariably got bored after ten minutes.
I realized that the reason Oblivion game files immediately became dead weight on the HDD after I finished the story was that I had no more compelling reason to go have fun. I mean, it's fun to play, but am I accomplishing anything? I've come to realize that fun, for me, is a necessarily constructive exorcise. Getting a high level in Oblivion, or moving up the rankings as a skater just isn't compelling to me, because the context just isn't there. When I reach level fifty in Oblivion, all I've done is reach level fifty. I've heard people say that the 360's achievements system has made any non-points-achieving games seem like guilty indulgences, and I've never really gotten that. I don't care about points. I guess stories are my points. It's the same reason GTA could never hold my interest as a sandbox game. After a while, I just stop caring.
You can see this in the recent discussions of Gears of War. The story in that game blows. Gears is very fun, and it's a great GAME. But as an experience, the lack of a compelling thread pulling me through the campaign makes me, on some level, wonder why I'm bothering to have this fun. If I wanted to play fun combat scenarios for no discernible reason, I'd play multiplayer, and learn a new word for "dick" while I was at it. Gears, of course, makes the mistake of aiming too high. Ninja Gaiden had a perfectly passable story, because it didn't try deliver a story about a weird relationship with Daddy, a secret lab, a big bomb, a legal frame-job, and good healthy hetero man-love in essentially four major cutscenes and a total of maybe fifty lines of dialogue.
"Story" doesn't necessarily have to mean "plot." The word context seems apt. Ico gets by with little more than "I need to escape with the girl." Ninja Gaiden got by with "I'm getting revenge." Hell, Myst got by with "I'm lost." But those games support these simple premises beautifully, and thus succeed on the only level they attempt to succeed on. Despite a few faction differences, there's no such contextual support to GTA, once you're outside of a story mission. No such support for Lumines, at all.
The minute I realize that there is absolutely no contextual reason, (or as with Gears, a stupid contextual reason,) for me to be doing something, I stop doing it. I used to feel a bit guilty about this, as though my inability to create my own fun in Oblivion's open world somehow made me a boring and uncreative person. It's the reason I've subscribed to WoW four times now, and still don't have a level 60 character. It's the reason I got less than an hour into Scrapland, before I gave up.
On the other hand, I will muscle my way through flat-out bad games, simply on the strength of the story. Blood Omen 2 was a terrible game, but dude... it's Legacy of Kain. Maybe this one will tell me something about how Raziel's great grandson is actually his father's wife, but in reverse and inexplicably Asian. As much as I may shake my head at how obsessed others are with points, I can't very well take the moral high-ground. In my own way, I prostrate myself before equally absurd and pointless idols (pun intended.)
Over the years I've managed to train myself not to buy racing games, no matter how much I think I'll like them. I don't buy fighting games, or sports games, or flight sims. Tony Hawk was really my test game for a much more general type of experience. If I couldn't get into it, I would simply add games that are not narrative-focused to my list of look-but-don't-touch titles. I'll stop looking forward to GTA4, because that's just not how I'm wired. It's not how I roll.
I'll be returning THP8 after finals end, and maybe putting it towards a Wii purchase. Zelda, at least, won't have any unexplained laboratories.