Make no mistake. Tomb Raider is a mainstream phenomenon not because of the series' gameplay, but because of its female protagonist – to the masses that embraced Lara Croft as a new cultural icon in the late '90s, the games were just another convenient method for staring at her polygonal behind. Who cared what she was actually doing? That's a shame, because "what she was actually doing" is far cleverer than the eventual nude codes, swimsuit spreads and braindead Angelina Jolie movies would have people believe.
Lara solves puzzles. Her exotic surroundings are merely puzzles in three-dimensional disguise, and her famously flexible body is designed more as a universal tool for solving those puzzles than as a sex symbol. Running, jumping, climbing, diving, hanging, rolling, backflipping… these are fast and exciting moves, yes, but in Tomb Raider, they're also slow and deliberate methods for overcoming complex obstacles. The action-fused replacement for point-and-click inventory management.
See, in some ways, you were playing an old-school adventure game the whole time! And with all that strategic thinking, you don't have to feel so guilty about all that perverted leering.
We don't feel like geniuses when playing BioShock. Deep down, the game is just another shooter with some mild RPG elements, and your trigger reflexes are put to a much greater test than your mental skills. Even the pipe-hacking "puzzles" are more like casual clickfests you'd expect to find pre-loaded on a Windows PC, right next to Minesweeper.
No, we feel like geniuses when discussing BioShock. While the core mechanics may be relatively basic and familiar, the narrative – as well as the ideas that the narrative confronts – are anything but. What other game could claim inspiration from sources as diverse as Doom and Atlas Shrugged? What other game could prompt arguments about postmodernism, capitalism and utopianism in the same breath as conversations about machine guns and health kits? What other game encourages us to write phrases like "subverts the genre" instead of "for fans of the genre"? What other game has a guide to the theory of Ayn Rand's Objectivism listed right next to a guide for bosses on GameFAQs?
BioShock is that rare interactive experience you can imagine being assigned on college campuses someday… and not only for courses in game design.
The Pokémon series is designed to be simplistic enough on the surface that even a small child could play it successfully. To the uninitiated, it appears to be nothing more than the most basic of turned-based RPGs. Pick your starter Pokémon, catch the first few Pokémon you encounter, give them four basic attacks, and grind your way to 8 gym badges and win the league championship through sheer brute force. But that's only the surface. Delve deeper, and you'll find a world of complex mathematics and strategy so deep it makes chess look like Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Above: Ever wondered how a Poke Ball works, exactly? Or you could just throw it and mash the buttons
The sheer amount of data you need to memorize to battle competitively is staggering – there are 649 Pokémon, with 17 elemental types and 272 possible type combinations, 25 stat-determining Natures, over 500 moves… and the list doesn't stop there. The possibilities for training each Pokémon are practically endless, not to mention that each Pokémon needs to complement its team of six effectively. You need to be able to react to anything your opponent can throw at you too, which means you need to know every Pokémon's strengths and weaknesses, not just your own. Not only that, but so much of what it takes to train a Pokémon to its full potential is hidden within game mechanics that aren't directly visible within the game, like EVs and IVs. Secret knowledge makes us feel smugly superior, especially when it means a decisive victory.