I’m 31, I’ve been gaming since I was a wee-lad. In that time I’ve witnessed all kinds of debates about gaming as a whole. This is one of the strangest. I never thought I’d need to write an article where I say that Video Games need to be fun. That’s kind of assumed? Cars need to drive, Boats need to float. Entertainment products need to entertain.
Did you know the definition of entertain, entertainment, and fun are nearly the same? Some people apparently don’t. A common objection used in these arguments is the very amusing “They don’t have to be fun! They have to be entertaining!” Right-O! I’m glad we are agreed!
Different entertainment products entertain in different ways. Movies, music, games, toys. They all have different methods of entertaining you. Video G themselves are so wide now that they have inner divisions of their own. Simply lumping them all under the same tag of a video game doesn’t truly do them justice. I think this is where the occurs.
After all, Video Games can have music, they can have writing, acting, and story-lines. They can take pieces from other art forms and remodel them to be used within their own medium. However, the aspect that sets a video game apart from the rest is in its interactive nature. The “Game” part. What is a game? A game, by definition, “is a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck”.
Before you read further, let me be clear that this article has nothing to do with Death Stranding. This write up was in the works before I ever touched the game and my review of it is positive If you absolutely must have a tangible product to attach to this article, use The Outer Worlds, or Red Dead Redemption 2.
Essentially, the game part of a video game is its unique property. Without it, the media becomes something different such as a movie, a visual novel or even a toy. The game part is generally the one you actively control and usually spend the most time in.
Stories told within a game have the ability to strike us in ways other media can’t because of the intimate nature. It is because of this, that we can at times overlook poor gameplay because of the personal attachment we have to its story and characters. It makes sense, psychologically speaking, but for the sake of the medium, we need to draw a line.
I’m calling out stories specifically here, as opposed to music or another aspect. Because it is the most powerful component besides gameplay. Music is great, but I’ve never seen a game critically acclaimed because it had a great musical score even if its gameplay was garbage. Music is often used to enhance the story or key emotional moments in unison.
The fact is, you can have a great game that has no story whatsoever. To have a great game with only a story and no game-play is far less common. Since one component can be easily removed and one can’t, the game-play must be fun in support of its story. You spend the most time playing the game, you should not be bored in-between the story segments. If you are trudging through a game, simply to see what happens, the game failed at being a good video-game. It should have been cut down, reworked or altered to fit its vision better.
Games such as Detroit, Heavy Rain, Indigo Prophecy, and Disco Elysium work great. They are games that decided that the storyline was so incredibly important that they modeled the gameplay mechanics around that fact. They don’t appeal to everyone, but no game really should.
The problem is when we have a game that has a very important narrative, but game-play is simply poor, boring, or generic. That it serves as a stop-gap between each portion of the game you actually care about. It is a bigger problem when gamers and critics overlook those game-play issues because a story touched their hearts. Doing so doesn’t encourage the industry to improve.
The argument has also been made, that perhaps some game-play can not be altered without ruining the feel or theme of the narrative, even if it’s not fun. I disagree. If that’s true then the game needed to refocus. If poor game-play is integral to its narrative, I’d say that’s a very terrible defense of that game.
The majority of your experience should never be compromised for the sake of the narrative. It’s not a movie, or if it is, cut the game-play altogether. Make it a visual novel or something in the vein of the games I mentioned earlier.
But fun is subjective anyway, right?! That is very true. Fun is one of the most subjective experiences in existence. I don’t find pure horror games fun, jump scares cause me anxiety. Others enjoy horror games, the rush of adrenaline from the spooks feels good to them. Yes, that is, in fact, a type of entertainment. Fun doesn’t always have to be light-hearted. It simply means the experience is enjoyable.
Some people find the fun in shooters, others like farming crops in games like Stardew Valley. Others enjoy attempting to survive in the survival genre. Some genres cast a wider net, while others are more niche. They all share the same goal, however, to entertain. The method they use to accomplish that is just different.
I’m not saying games should try to be fun for everyone, I actually believe the opposite. I think the more a game is focused on a target audience, the better the experience will be for that audience. In fact, I think a lot of bad gameplay systems come from a game sacrificing its artistic vision for mass appeal in the first place. What I’m saying is, we shouldn’t accept poor gameplay systems for the sake of the story being good.
Poor game-play systems are not poor because they don’t appeal to everyone. They are poor because they either aren’t designed well, or simply weren’t given the proper attention they deserved because “it’s a game you play for the story!”
If people can agree that the combat in a specific game is bad, that is a problem. Why is it bad? Why did it have to be bad? If it had to be bad, why couldn’t it be removed, reworked or replaced? The answer is simple, shooting games have a larger mass appeal than the alternative options.
As long as players and critics accept that. It will only get worse. Why improve? When we will accept a game that plays badly, because of a story hitting us in the feels? If we go, this is bad, that’s bad, that isn’t fun, but your story touched my heart! 10/10! Where does the medium evolve from here?
Video games need to be games first and foremost. The game part needs to be fun, not an acceptable chore to get through so you can see your favorite characters on screen again. We have movies for that, or even games with story-centric gameplay mechanics such as Until Dawn and Disco Elysium.
Or maybe its time to evolve the terms altogether. Interactive media doesn’t need to be locked into video games alone anymore. I’d rather developers remove the “game” altogether than to force players to play a bad one. Make your interactive stories and call it something else. That way when I buy a video-game, I know I’m getting a game. If I buy your piece of interactive media, I know what I’m in for.
But for now, if I buy your video game because your trailers made it look like so much fun to play, only to find out you gave very little love and care to the actual “game” part, I’m going to call it out. It isn’t acceptable to use it as a segue to tell your story.
Players deserve better than that, the medium deserves better than that and so does the art form.
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