Language of Action

This amusing comparison was posted on Reddit the other day under “Morrowind vs Skyrim vs Dark Souls”:

/slowclap

/slowclap

The implication here is (presumably) that games these days are being dumbed down, or at least are not being made as challenging as their predecessors (Dark Souls aside). This sort of “hand holding” is pretty much the de facto standard in MMOs as well, in the form of highlighting of the questing areas and the like. ¹

To which I say: “Good.”

If there is one particular scenario I despise more than anything else in videogames, it is when I sit down to play one and then can’t. I do not mean that I try and fail and am unable to progress – that part is good! It’s gameplay, it’s doing things, it’s actively engaging my faculties. Rather, I mean when the game is not even allowing me to try anything because I am missing something and don’t even know it. Or maybe I am not missing anything and the game is at fault. Indeed, whenever I get stuck in a game, these are the usual possibilities:

  1. I cannot solve the puzzle.
  2. I missed an invisible quest trigger.
  3. I cannot locate the quest objective.
  4. I do not know where to go next.

In all those scenarios aside from #1, we can entertain the possibility that it is the game designer’s fault. And that’s the problem! Sure, occasionally it is my own damn fault for not reading the quest text correctly or I didn’t pan the camera 110° to the right or whatever. But after 20+ years of playing videogames, I can assure you that my default assumption is not that these designers do everything on purpose. Games are art, but if you set out to evoke a particular emotion with a piece and it generates the exact opposite, we can say that that piece of art failed in its goal. Sometimes mistakes can make a game better (like… Gandhi in Civilization), but an equal or greater amount of time they are simply mistakes.

Things can go too far the other way, of course. In the opening scenes of The Witcher 2, as you approach the ominously empty bridge, you get a prompt telling you which buttons to press to avoid dragon fire. “What dragon? Oh.” Quests in Skyrim which ask you to find the artifact that has been hidden for centuries… and there’s a very visible quest marker that appears directly over it. I can concede that something like this other Reddit picture is too much:

I hated Navi anyway.

I hated Navi anyway.

At the end of the day, though? I am playing videogames to do things. I do not consider walking around a room pressing the Interact button every few steps as doing something. There is a place for games in which the “doing” is figuring out where to go or what to do next. And that place is “Pile of Games I’m (Literally) Not Playing.”

¹ I still remember the river of tears that resulted from WoW adding quest givers to the minimap back in Patch 2.3. Yes, seriously, tears.

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Posted on January 2, 2014, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Probably the best argument for having at leader a couple sandbox elements in any game. Gives you something do do when you log in instead of trying to remember how to pick up from where you last left the game.

    • That’s true. You can only really get “stuck” when the game depends on you passing a particular check, like a quest trigger or unlocking the puzzle to the last boss’s room or whatever.

      At the same time, I can still get pretty frustrated when I cannot complete the action I set out to do in the first place, even if I could technically do other things in the meantime.

  2. I kind of feel this way about Telltale Games Walking Dead series. My choices don’t matter all that much, I’ve gone on YouTube to see the alternate outcomes. It’s like I’m watching a movie that makes me click “Next” every few minutes. Though despite this I do enjoy the game.

  3. Funny that you mention that Witcher 2 bridge thing, that one sequence 10 seconds into the game caused me to ragequit the game for a while (I think 6 months or so qualifies as “a while”). I failed at the prologue or whatever it was 5 or 6 times in a row and gave up. I’m not sure what exactly that sequence was supposed to accomplish but at least in my case, it backfired completely. When I did eventually wander back to the game I don’t know if I actually figured out what to do or put the game into the “Ow, Fire Is HOT!” difficulty level or cheated or what but I did eventually get past it… and loved the rest of the game, as I knew I would.

    • I’ve been off and on Witcher 2 for over a year now, primarily because of all the poorly-done MMO-ish quests sprinkled in that cause me to head to town, back out, back in, repeat ad infinitum. I could technically just plow through the story, but the whole draw of the game is the story bits, some of which is included in the sidequests.

      I’ll have to finish someday though, as it’s eating up 17+ gigs on my computer.

  4. With how many MMOs are out there these days it would be nice if there was a way to cater a bit better to both audiences as I tend to favor wandering and discovery over linear optimized quest clusters. That said, the old school MMO difficulty while questing tended to consist of “look on thottbot” and “pray to god someone else logs on to finish elite quest”.

    That zelda picture is a funny one as it very clearly sums up how I feel like the series has been moving each and every entry to the catalog. What’s interesting is that the last 2 games that I felt have captured the classic zelda feel are shadow of the colossus and dark souls.

    • That is definitely the other side of things, in regards to simply looking up the answer when stuck. My problem with that is that I end up inevitably spoiling part of the game in the process of narrowing down where in the game I’m stuck. Like I’ll see the table of contents and go “Oh, so there’s only two towns left then?”

      I don’t want to give the impression that I had puzzle games or whatever though. I’m fine with being challenged that way as long as I still have “moves” left to try out. It’s just when I encounter a hard stop 20 minutes into a gaming session I scheduled to last 2 hours that it vexes me greatly.

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