Frankly, I find it a little scary

20 Jun
June 20, 2012

…that an article extolling the virtues of “consequences” in gameplay was even necessary.

But I guess, when this is the mainstream design philosophy…

Nowadays, games often reward success with positive feedback systems like cutscenes, in-game items or achievements

…it’s understandable that you might have to take some time to explain how fail conditions, penalties, and no guarantee of success can make victory all the more sweeter, if achieved.

He’s certainly saying the right things, at least about XCOM. But, personally, I still have a problem with this :

Solomon said he’s all for story-based games that push players to victory with generous checkpoints, but to him, those titles aren’t about achieving success; they’re about experiencing a narrative.

Now fair enough, there are games whose primary focus is the story they tell. But still, I feel uneasy saying that “experiencing the narrative” is what a game is primarily about.

According to wikipedia, the key components of games are “goals”, “rules”, “challenge”, and “interaction”.

If the game isn’t “about” success, then it’s likely that the goals, rules and challenge will be fairly trivial or marginalized. After all, success is defined as achieving your goal or goals, and to do that you must manipulate rules. The challenge is what you get when the achievement of those goals via that manipulation is taxing in some way, a non-trivial exercise.

If success is “not what the game is about”, then it seems to me that you’re de-emphasizing 3 of the 4 things that make a game, a game. You’re left with “interaction”. And you are dangerously close to something that is more like “interactive fiction” than a game.

Which I think is a trend we’re seeing in games, to move in that direction. And why so many modern games seem so unsatisfying. “Interaction” is being focused on and added, while many times the other aspects are not given equal consideration. This is epitomized by those Quick Time Events that pop up in the middle of dramatic cutscenes. They’re a form of interaction, yes, but in terms of goals, rules and challenges they’re fairly basic. Lowest common denominator gameplay, “monkey push button when light flashes to get banana” stuff. And yet we see more and more games adding more and more of that type of interaction.

Because it allows you to “experience the narrative” of the cutscene, with a trivial interactive mechanic and a basic goal to achieve that allow cutscenes to technically qualify as gameplay. Just barely.

It seems like that kind of design that has led us to this situation, where video game designers feel they need to take the time to explain to us why more meaningful consequences in gameplay are a good thing. Where needing to explain that would be…odd…in a different gaming context. Imagine having to defend to chess players why losing their pieces makes for fun gameplay, or to soccer fans why there needs to be penalty kick rules.

Maybe I’m over-reading it. Maybe the article was simply a marketing move, a fairly trivial topic that most people will agree on, posted to get some attention on the game. But if we are, actually, at the point where designers have to defend “consequences” in gameplay…well, I find that a little worrying.

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