A couple of months ago I wrote about the annoyances in games that were necessary to the game’s design. The main example used was from the Resident Evil series. Getting rid of the series’s infamously difficult-to-use tank controls and streamlining them to be smoother and easier basically changed the series from survival-horror to action-shooter. The Resident Evil series used difficult controls as a way of instilling fear into players. If it was difficult to escape or take out just one zombie, then every encounter would be scary. When it became easy to take out numerous enemies, the fear was gone, and the change was only implemented to keep players from being annoyed.
Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us has made waves since its release with many hailing it as the greatest example of video game storytelling to date. With the three games in the Uncharted series, Naughty Dog has gained a reputation for incredibly high production values and paying careful attention to their writing and, in particular, their characters. With The Last of Us, Naughty Dog took those two elements and combined them with a dark, morally ambiguous storyline, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Naughty Dog even attempted to address in The Last of Us one of the largest complaints leveled against Uncharted: the fact that the series’s charming, smart aleck protagonist murders hundreds and hundreds of people.
Earlier this year I finally built a PC capable of running games with those hip, new 3D graphics, and after joining the elite PC gaming club, I was inevitably confronted with the dilemma of piracy. My brother and some PC gamer friends of mine had been pirating games long before I got my computer. They pirated pretty much every major release that came out. They recognized that pirating games could mean a loss in sales for a company and, conscious of wanting support the games and developers they liked, they justified their piracy with some ground rules. They considered piracy a test run. If they liked a game, they would stop playing the pirated version, and buy the game. If they didn’t have the cash right away then they put the game on their wishlist and moved on. If they didn’t like a game then they weren’t likely to finish it anyway and they didn’t buy it. They also made it a point not to pirate any independent games. But these rules ultimately didn’t justify piracy to me. Even with these rules, there is always that risk, that temptation, to play through a game and not pay for it, reassuring yourself that someday you would buy it and make up for the piracy.
THIS PIECE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR HALO: REACH THAT YOU WOULD HAVE PROBABLY ALREADY KNOWN FROM THE FIRST TEN SECONDS OF THE GAME BUT WHATEVER SPOILING WARNING. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Despite some protestations to it, “video games” seems to have pretty well stuck as the term used to describe that thing that we all like to argue about on the Internet. Some say that calling the medium “video games” limits the sorts of experiences the medium encompasses. “Game” implies certain things that may not necessarily apply to all the things that we call video games. Does there have to be a challenge in a video game? Does there need to be a possibility of failure? Does there need to be a possibility of success? Is a certain level of competition, whether against other players or the game itself, required? Recently games like Proteus and Gone Home have raised these questions as they’re rather outside of mainstream game design. In most games, you do the thing the game tells you to do well enough until the game ends. And really, when you think about, is this not terribly limiting for a medium that is trying to establish itself as a legitimate way to tell stories? If a game requires success out of a player in order for them to experience the whole story, does this not limit, in a fundamental way, what that story can say and do?