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.
Many of the comments I received in response to that post focused on similar problems in open world games. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion introduced objective markers to the series. Unlike the previous games, players would have an in-game marker that would point to the exact spot the players had to go. No longer did you have to pay attention to the quest or carefully listen to the NPCs. Some players loved the change because it made completing quests easier, and others saw it as fundamentally harmful to the game’s biggest draw: exploring the open world.
Red Dead Redemption‘s open world is huge, but it’s incredibly vibrant and detailed. Wandering from town to town, seeing the beautiful and diverse landscapes, running into wild animals, encountering random events like highway robbers. Having an open world set in the wild west is one of the game’s biggest draws and traveling through it is an incredible experience.
But it’s a pretty big world. There are stagecoaches in all of the game’s major towns that act as fast travel spots so you can get around the world quicker. But you also have the option of making camps anywhere in the world outside of the towns and from your camp you can then fast travel to literally any point on the map. Being able to fast travel to and from any point on the map can be really convenient, but it can also become a crutch. Using fast travel was so convenient that it was easy to rely on it too much to get around, and completely miss experiencing the world.
I think the problem that is at the root of all these examples (other than game developers fruitlessly trying to keep players from ever being annoyed at anything in their games) is that most gamers will choose the efficient option over the fun option. Most of the time when we sit down to play a game, we’re trying to beat it. With that mentality, players naturally want to stock up on ammo, potions, and items, use the best weapons and armor, and take the shortest or quickest route from point A to B. Like using the same weapon the whole game because it’s the most powerful even though the developers provide numerous options, or saving your one-use, one-hit kill attack for the perfect occasion only to find that you never ended up using it. We all find ourselves doing it from time to time.
Yeah, Oblivion and Red Dead provide incredible worlds to explore, encourage players to take their time, and reward players for straying from the beaten path, but that urge to win does naturally pull on the player. Even those who do want to enjoy parts of the game that aren’t technically required to beat it, may be discouraged from enjoying certain parts of the game because of features that make it too easy or beneficial to miss them. It’s an interesting problem that arises from modern video games being both stories and, well… Games.
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