Gaming Semantics

So I read this crazy thought provoking article the other day and then participated in and read all the comments.  Its a bit of a lesson in miscommunication.  The article itself seems to primarily be about saying “fuck you” in a very intelligible way to quick time events.  But the author also seems to be against focusing on story in games which is an interesting stance.  I’ll leave it to you to form your own ideas about what is presented there as basically everything on that entry, comments and all, are a good read (even if it is simply a read in miscommunication).  But it raises several ideas in my head.

A game can be mechanics only, but if a game is story only it ceases to be a game and becomes a movie, tv show, animationm etc.  A puzzle game that is mechanics only, like Tetris, can imaginably increase a person’s hand eye coordination along with recognizing a limited range of patterns.  Of course learning guitar will also accomplish this.    Should all games focus on developing a person’s problem solving skills or knowledge?  No way.

While it would be great to constantly have the fortitude to improve yourself with every second of the day, its just not realistic.  The whole idea takes a very narrow view of life.  Jobs typically involve a bit of problem solving which is going to increase a person’s problem solving stat for that arena.  And most people do more in their spare time than drink and play video games.  Maybe they don’t talk about those things as much, but they still happen.  Maybe it involves reading whether it be fiction or non.  Maybe it involves playing a musical instrument.  Maybe it involves building things like props or household furniture.  Most people are not so one dimensional as to only game.

Yahtzee made a fascinating entry a while back on how we don’t refer to ourselves as movie goers as often as we refer to ourselves as gamers.  Top that thought off with the fact that almost everyone plays some form of videogame present day and what’s the term in even keeping the word gamer, a term that denotes segregation.  This isn’t the 80’s anymore people.  The nerds and jocks are friends if not the same person.  Sure there will always be exceptions, but some people don’t watch TV or movies.

The issue isn’t story in gaming, its how the story is presented.  Deus ex machina is so often presented as a quick time event when the simple fact is it would be more fun and more consequential to the story for the player to remain with their limited control of their in game avatar.  There’s a moment near the end in Mass Effect 2 where your entire roster is shooting through a door at the Collectors.  This moment, while not a QTE, could have had even more impact if it wasn’t a cut scene.  There was actually no reason for the scene to be a cut scene unless there were some technological limitation of how many characters could be active on the screen at once.  And as far as Deus Ex Human Revolution goes, virtually none of the cutscenes were actually necessary.  Sure cut scenes can achieve more flash and Mass Effect 2 makes excellent use of them at many points, but they ultimately aren’t necessary most of the time as Valve has proved time and time again.

Concerning the first article I linked to, it was a bit mind blowing to be introduced to this entire sect of developer elitism.  The very idea of programmers wishing for games entirely about the mechanics was earth shattering for me but not far fetched at all.  As a musician I am prone to like quite a bit more styles of music than your average listener.  I’m also prone to bouts of music elitism (just try to put Kanye on around me and hope I don’t have a knife).  In the programmers case it has to be not seeing the forest because all they’re seeing are the trees.  Games are this wonderful interactive art media amalgamation that brings the best of all worlds together.  People have a tendency to bash on the story in games yet praise a 2 hour movie for showing character development that in real life takes years to occur.  While books, songs, and plays may be the best medium to observe the best in technicality, games are a melting pot that creates an entirely new medium.  Sure all you need is a mechanic to have a game, but everything else makes it so much greater than the sum of its parts.

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