Those who know me have probably have heard at one point or another, that being entertained is not about watching, reading or playing something fun to do. It is instead, being involved in an activity that is new or different than what we usually experience. Unfortunately I usually have to explain this in a hurry as I'm trying to make another point which it is related to, so for once I'm going to explain why I believe this in as much detail as I can.
Lets start with the basics: An entertaining activity is something we want to do instead of something we have to do. This can be anything from reading a book to throwing ourselves out of a plane with a parachute. But no matter what, all pieces of entertainment get old eventually. Everyone moves on from certain activities for either another activity or an activity that is similar but not the same. This can be moving from LARPing to archery, or from skydiving alone to team skydiving. This is normal for everyone, once someone has had enough of an experience they move on. A lot of people will never read a book more than once or twice because they have had the experience once already and will be bored of it a second time. Some people say they enjoy certain types of entertainment and hate others, thinking to themselves as having a good or bad experience with that particular medium. This gives us the basis of why certain people like some types of entertainment which others hate.
I have used some fairly wide terms here, so lets get into more specifics. Would you, the reader, say that a movie like Citizen Kane or Aliens is fun? Most people would say no, mainly because they are not enjoyable to watch. They are however putting the watcher in a position to experience a situation they would normally not experience. The story itself is strange and new to most people but still relatable to an extent to make the watcher feel attached to the experience. This is often referred to as immersion and is often considered a major factor in game development, but more on this later. Either way immersion is a factor which is necessary to make the watcher experience the movie to an appropriate extent. Looking at games from this same standpoint, games have an advantage by making the connection between the story and player physical as well as mental. Players actually have a part to play in the story instead of just imagining being in the position of one of the characters, allowing them to experience the game both physically and mentally.
Now I have attempted to prove my point I would like to talk about two things: Sequels and games that many consider as interactive cut scenes. Lets start with the latter with games like Heavy Rain and The Stanley Parable. The cut scene heavy nature of these games leads to many people dismissing them as 'not games', and therefore not worth the attention. This is a massive mistake as the game play is still there, and therefore it should still be considered a game. The game play comes in the form of personal choice instead of being dexterously or mentally challenging. In fact most of the active game play could be stripped out and the core experience would be pretty much the same. The reason for the quick-time events that are found in Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead is to add a sense of immersion which would otherwise not be there. Some say it's lazy game design but to be honest if these quick-time events (aka QTE's) weren't present, the game itself would not be anywhere near as effective. QTE's are important to these types of games whether people like it or not, however there are always other ways of allowing players to experience a story, which is where the Stanley Parable comes in. The Stanley Parable (for those who haven't heard about it) is a game where players take control of Stanley in first person though a story with a bunch of choices and nothing more. There is no point of the game apart from just experiencing the stories that come out of your choices. Its an amazing experience that I would recommend, but uses no challenge or skill to get its experience across. The quote "It's not the destination, but the journey that counts" are what these games are based on, sometimes we forget that when playing games with a goal. Take a step back before judging these games too harshly, to the point where you ask yourself, "Why do I play games?"
Now I come to a personal gripe with the current state of the games industry, sequels and rip-offs. Most people would wish for a sequel of one of their favorite games, but I stand firm in saying that I usually don't want a sequel to my favorite games, as I love the fact that the stories and experiences I have are confined packages. Instead, what I do love from a new release, is a new game with familiar game play, but with which I can have new experiences. A good example of this is the Shock series. System Shock, Bioshock and Infinite all have different story's, mechanics and worlds to enjoy, but are also built on the same FPS core game play. So what would I consider a good sequel? Well any sequel which adds more to the game, as if it was an entirely new game, that is what I view a good sequel. The sequel I keep bringing up for my point is Banjo Tooie, as it has more of the familiar game play, but adds to the story, player abilities, locations, collectibles, characters, enemies, features, and just overall experiences. Its an entirely new game from the first, building from its foundations and making a richer experience because of it.
At this point, some of you might be saying, "Well duh!, all sequels are like that", but in truth most sequel are not. Call of Duty is probably the worst franchise for this as each sequel gets more and more like the last. Campaigns all have samey levels where players gun through thousands of enemies which all look similar, hide behind cover, shoot back ineffectually etc. The set pieces where the only thing that holds the previous games together, and now the games are only made up of set pieces. At this point there are no longer any real set pieces in the games, as there are no lows and highs in the story. Memorable experiences are few and far between and mostly easily forgettable. The multiplayer suffers from the same problems, as differences from game to game are few and could just be easily added through DLC. Sequels can have another set of problems: They are entirely distinct from their origin game, copying game play and mechanics from a different game or genera, and hence losing their individuality. Resident evil happens to be one of these in their fifth and sixth installment. Resident evil four was an entirely new game from three, that had a third person shooter aesthetic, but retained a lot of what made resident evil what it was, with limited ammo, stationary shooting, grim settings and an interesting story. From that point on though, the series glided not so gracefully to a third person, cover based shooter, that ended up much like gears of war, losing all identity of what it used to be. This stripped everything interesting and unique out of the series, which means that the experience is not very interesting for third person shooter players, and not enough like the origins for fans.
In summery, my point is that developers need to do new things with their games to keep people interested, instead of remodeling the same thing again and again. "Riding a cash cow" as it is sometimes said, only works for so long. This is why I personally believe that there is a current boom with indie studios, as they are developing new ideas, while bigger companies are repackaging old ones. Some say "don't redesign the wheel", I say "Why not? It might be more fun if it was square".
This week the readers challenge is to think up five games that you have "Experienced", that you think have been unique in what they made you feel. If you want to comment, add a note on each one about why each of them is unique. I would love to see them!
I will be posting a short follow up post on Friday-Saturday about "Experience and Replay-ability".
Also look out next week for my next post titled "The Immersion Is BLINDING!".
Finally, here is a video about Experiences and how it effects some of us. See you next week!