I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: there will never be a truly great film version of “The Great Gatsby”. Good? Sure, but never great. Why? Because what makes the book a classic is inherently literary. We remember this book not only because of it’s themes and characters but because of Author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pros. This means that the barrier to entry to fully experience this story is that you must be 1) literate, 2) specifically in English as something is always lost in translation and 3) be a literate in enough of an academic sense to be able to not just read the words that are written, but also able to dismantle and decipher the text. This seems like it’s asking a lot, but in truth most of us reach this level of understanding by 9th grade. So, what does this have to do with games? Well, as we make strides to make gaming a more inclusive hobby (something I very much support) the idea has popped up that games should allow players to skip combat or game play sections they find to difficult or cumbersome to get through. Along with this came the allegation that players who disagree with this are being selfish, trying to keep games wholly exclusionary to those who have the time and energy to play through them. And yet, the more I think about it the less I can get behind the idea that game play should be skipable, but at the same time I want more people who want to play games to be able too. So today i’ll be giving my thoughts on the topic and see if some middle ground or new understanding can;t be reached.
In order to talk about this we have to come to a shared understanding of two questions: 1) What IS a “game” and 2) what kind of games are we talking about?
The first, for me, is simple: A game is any entertainment product that requires input from the audience. From the slow and methodical combat of “Dark Souls” to the QTE’s of “Heavy Rain” to even the simple act of having to think of what terms to search in “Her Story”, what makes a game a “game” is the necessities of player input. And while I don’t like saying something “isn’t a game” this does mean that one joke punchlines like “black screen simulator” are disqualified due to the fact that once you boot it up, no further input is required.
The next question is a little more important. What kind of games are we talking about? This is hard to answer as I see the idea that game play should be skipable or have a “super easy mode” applied to almost all games. I’ve seen people say Dark Souls should have an Easy mode; i’ve seen people say they would love to experience the story of Bioshock if they didn’t have to play it and i’ve seen others who just want to watch the cutscenes of a game with out having to play it. Now, my basic reaction to this is all the same: if you were to put in a comedy movie and skip all the jokes you’d probably be better off watching a different kind of movie. To me, if you don’t want the hassle of playing a game you’d probably have a more fulfilling and enjoyable time with a non-interactive form of media. Not only would you not have to bother playing anything, but both books and movies prioritize story more than games do so if all you’re looking for is a good story that’s were you should be looking. But if you are indeed wanting to experience the story of a game in particulate but don’t want to play it, well, that;s what you tube is for. But this really only applies to cutscene heavy games, so lets take a look at why this just doesn’t work with other games as well.
More specifically, lets look at Bioshock. This is one of the games I saw someone mention by name when talking about games they don’t want to play but would love to see the story for. At this point the entire tumblr post I was reading lost my interest entirely, because not playing Bioshock is just like not reading “The Great Gatsby”. Bioshock’s story is, in part, a metanarative about the nature of interactive story telling. The game calls into question wither or not you are in control of your actions in game, or if you’re a slave to the games mechanics. To experience the story of Bioshock with out playing it is literally cut out a major theme of the game.
Another franchise I saw called into question was Fallout. These games give you world changing opportunities that is an obvious draw to many people, but some don’t want to bother with the combat. This seems understandable, until you think about what those world changing opportunities really are. The newest Fallout games ask you to make choices and live with the consequences, and just like in real life, some actions lead to violent consequences. While you can play these games as a pacifist, that road limits the choices you can make. So naturally some players may want to make the darker choices and see the out come with out having to deal with the combat. Okay, that seems understandable. Until you realize what they are really saying is “i want to act like a massive asshole and suffer no real penalty for doing so”.
Now, while this next bit isn’t exactly the same, it still bothers me. This is the idea of an Easy mode of the Souls games, and the new From Software IP, Bloodbourn. The point of these games is to present a challenge to the player and see if they can overcome that challenge. To ask that that challenge be made easier is literally to ask for the artist to compromise their art. I’ve often said that Dark Souls is as much a puzzle as it is an action game. However, if taking this comparison a bit farther, Dark Souls is the Action RPG equivalent of a 10,000 piece puzzle. The barrier to entry for Action RPG’s shouldn’t be that high, to demand that Dark Souls be made easier is like saying a player who’s skill only lends them to puzzles with a couple of hundred pieces shouldn’t be asked to get better.
And this is the major issue with the idea of skipable combat in my opinion: it demands that all players be able to beat all games. This is an issue because it means you can no longer demand anything of your audiences. You cannot require any skill from players because not all players have the ability. You cannot require the player think because not all players are smart enough. To ask that games make game play skipable or to have game play deprioritized is litterally to ask to make skipable or to deprioritized what make games unique and worthwhile.
Yes, 100% of people who want to get into gaming as a hobby should be able too. This does not mean that 100% of the gamers need to be able to beat 100% of all games made. Personally, I’m fin with gaming being mainstream, but on a game by game bases, I think creators should aim for niche appeal and let “main stream games” simply be the games with the largest niche audience.
Now, there is one thing I do think is worth mentioning I the tumblr article did make me think about, but I don’t agree with the conclusion made. What about people who want to play games but can’t due to conditions like arthritis? Should they not be allowed to be gamer because they can’t hit the buttons. Again I think 100% of people who want to game should be able too, but when the claim was made that the games themselves need to compensate for this factor that I disagreed. The issue here isn’t the games, but the hardware. What this group of players should be asking for isn’t that the games be made easier, but for controllers that better suit the needs of arthritic gamer.
Another common argument that is made about why games should let you skip combat and get to the story is that games are the only medium that locks content behind a “skill wall”. And while this is true in that you can technically experience all of a book and all of a movie even if you don’t understand a word or a scene, this isn’t true once you look at this on more than a surface level. How many people have you talked too about the theme of a book or show only to be told you’re “reading too much into it” or how many times have you yourself said the same thing. You may be able to experience all the content, but with out a certain understanding of how literature and film work, you’re not getting the full experience, are you?
In short, either get good, get a different game, or admit this isn’t a hobby you’re truly invested in. There is nothing wrong liking movies more than games or admiting you just don’t like games. There is nothing wrong liking games that are premade to be easier than others, and there is nothing wrong admitting that a game simply isn’t in your wheelhouse. Not all games are going to be for all players. Personally I don’t much care for Racing, Sports or 1v1 fighting or car combat games.
If you like impressionist art more than surrealism, fine, but that doesn’t mean Salvador Dali owes you an impressionist painting, and you’d be better off just going to a different artist. And believe me, you will have a better time finding entertainment that’s already made in a way you like more than you will when asking for entertainment you don’t like be changed to your liking because you wont understand why people liked it before.