Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gameplay Versus Story

Holy shit, people can't actually be this stupid.

So, Jennifer Hepler helped herself to a big plate of insults and criticism in the passed couple of weeks with her striking comments about game design and how they effect her process of writing for games such as Dragon Age and Mess Affect.

jennifer hepler, looking into a mirror lol!!!! is this poor taste?

She doesn't offend me, to be honest. While I completely disagree with her views concerning games and her position in Bioware and her overall complete inability to write convincing, real dialogue, I don't consider it to be a problem.

When fucking idiots at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, make an article entitled "Escape! Escape! Embracing Skippable Combat" that talks about why the argument to skip gameplay in games should be a valid one, you can only kinda scrunch your face up a little bit and make an angry face and just be like, what the hell.

Alright, let's start with the basics of John "i cant write" Walker's (that's his actual honest to god middle name, you cannot make this stuff up.) article.

"If I’m not reviewing something, I’ll exercise that ability to skip past dreary, pointless dialogue. If it’s proved to add nothing to the game, or actively made me want to not like it, then it makes far more sense to Esc Esc Esc my way through and get to the next bit I enjoy playing.

So why can’t the same apply to combat?

What’s interesting is the primary response seems to be extraordinarily defensive. “But that’s not the point of the game!” they cry. “You may as well watch a film if all you want is a story!” And it’s not even the poorness of those arguments that’s the issue here."

Alright, stop. Stop right here. Stop this fucking bus. Let me get off. It was this little paragraph that made me stop. I immediately started skimming the rest of his article. I don't see anything, so I start reading in detail, and rereading. He never once issues a statement as to why "But that's not the point of the game" and "You may as well watch a film if all you want is a story" are bad arguments.

That's because they aren't bad arguments, and Walker knows it.

Star Wars: The Old Republic should have been a movie, and not a game. What's the difference though?

Okay, let's define Game. says that it is a:

 "competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators."

Webster says that it is:

 "activity engaged in for diversion or amusement" and "a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other." 

Shit, even Wikipedia says that:

 "Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction."

So I guess the general consensus is that it is an activity in which you use skill, along the defined rules, to overcome challenges to complete a goal. Is everyone happy with that?

Okay, now let's look at Video Games:

Walker loves Dragon Age so let's take that as an example. The gameplay there is to use the abilities inside the game mechanics to inflict damage to defeat enemy monsters, while preventing yourself from taking enough damage that you are defeated. This is the primary gameplay feature, because it meets all of the requirements listed above to be a game. You have the skill (using abilities) along the defined rules (the game's artificial limitations) to overcome challenges (preventing yourself from being defeated in combat by enemies) to complete a goal (defeating the enemies).

oh man this game's dialogue and plot are so riveting that i just want to get passed the gameplay to see the next exciting chapteraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

If you skip it, if you remove it from the game, or if you remove the challenge (such as ME3's story mode difficulty level) then it is no longer a game.

Now, there isn't anything wrong with something not being a game. I fucking love books, and movies. I eat that shit up. I cried at the ending of Wild Wild West, I'm not afraid to admit it. A good story and good characters are the primary driving forces for these forms of mediums. But that's the thing. That's why a book, a movie, a choose your own adventure, aren't games. They aren't meant to be.

So to say that, all you want is the Dragon Age story, the codex, the whatever, then why are you playing the game? To reach the next chapter of the story? To find a new piece of codex? But you hate the gameplay, or find it frustrating, or just aren't good at it. You want to remove gameplay from a game. What you want, no longer becomes a game. And that means, you no longer need to play the game.

If we want to look at alternatives, there are a bunch of different, healthy things you can do that aren't the game itself. But if you are dead set on watching all of the Red Alert Full Motion Videos but aren't good enough to actually beat the game, or think Real Time Strategy games are fucking stupid, well, why don't you just watch them on youtube? Why don't you read the codex articles on www.dragonfaggot.wikia or wherever? Why do you insist on forcing developers to give the option to remove gameplay from games?

Not everyone deserves to beat a game, no one is entitled to winning the game, to see the credit screen roll.

To use a real world example, it's like saying that you're a fan of an American Football team, let's say the Baltimore Ravens. But you fucking hate watching the actual sport, don't want them to deal with any of the rules or the challenges or other teams. You just want to press a button and watch them lift the superbowl trophy.

Doesn't that take the joy out of winning? And I guess an extension of it would be, taking the gameplay out of games, doesn't that take the joy out of playing a game?

Walker goes on to say: 

"That’s what’s so very mystifying about the argument. We don’t need to be having an argument! Because no one anywhere is suggesting that combat should be removed from games, and certainly not that anyone should be under any obligation to skip combat, why is there even a reaction at all? It’s like someone wanting to ban people from visiting Burger King because they pick the tomato out of their Whopper. They’re not forcing you to miss out on your tomatoey goodness – they’re just eating the burger differently than you do. Your burger stays just the same."

But he misses the point entirely. It's more like I walk over to your book shelf, select one book, skim through it, and then complain that there's nothing to do in it. That there isn't any challenge, any goal. And then demand that all writers, from now on, include different little puzzles that you need to complete before you unlock the next chapter. Which I promptly skip past to get to the next set of puzzles. Fuck you.
No one can be this fucking dumb, I refuse to believe it.


  1. shockingly, QQron "bioshock owns" Gillen was actually one of the best writers at RPS, that's what's so insane about this.

    1. of course, "best writer at rps" is the writing equivalent of "biggest turd in the kiddie pool."

    2. nah the thing that's the MOST insane about it, is that there are people who enjoy Video Game Stories. literally they believe taht the story, the writing, the dialogue, are all good.

      like come on. i wanna write an article about that but then there are people that like shit like A Song of Ice and Fire Stephen King and so on and so forth

    3. There are people who thought MGS4 was good commentary on the military-industrial complex and private military contractors.

      Yeah, the game with the shitting robots and the nanomachines, that was commentary on real life.

    4. Metal Gear is mainly a fantasy, although it occasionally has something deeper to say. That being said, I don't want it being too close to real life, since real life is infinitely more screwed up than any video game can ever be. One thing to keep in mind though, is that a movie or game doesn't have to be realistic to comment on something. Horror movies are sometimes used as metaphors by people like George Romero sometimes, and the same goes for sci-fi movies. They do this because it's easier to comment on things in that way sometimes, rather than create an ultra realistic world and risk immediately alienating a lot of people. I'm not getting into the quality of the products, just that it's easier sometimes to talk about some things in this way. Some people may not read about racism blatantly, but if they do so through an X-Men comic, they start to come around. It gets them thinking. That's just one example. Robocop is pretty much a satire on 80's corporate America, cleverly disguised as an action movie. Dead Space is easily a commentary on blind religious faith and what it can disastrously do to people. David Cronenberg is infamous for this. I'm not saying that they're on his level, but that he's well-known for it. On another topic...

      I've known a lot of people who enjoyed the story in Legacy of Kain, because it was intelligent, and at least they *tried* to make a good story, rather than just tossing whatever crap they felt like on the page (*with the exception of Blood Omen 2 :P). And the same applies to Silent Hill 2. Sometimes the stories in some video games are better than any of the crap Hollywood has around at the time and some of the popular books, regardless of whether people believe it or not. The key word is *sometimes*. I guess the main factor is how you approach the story in your game: whether you have a story that you want to tell and you want to make it interactive for the people, hence why you're making a "game" and not a movie. Or is the story in your game an afterthought to a cool game design that you have, and now you're having to bullshit your way through it to make it worthwhile? If it's the latter, then yeah, your story's going to suck. :P But if it's the former, then you stand a better chance at succeeding. I'm not saying that you will, just that stand a better chance. Some things are tough to sell to Hollywood, or as a TV show. :P Try selling a story of a strong willed woman who doesn't need men to help her and has equal incredible skills as them, and see how much resistance you encounter. I've actually heard some people say that Wonder Woman isn't a viable commodity because people will not accept a woman as a superhero. *Facepalm* After all this time, after all the comics and movies and games, there are still people who don't believe women can be superheroes. :P Hell, you can't even sell Batman without a love interest to Hollywood producers, never mind more complex ideas. Yet Rocksteady did it in a game, and they did it pretty well. Persona questions at one point the sexuality of one of its characters, which is something that would squick Hollywood executives out - in a major blockbuster, the tough guy protagonist cannot be questioning whether he's gay or bisexual, and even in a TV show, some networks would shy away from it, with the usual controversy happening. So there is some precedent for trying things in a game, that you would be afraid to try somewhere else. Financially speaking, it would be better for WB to make a game or animated movie about Wonder Woman rather than a full-blown live action movie. :) And if you've already made an animated film, then a game is the next logical step. Of course, there are comic books, for telling the story of your character.

    5. guy above me is a stupid idiot

  2. But if you've already conquered the comic book world, and are looking to break into another medium, then games are your best bet. :) And animated movies are limited. You can't tell a Wonder Woman story longer than two hours in an animated film. You can tell a 50 hour+ story with Wonder Woman in a game, and cram all sorts of situations, characters, and settings there that you otherwise wouldn't be able to do. That's just my opinion, though. I kind of veered off-subject there for a moment, so I apologize. For what it's worth, I think a game like Batman: Arkham City is the perfect compromise. The appeal there is feeling like Batman. The gameplay is enjoyable, and you really feel like Batman come to life while you're playing the game, going around beating the crap out of those washed up thugs. But there's also a nice little story on the side to go along with it. Feeling like Batman is great, but you need proper motivation for doing so. What's Batman doing in Arkham City; why is he there, kicking the asses of these guys? What is Joker's plan? These are the things that keep us playing, while enjoying the superb gameplay found in the game and beating the crap out of those thugs. :) But I agree about taking the challenge out of video games (thereby eliminating it as a "game"). That's not a game.

    I don't ask for much from Metal Gear Solid besides telling a good story*. The gameplay though, has to be good. Otherwise, there's no point. That's why I don't like Splinter Cell. The gameplay is just not for me. Other people may enjoy it, and I'm perfectly okay with that, but it's not for me. Great article, though. I know I responded more to the comments than the article itself, and my reply is a little long-winded (okay, VERY long-winded :P), but you raised some good points about gaming.

    *By this, I mean within the context of the game. That's critical. The game has to match up with what we've seen before in the games, not necessarily real life.