My Problem With the "Gameplay Only" Mentality
  • POSTED BY Joel Castro on May 26, 2016

    In my times running around on forums, a certain grouping of gamers has baffled me to no end. These people are the ones who explicitly, vehemently, and without any hesitation, claim that video games should only focus on the actual “gameplay” aspect of a game, and that nothing else should matter. Not story, not characters, not anything other than serving the purpose of guiding the player through challenge after challenge and reaching an end goal full of victory and trophies and whatever else you can think of.

    Now, to a certain extent, I can agree with part of the argument. Video games are…well, games. It’s in the title, for one thing. And without interaction, we might as well be sitting through a movie. A well animated, sometimes colorful, and stylish movie, but a movie nonetheless. Video games need interaction in order to function, and when there are games that severely hinder the interactions you can have while simultaneously deceiving you into thinking you have that many choices, it harms the game big time.

    However, with that being said, I don’t believe that video games should primarily focus on gameplay. My reasoning for this comes from my own experience (so slight bias alert here), but hear me out. As long as I have played video games, a great many of them always had an excuse plot. The original Super Mario game has the titular character needing to save a princess, so cue him jumping around and stomping on a bunch of chestnut-mushroom people and seemingly forgetting that he has a princess to save half the time. Doom just had a space marine killing a bunch of demons on Mars because why the hell not. With these two examples, their gameplay was excellent for the time. They’re still excellent, if you’re willing to forgive their age. But they could’ve had their plots stripped away, and they would just be games with no context. Would they be nearly as memorable?

    In a more firm example of context in gameplay, I present Silent Hill 2, a game that, when you really analyze it from a “gameplay only” stance, it actually plays rather horribly. The main character moves around like he’s got ankle weights glued on and turns like a tank. You can’t really aim a gun straight, and when you have to fend off enemies with weapons like that, having those types of controls seems like a hindrance. Now, imagine that game being marketed without its disturbing psychological horror, without its dark and menacing plot, without its reliance on the twisted and the macabre. Would you buy the game if it was merely marketed on that gameplay aspect alone?

    What I’m trying to relay is this: gameplay works best when there’s context involved in the actions you commit throughout the game. If Mario wasn’t a plumber saving a princess, all that jumping around would feel pointless except for just being a simple obstacle course. Doom wouldn’t make you feel like such a badass for saving the universe from demons, even with its actual plot being thinner than tissue paper. Silent Hill, Dark Souls – hell, any RPG really – and even your hack-n-slashers like Devil May Cry, Dynasty Warriors, or even God of War wouldn’t be nearly as popular as they are today, because most people aren’t fully hardwired to remember their characters committing minute-by-minute actions through a television or computer screen without some form of added context.

    That’s not to say that gameplay is something to forget mind you. Many people can recall that one epic chase they started in Grand Theft Auto game, and how they managed to escape it or get utterly destroyed by the cops. Others remember that one amazing play they had in League of Legends that got them their first pentakill. Many remember taking down that one difficult boss they were struggling with in vivid detail. Gameplay serves its purpose to put us in the shoes of either an iconic or created character, and that’s what makes video games so special. But at the same time, we can’t just keep saying that only gameplay matters. People will still want a story to immerse themselves into because it gives them a purpose.

    Interaction needs focus, and saying otherwise feels like a return to the days where video games were only time wasters meant to make you feel accomplished through competition and steal all your quarters because of the unfair difficulty. And while there’s still plenty of room for those kinds of games, we need to do more to engage newer audiences. If people don’t want to feel ashamed for playing video games – people still feel this way, sadly – then we need to build better experiences into games. Just having interaction isn’t enough.

    Thanks for reading. I realize this is short, and likely isn’t a fully formed idea, but I just had to vent my frustrations with these types of gamers.

    POSTED BY xsuicidesn0wmanx on May 26, 2016

    Haven’t finished reading the whole post yet, but I wanted to get my thoughts out before I forget them.

    I think you have a very valid point, and I’ve noticed games that these multiplayer only games(i.e. Evolve, Unreal, Titanfall, etc..) all seem to suffer from the same pitfalls. Because there really isn’t any story, no character building, or anything but MP mode, all of those games seem to die off very quickly. I enjoyed Titanfall when I got to play with my friend, but w/out that person to make the experience ‘fun’, the game was boring and sometimes frustrating. There was no reward, there was no emotional attachment to any of the characters, they’re just the same old bot with a different skin on them. I didn’t buy games like Evolve either. Why are there monsters? Why are you hunting them? WTF IS THE POINT?!?! It’s the same deal with Rainbow 6: Siege now, my friends want to play, but it doesn’t have any meaning to make me care.

    You're all zombie thigh-fat people brought into animation by some evil force of forceful evil!!! - Happy Noodle Boy.

    You're all zombie thigh-fat people brought into animation by some evil force of forceful evil!!! - Happy Noodle Boy.

    POSTED BY Joel Castro on May 26, 2016

    I understand that people want satisfying gameplay to latch onto, because we all want to enjoy the games we play. I just get annoyed when people think that’s all games need to be, and it’s why I don’t latch onto fighting games, MOBAs, and most multiplayer-exclusive games. There’s no incentive for me to play other than to just get better, and that isn’t why I personally play games, as is the case with a lot of people.

    POSTED BY elheber on Jun 01, 2016

    That’s like saying food should only focus on being digestible.

    "A closet intellectual, he acts dumb to impress women."

    "A closet intellectual, he acts dumb to impress women."

    POSTED BY Joel Castro on Jun 01, 2016

    You’d be surprised how many people I’ve encountered that hold this belief wholeheartedly. It’s absolutely baffling to me.

    POSTED BY elheber on Jun 02, 2016

    “However, with that being said, I don’t believe that video games should primarily focus on gameplay.”

    I get the feeling you misspoke here. Gameplay should be the primary focus for most games, and I would argue that everything great you described from Silent Hill 2 is all in service of that wonderfully dreadful gameplay. In a movie, the camera angles and limited visibility would have definitely made for a more tense horror experience, but the lack of interactivity would make it less effective at exorcising your fears. In a movie, the scenes will continue for you (whether you’ve covered your eyes or not) and you just have to sit tight until the resolution gives you that sense of relief you came to the movie for.

    The reason we love horror is because we use it as a way to conquer fear. It’s a release valve.

    With the game, you are even more of an active participant. You can’t just sit and wait for the game to continue; if you want that relief then you need to have your hands on the controller and pass through that foreboding door yourself. This is an ultimate form of conquering your fear (save for actually doing this in real life with skydiving or by visiting a graveyard on a dare or something) and without the gameplay it is just a passive experience. The clunky controls and weird camera angles are in service to this. The gameplay was nailed. A game developer who didn’t care about gameplay would have made the controls fairly fluid and responsive like an ordinary game. They would have made health easy to come by and replaced the tank controls with regular movement as if this were an action game. It’s the fact that the developers cared about gameplay that it became what it is… full of tension and dread.

    In a game like The Stanley Parable, gameplay is extremely limited. However, it’s exactly the right kind of limited in order for the game to deliver the experience it wants to deliver. It isn’t about platforming or any other type of skill-based progress; it’s about choice. This game would not work as a movie because it needs the interactivity to deliver its message… and the gameplay, as simple as it may be, is designed to give it to you. Everything is in service to that interactivity. Interactivity is gameplay, and it is the most important thing in a game.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re trying to say. Maybe you mean to say that games don’t need to have “fun” gameplay, but I think this is already a given. Well… at least to everyone but Miyamoto. He thinks every game should be “fun”.

    "A closet intellectual, he acts dumb to impress women."

    "A closet intellectual, he acts dumb to impress women."

    POSTED BY xsuicidesn0wmanx on Jun 02, 2016

    I think my response to that is the same as my response above. I think the mechanics of the game shouldn’t be the only focus, there has to be something to pull it all together. When you think of great games, what do you remember? Take some of your favorite games of all time and analyze them. I bet you will find that the gameplay isn’t the reason those games top your list. I’m sure some elements of gameplay might be important, but they wont be ‘the reason’ you adore those games.

    For me, some of my favorites are games like Max Payne 3 and Red Dead Redemption. Both of which have fantastic gameplay. When it comes to Max Payne, I think of the main character, his back story, his struggles with addiction, and above all of those, the witty one-liners littered throughout all 3 MP games. It’s similar for RDR, great characters that create an emotional bond with the player, great story. RDR is at the top of many peoples list, and yet it has a lot of gameplay issues, it’s buggy, has poor pacing, not exactly the best at any of the things it does, just good enough.

    The only time I feel gameplay should be the main focus, is if it is a style of game that really doesn’t need anything else. i.e. A puzzle game like Peggle, or a 2d fighter like Street Fighter. Though I can also see how Street Fighter could be used to create a game similar to some of the better Kung Fu movies. Imagine a 2d/3d hybrid fighting game inspired by The Raid 1 & 2, that would be fucking EPIC! I’d also say sports games and racing games are games that don’t necessarily need to have a story, but just like fighting games, they could benefit from having a story. Could you imagine a game like Forza having a story mode, with Telltale style interactive scenes between races, and dialog with other racers that changes based on how the race went. I can see it now, driving an open wheel car like Indy or Formula 1. You try to pass another car on the track, both cars get tangled and crash into the fence, interactive cut scene occurs where the other drive gets out of his car furious and shouting expletives at you. The game gives you a few options for a response, one of which leads to the other driving taking a swing at you. I think that would be an incredible experience for a game, and not a SINGLE developer has ever tried it. How close have we gotten to that before? Pro Race Driver on Xbox back in 2003?

    I think gameplay is important, and it has to be ‘solid’ at the least. Definitely not saying gameplay should be ignored. But there is so much more to making a game fun than that one aspect.

    You're all zombie thigh-fat people brought into animation by some evil force of forceful evil!!! - Happy Noodle Boy.

    You're all zombie thigh-fat people brought into animation by some evil force of forceful evil!!! - Happy Noodle Boy.

    POSTED BY elheber on Jun 02, 2016

    We can’t judge things only on what we remember, because story and cutscenes have a better chance of being stored in your memory than moment-to-moment gameplay. Tetris on the GameBoy could have consumed your life for 6 straight months with it’s masterful design, but you don’t remember the actual play of it as well as even a crappy scene in a crappy NBC television show. It’s just how the brain works. It doesn’t mean gameplay isn’t as important.

    That said, the moment I remember most fondly about my favorite game is Resident Evil 4’s opening village encounter. So good.

    "A closet intellectual, he acts dumb to impress women."

    "A closet intellectual, he acts dumb to impress women."
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