Lack of Order

‘Press X to Jason’ the screen reads, as you play through Heavy Rain. ‘Press X to pay respects’ the screen offers, as you begin Call of Duty Advanced Warfare’s campaign. These scripted moments are something that try and engage the gamer but often feel as though they are awkward moments, much like when a parent says to ‘Make sure you send grandma a thank you card for the $5 she gave you for your birthday!’ You sigh; “But, why?” is the silent question, grandma knows you love her, after all.

In games, being prompted to perform an action is something that is here to stay. Be it through a quick time event or something that is set to move the plot, being told how to play a game is a break of immersion that is unfortunately commonplace. To say that all prompts shouldn’t exist is completely foolish as well. In the Batman Arkham series, an enemy can be countered as the prompt flashes over their head. In the Metal Gear Solid series, stealth is achieved best by being aware of what the enemies are doing or how they are reacting to the player movements – if they are curious, we know, if they know we are there, we know. Past this, games that offer tips to playing the game, such as Uncharted, can be a welcome addition, prompting the player to look in a certain place, even with the prompted option of ‘Hint’ appearing on screen when a puzzle takes a player too long to crack.

source: The Turbulence

How then, did we get here? When we say that moving narrative through a button press may not be the best choice, what does the alternative look like? The answer I have found is in Minecraft. This argument is not built on Minecraft alone, but rather, the use of its crafting system and completely wonky puzzles. Do you want to build a pickaxe? Boards in a row on top, then sticks underneath, which, is the only logical way to form a pickaxe. This type of crafting and puzzle solving works because it falls onto something that was all but forgotten in games – the intelligence of the player.

source: Xombit Games

I have a collection of Super Nintendo games, which I consider to be the height of gaming history. That opinion was formed due to playing games as a child and then replaying them as an adult. In assembling the collection, I swore to myself very early on that I would play each cartridge as much as I could. I did this to ensure the games still worked and to also understand the system better. I would also refrain looking up about the game. If I was to play them, it would be without the help of the internet, just like it would have been while growing up. My approach led to moments of utter frustration (trying to use the special skills and moves in Batman Forever) and fantastic exploration (shooting accidental fireballs in Mortal Kombat) but the thing that was never questioned was my ability to progress, built out of desire, I pushed myself into the games devices and was rewarded by being able to play the game.

source: alphacoders

Games used to be taken on their own terms and merits. Donkey Kong Country was about saving a giant banana and using an array of jungle animals to do so. The original Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat arcade games did not have character bios built into the game for players – none of that was the focus. If it feels out of place to give advice or to try and add context, it’s because it probably is. None of the old games needed reason to have the player do what they did (looking at you, James Pond) but they presented common ideas, and then let the player go.

source: The Escapist

As I continue to play games, now on the Xbox and Playstation, I wonder about this time. The time when games handed us pieces and nothing more and if it is truly fading away, and if it is, what do I do? I am playing Darkest Dungeon at the moment which has the same incredible thought tucked into it – “What if I pour holy water onto an altar?”, I thought to myself late one night. I poured it and moments later I was texting a friend with complete thrill that it worked! These moments continued as these thoughts, now written here, wrote themselves in my head. How much of the player’s intelligence will you remove from the game, before you realise that the desire to learn and struggle until success, starved until the sensation of winning, will always be tied to human nature just as much as story telling or visual appeal?

Press X to pay respect to the player’s intelligence.

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Matthew Squaire
Matthew hosts the Matturday Podcasts with amazing people in video games. He can also be found on Twitter