So I recently picked up a copy of Far Cry 4 and have been playing it a lot. It’s a great game and just bombastic fun. But there was something about it that bothered me.
Far Cry 4 is an open-world game, namely a game where you can explore and do tasks within the world at your leisure. Or at least, I would like to think. The game has an annoying restriction on it in the sense that an entire chunk of the map is locked off until you get far enough into the campaign. They do this in the beginning of the game as well, which wouldn’t be so bad if they kept you on a mission the whole time, but they don’t. So later on, I tried flying over to a marker for a side task, only to find out that it was beyond this invisible barrier the game had set up. If I crossed that barrier, I had ten seconds before the game yanked me away and placed me back on the other side of the boundary.
My problem with this? It seems to be at odds with the idea of an “open-world game”.
It feels to me like the whole reason this is happening is because of some assumption of progression, that the game needs to serve the story first and foremost. Don’t get me wrong. I love a game with a good story. A well-told story can provide great motivation for your actions within the game world. But it annoys me that the game feels like it needs to enforce a linear sort of progression by locking off areas of the game world until you hit that checkpoint so to speak.
And then I wondered something. Why does this kind of thing happen? Why do games sometimes hold themselves back from their true potential?
I couldn’t think of a better word for it than “dogma”.
In so many ways the video gaming industry is locked within a certain set of ideas. Games need to have action. Games need to have multiplayer. Games need to have progression and unlocks. Games need to have at least X hours of content. This line of thinking is so very limiting.
Take Gone Home for instance, in particular the reception it got from the gaming community. If you look on the game’s Steam store page, you’ll see that the average user review reception is sitting at a “mostly positive” with currently 79% of the reviews being positive. Yet, scroll down to the bottom, and you’ll see that the first seven of the most “helpful” reviews are negative. The opinions vary but they hone in on the same central ideas: the game was boring, the game was pretentious, or the game simply wasn’t a game.
Gamers have this strange dogmatic idea of what a game should be. A game should have action. A game should have enemies. But this doesn’t have to be that way. Gone Home eschews all ideas of a combat-oriented game in favor of a game that just wants to tell a story. And it makes for a unique experience that I guess just wasn’t everyone’s taste. But bringing the discussion into that nebulous territory where the definition of what is a game is thrown into question? Not a good idea.
How arrogant is it that some people assume that their definition of what is a game is the only right definition? I mean, really. We all have our own different tastes in games. But I digress. I believe the reason Gone Home was slammed so hard by gamers was because of this dogmatic way of looking at games. How else do you explain the success of the Call of Duty franchise, a series of games that change hardly at all from year to year and yet each time make millions upon millions. It’s because of this constrained idea of what a game is. It’s something gamers and game developers have to move past in order for games to evolve.
It might seem pointless and irrelevant to some to be focusing so much attention on a form of entertainment, but the fact of the matter is that people probably felt the same way about movies and television at one point. The reason I focus so much time into them is because I believe that games can provide us with experience that we cannot find in movies, books, and television. But this will happen only if we can shake off these ingrained ideas of what a game “needs” to have.
Not every game needs guns. Not every game needs multiplayer. Not every game even needs a story or a single player component. We should be content to enjoy the games that interest us, and at least accept the existence of the games that bore us. It’s when we take this closed-minded approach to things that we derail the natural progression of the medium. Sure, many of us may look wistfully back on the “golden era” of games, when Mario was king and games were still represented mainly in two dimensions. But we have to acknowledge the fact that while change is not always good, it is necessary. Instead of holding games back based on old ideas of what they should be, we should embrace the risks of something new. It’s up to the developers, as well as the gamers themselves, to encourage these ideas to flourish, for better or for worse.
Well that’s all I have for this week. Tune in next Wednesday for another post. Until then, have a great week everybody.