Right in Front of Your Face
Posted by Fernando Cordeiro
Elitism still is the big divide. It’s the biggest obstacle facing games today. Elitism is the belief that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views are the only ones that matter.
We are that elite.
Many of my friends resented when Nintendo positioned itself as a beacon to attract non-gamers (including some of my non-gamer friends, interestingly enough). Now, after piling them with shovelware for years, we see our dusted Wiis and state “The Wii Is Dead” in a dismissive tone that implies “See, we were right all along. You shouldn’t have abandoned us. We are the ones that get it, not them”.
Because (OMG!) gaming is art. And we are (obviously) the only ones who can see it.
Some pieces of art are difficult to understand or appreciate. That’s why the elite is the elite; and have Bach playing on the background as they discuss the peasant situation. The thing is that while there is only schooling and experience in the way of turning the Average Joe into H. E. Pennypacker, for gaming there is also the issue of skill. How can grandpa even start to appreciate games when just comprehending the controls is bound to take more spasmodic accidents than his patience and time could afford?
Yes, folks, this is my Omnitopic entry!
No matter how unapproachable a book or a movie may be, one can always get through it. The same is not true for gaming, as the skills it requires are primarily related to manual dexterity – which is not a trivial thing to acquire. It’s mostly an aptitude after all. Gaming is built on progression and not matter whether this progression if linear or open ended, the plot is not. One cannot skip to world 8-8 if one cannot even pass world 1-1 (and the first warp zone is hidden in the world 1-2, mind you). This is troublesome. It’s like buying a movie without knowing how to read it.
I find this unfair, especially now games are maturing into a narrative driven medium. I firmly believe that, if you buy a game, and this game has an ending to show, you should be able to see it, regardless of your skill. If the industry find it already hard to remain lucrative when they have to battle for a few hardcore gamers who have not the time and money to buy anything other than a few AAA titles a year for US$ 60.00 each, imagine selling their products to someone who already knows he/she won’t be able to enjoy it due to their lack of skill.
So, their answer was to simplify gameplay, thus alienating one audience in the sake of another.
But people, simplifying is HARD. Especially when you are simplifying for an audience you have trouble relating to. Most of our best and brightest designers have a hardcore gamer background and, understandably, the industry filter them from the rest. Why, to enter Digipen, one must critique a game or choose to analyse a character or world available from a set that pretty much seems like it sprung out from games. There is a very thin line separating a game that is simple (Mario, Wii Sports, Canabalt) to a game that is simplistic (Wii Play, Wii Music) and more often than not, this line is crossed by developers running like a drunk man runs to pray at the porcelain altar.
And yet, the perfect solution was already there! One that doesn’t negate neither the challenge nor the emergent narrative. As often when gaming is concerned, this ingenious solution was the brainchild of Miyamoto: the Super Guide.
The Super Guide is an incredible tool. It marries both casual and hardcore market without sacrificing anything to both. Basically, the game takes control of your avatar to show you a safe path through a level. Any level! The player may interrupt the guide at any time and take control. After the game completes its own levels, the player has the option to try that level again, or skip it completely. It is not game masturbation, as the game is not only playing itself, but also teaching the player. Are you are hardcore gamer? Great! You won’t even notice the Super Guide. Are you a non-gamer? Great! For once, you will be able to enjoy that Gears of War game until the end.
The easiest criticism of the Super Guide is that it diminishes the value of the reward a gamer receives when beating a level. Poppycock. Beating a particularly tough stage should be its own reward, and the presence of the Super Guide ends up adding more value to it, as the game acknowledges you for finishing it yourself, without ever needing the Guide’s help. More often than not, people confuse the value of achieving something from the value of telling this achievement to everybody else (i.e.: bragging right). The first one is inherent to the accomplishment itself, the second one is a meta-game – perfectly addressed by another great invention, the Achievements. On a side note: Nintendo where are your achievements? You are missing out!
The same goes for cutscenes. A cutscene is not – or rather: should not – be the reward for beating a particularly tough level. In fact, the notion that story should be a reward to gameplay is flawed to begin with, as it implies that story and gameplay should necessarily be divorced.
But look at the world of gaming today. Where are the influences of such a marvelous invention? The only ones who used it since its debut was Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Donkey Kong Returns! Not even other Nintendo games, like the awful Metroid: Other M, a game with “controls as simple as those of a NES game” so it would appeal to euphemistically “modern” players, bothered to include it. So instead of an accessible game to everyone, we have a Metroid that never understands the difference between going into Morph Ball mode and firing a missile!
Meanwhile the great divide endures. Sony and Microsoft both decided to copy the not-a-novelty-anymore of motion controls instead of this awesome software innovation (well, actually, Microsoft has a patent for something similar, but that didn’t go anywhere). Publishers try to juggle conflicting tastes of the Patricians and the Plebs by trying to repositioning their brands all the time, instead of simply adding a version of the Super Guide in it and maintaining their authenticity. Instead of uniting both worlds, we have segregated the hardcore from the casual platforms.
In the meanwhile, you continue your histrionic outcries that games are art while only offering examples that are incomprehensible to your opponents as there is no way they would be able to experience.
They might as well retort that games are mere toys and go back to Angry Birds.
About Fernando CordeiroFernando spends most of his time trying to figure out how to define himself in 140 characters. XBL username: Super Necros.
Posted on May 24, 2011, in Feature, Opinion, Random and tagged Achievements, Angry Birds, Canabalt, casual gamers, Cutscenes, Dexterity, Donkey Kong Returns, Elitism, Emergent Narrative, Gamers, Gears of War, Hardcore Gamers, Mario, Metroid: Other M, Microsoft, Miyamoto, New Super Mario Bros Wii, Nintendo, non-gamers, Omnitopic, shovelware, Simplifying, Skill, Sony, Super Guide, Wii, Wii Music, Wii Play, Wii Sports. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.