Play Me a Story
When video games aren't video "games"on February 6, 2014 at 8:00 am
The different nuances and endings could all be experienced without QTEs. If you want to build an entertainment device that lets players experience a narrative and have their choices matter, you can do that without QTEs. If you don’t, then you need to make an actual game. QTEs are a lazy and throwaway approach to game design and all games would be better without them.
Really, it isn’t like these types of non-game games haven’t been floating around for some time. Simulators are often debated as to whether or not they’re games, and we also have point n’ click adventures and visual novels. Where do these all fit in?
Not to dig too deep into this mess, but simulators and point n’ clicks are variable. Honestly, it just depends on how they’re designed. Some are far more gamey than others. I don’t want to dwell on these too much, because these do really play jump rope with the line between game and non-game.
I do want to talk about visual novels, though, because they share a lot of similarities with the things I’ve already discussed in this article. They’re almost entirely about the story being told and put a heavy emphasis on choice making. They’re about experiencing a story and having it turn out YOUR way.
Some people may say, “Well, THAT’S the game. How you react to situations and achieving different outcomes is your goal.”
I don’t think that’s right.
Making simple choices to alter the story or to get different endings isn’t a game. If you finished a story, that’s it, you’ve finished. It’s over. There is no winning or losing, which is the most important part of the definition of a game.
“But discovering all of the different endings is the point of those games.”
The point of story driven experiences is to tell a story using YOUR influence. To have you lead the story down a path and give you a semi-unique conclusion. One that will differ from many people. The point isn’t to collect all of the endings like some deranged sociopath that keeps teeth in a jar. That’s forcing the visual novel to BECOME a game. Something it really isn’t.
That would be like me saying a bag of Skittles is a game. “Well, if the last five Skittles in the bag don’t consist of one of each flavor, then I’ve lost Skittles.” Just because you’ve turned eating Skittles into a game, doesn’t mean it is one. It’s just a bag of Skittles, meant to be enjoyed by your tastebuds. You’re putting arbitrary, and weird, stipulations on your time with them.
Visual novels are, essentially, “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and no one thinks these kinds of books are games, so why are visual novels said to be them?
Let’s take this in another direction.
Say you had a board that accompanied a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Everywhere you could go in the book was illustrated by this board and you moved pieces around to illustrate everything and to make things a little more colorful. Would you call that a board game, then?
If you would, you’re wrong. It’s not a board game. It’s just a book with a board. There is no game. That’s the same thing that’s going on in the digital realm. We’re given all of this art and color and code, but it’s not a game. Just because you can interact with something in a digital format doesn’t mean that you’re playing a game.
“The Walking Dead” and “Heavy Rain” ARE video games, yes; but at their core, they’re visual novels with bits of game design tacked on, which weakens them.