Thoughts: A “Video Game” Can Be Whatever a Creator Wants it to Be

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What constitutes the makeup of a “video game” exactly? There’s of course the literal interpretation of it: a video game is a program or lines of code put together to be exhibited on a screen of some kind with objectives, mechanics of ‘play’ and so on and so forth. It’s a very blunt viewpoint but sure, it’s valid. There’s another way to look at a game and that’s as an experience. It’s the way I and many others feel. A video game can go so far beyond simple ones and zeroes on a television screen.

I felt a bit compelled to write about this because I often get comments from folks who feel this game doesn’t ‘have enough gameplay’ or that game is ‘more like a movie than a game’. Games can mean different things to different people. It’s important to understand that in this widely connected global society of ours, people, us, humans, are molded by a multitude of factors. Our upbringing affects the way we view the world. Our experiences from childhood through to adulthood shape the way we carry ourselves, interact with others and hold opinions.

It’s no surprise then that these things also seep into the way we play and enjoy video games. As a child, I was exposed to more games than I can remember. I played everything I could from Metroid to Zelda, Mario to Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Sonic. That exposure to so many different genres and styles of play pushed me to be more open and welcoming as I grew up and became an adult. It made me truly appreciate the absolutely massive variety of experiences that are out there. Games are fun. They’re intense, they’re inspiring, they’re emotional. They’re all of these things and that’s because the people that create them come from different backgrounds and histories.

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I hate seeing players back a developer into a corner. That goes for any developer. I was talking a bit on my excitement for Detroit: Become Human the other day. E3 had come and gone and there were a whole host of games from all walks of life on display for the world. While many shared my excitement, some expressed levels of hostility. “Where the hell is the gameplay?”, said one commenter. “Great, another worthless David Cage movie game”, said another. It made me ask myself why any game has to meet a certain criteria to be considered a worthwhile game.

This industry thrives on its diversity. Imagine if every game followed the same exact format of storytelling or set of gameplay mechanics. We’d have a pretty boring time with ourselves wouldn’t we? Titles like Heavy Rain, Detroit and the many Telltale games aim to put the player through specific situations in a specific way to best drive home an experience. For example, playing The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us as third person shooters instead of the stylized visual adventures that they are would wildly change the feelings and emotions we get from each. The creators of these felt the best and most effective way to tell their stories was through these formats, and that’s perfectly okay. There’s nothing wrong with it. It opens our minds to be more receptive of different forms of art and narrative story telling. That’s a wonderful thing for the games industry.

It’s genuinely disappointing to see some players outright dismiss the mere concept of a game simply because of its format. Preferring a style of game over another is more than fine. I’m a bigger fan of RPGs and action-adventure titles than I am of racing or puzzle games. However, I embrace everything. I love seeing new ideas and fresh concepts breathed into any game genre regardless of whether I’m into them or not.

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I’ve had friends tell me that Journey is the best game they’ve ever played. It hit certain notes inside of them and stirred emotions that no other game has. That’s beautiful to me. I became entranced by the way they expressed their feelings for it. It certainly isn’t the “best” game I’ve personally played but it’s still one I thoroughly enjoyed. I could understand them. I could relate to the genuine love they had for it. That’s why I feel as strongly about it as I do. Journey is a vastly different game to something like Uncharted or Halo. Thatgamecompany set out to craft a particular experience for the player and succeeded.

I don’t even have to like a game to enjoy hearing what others think of it. I wasn’t a big fan of Final Fantasy XV or Metal Gear Solid V but I would never disparage the feelings of others who thoroughly loved their time with either. I felt lost in Final Fantasy XV’s story. I thought a large amount of the game’s mechanics were clunky or poorly thought out and that much of the writing was a little poor. Seeing the enjoyment that tons of others got from it, however, was so refreshing. It’s always humbling for me to see that not everyone feels the way I do about video games. Many loved the quirkiness of Final Fantasy XV’s characters or the structure of its game design. I love that. It’s a constant reminder to me that again, games mean different things to different people because everyone’s mind is built to think and feel differently.

The same can be said about a game like Metal Gear Solid V. Playing through the original Metal Gear Solid on my PlayStation all those years back made me an instant fan. I played the sequels religiously over the years and I was pumped for the The Phantom Pain to say the least. What hooked me into the series from the beginning was notably absent, however. I fell in love with the series because of the crazy long cutscenes, wild cast of wacky characters and the intricate structure of its linear level design. Series creator Hideo Kojima sought to take The Phantom Pain into a new direction and it didn’t sit well with my tastes for the franchise but I fully respected it. Others adored the game and it showed me once again that people from all walks of life, even series fans like me, viewed Metal Gear in a different light. I made peace with it quickly.

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It’s not my intent to be preachy. I’m not one to tell someone how to feel or how to think. Instead, my wish is that what I’m trying to say comes across as an encouragement to be more open minded when it comes to all kinds of experiences-whether it be games, movies or even art. A game like Tetris has just as much a right and reason for existing as does Heavy Rain, God of War, The Last of Us, Forza, The Witcher and so on and so forth. All games bring with them the thoughts, ideals and experiences of their creators. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to make a video game and I hope that people see that the intrinsic value of games doesn’t come from any one type of design, but rather, the brilliant strength in their diversity.

Nate

4 thoughts on “Thoughts: A “Video Game” Can Be Whatever a Creator Wants it to Be

  1. Great post, can’t agree more. Yesterday I was enjoying Nex Machina, a pure arcade joy. Recently finished RiME and loved it. I feel lucky because I can enjoy almost any kind of game. And it has been that way for more than 30 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s tough deciding what a “game” is and it seems unfair to call everything played on a video console a videogame. When I think of games, I think of an activity with a winner and a loser. Usually there is a method of scoring involved. That’s why all the earliest videogames were all about score and leaderboards. Even Super Mario Bros kept score for some reason, even though you never cared about your score in that game.

    Journey is an incredible experience, but I wouldn’t really classify it a game.

    Like

  3. Sometimes i get so sad seeing the current state gaming community, to a point that i feel discouraged to engage even with smallest bits of discussions. There’s a right way to enjoy things, think about them and of course, express your feelings about it.

    It’s getting so hard to be passionate, show love for something that so many people worked on, putting their hearts and souls into it. Every example of community resembles a way to ensure a controled level of diversity, where people keep themselves inside a social bubble to talk only about what they like, and express every sort of hate to difference, because it’s better to feel safe by distorcing the world around you in a cynical way, helping mantain this weird vision that every piece of content should be made to please you somehow.

    You can easly understand why something is not for you, but getting in a state of denial thinking that you have the power to limitate a creator’s vision, expecting them to follow a strict list of what you like, it’s just absurd. And it happens so often, it’s like every content creator is a villian that sustains their own evil corporation waiting to grab your money. These individual people, one by one, just want to create something that they love. Pratically, all the oldest franchises that are still alive to this day, remaining popular, found a way to reinvent themselves over the years.

    People should try different games. The more experiences you have, the more you can understand what makes all those titles specials. I’m glad to see that there’s still people like Nate representing a healthy gaming community, and i hope that this will change over time. A good relationship with those who makes the things that we love, it’s an distant dream, but surely a good one.

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