Topic 2: Games Here-and-Now
Post 1: What is the single most important aspect of a game?
Yes, I understand this is not Saturday. Oops! But, better late than never, right? I will have a new post this upcoming Saturday, as well – I just needed more time for this one!
So, this is my first post on a new general topic – not to say that I’m finished with Topic 1 (The Future of Gaming), in fact far from it, but I thought, since it’s a new month and all, I should change things up a bit. This topic series focuses on big questions on video games in the current age, and the one for tonight is quite a vague one, so why not start there?
“What is the single most important aspect of a game?”
I think the person who sent this to me kept it ambiguous for a reason. I kept thinking on narrower questions to try and answer this: What kind of game? Which aspect of what? What do you mean by “important”? Instead of clarifying, I backed up and asked myself again, without knowing a narrower focus, “Well, what is the most important aspect of a game—any game?”
Is it its profitability? Its potential for timelessness? The level of fun and/or immersion? Its ability to connect, or disconnect, people? The level of its influence?
It comes down to different genres of what people think are important in a game, and then key features and pieces within a game that fit that category. I’ve come up 3 major reasons:
So, if we’re talking about games that are successful because they make a lot of money or reach a wide audience, then there is a single aspect of these games that is most important: Accessibility. And I’m talking accessibility both money-wise and audience-wise. Games that give free trials or feature at expos or, like discussed in my last post, have in-game microtransactions usually tend to get the most buzz and therefore get the most money. These games should have a wide, all-inclusive audience – it should be able to be fun for both kids and adults, it should encompass and satisfy a variety of gamer types, it should have an “addictiveness” factor where it’s fun to keep coming back and playing again. Think about Super Mario – a classic all-inclusive game that has gotten all the hype (and money) for a really long time in the gaming world. The most recent game on the Switch, Super Mario Odyssey, has once again been extremely profitable just because of its accessibility – it can be easily downloaded (although it’s not necessarily cheap, I’ll grant you that) and of course it has gathered the attention of young people, little kids who maybe had never played another Mario before, all across the globe. Also, adults like myself love playing this game just as much (if not more). And, as a bonus, it is fun as hell!
If a game is going to transcend its own age to continue to be played well after its current generation, then it needs one very important thing: Originality. These games have to be completely and utterly unique. They have to break norms and introduce brand new concepts. They have to have gameplay that is awe-inspiring and/or mind-blowing. Sometimes even a soundtrack can make something timeless. Yes, sometimes they have to have certain forms of accessibility and influence, but when I think of games that are timeless (or are likely to be), I think of games like Tetris. The first of its kind. Or, again, Super Mario Bros. The original Diablo was the first dungeon-crawler and though I think that game might stretch the whole “timelessness” aspect, it still has made its permanent mark on the gaming world. Final Fantasy is right up there – especially IV and XII. More recent would be the original Mass Effect (2007), breaking boundaries when it comes to immersive gameplay. But there is an all-time master of timelessness, the beast, the big daddy…you guessed it…the Legend of Zelda! And when you really sit down to make a list of all the things that made the Legend of Zelda unique from all other games – wow! That’s what originally made its mark, and what it continues to do in its new games.
It’s all about the “fun factor.” The “making memories” game. The “immerse yourself and lose sense of reality.” The measure of addictiveness and replay value. Is this what’s most important in a game? To me, I think so. If the question had been phrased: “What is the most important aspect of a meaningful game?” or “What is the most important aspect of a successful game?” my answer might be different. But it just says the most important aspect of A GAME. Period. Any game. Any time. Any where. The most important aspect of a game, the reason we call it a game, is its entertainment value. The ability to have fun, and a lot of it. The more the better. That’s different for everyone, but usually to make something fun, it has to have a key ingredient: Conflict. The conflict must be real and intense. It can be incredibly simple – a race against time, for example, or a race against another player. Or it can be incredibly complex – save the human race from extinction or solve the mystery of the land. But conflict, and triumph over this conflict, is what makes a game so fun. It’s why we play. Because victory in a game is easy compared to victories we may or may not find in real life. It’s tangible, and it equates success, same as anything else, except it’s far easier and often times far more rewarding. Entertainment value in a game is equivalent to the steadiness of its conflict.
For some people, they really like a rich conflict with lots of twists and turns. RPGs and such. In the more contemporary games, it seems like games are involving internal conflict just as much as external conflict – for several games, that’s whole purpose. To get people to question their own morality or have to choose between two evils. A great example of that is This War Is Mine. (If you have not played this game, it is well worth a playthrough. Check out the trailer here.) Or such as in the Mass Effect or Witcher games, your choices and interactions with people in the world determine who lives or who dies, and sometimes you have to choose between two good friends or decide who to protect and who to sacrifice. Let me tell you – the conflict gets real in those games, and it’s riveting! Those are the types of games that have tremendous replay value simply because the conflict is so rich.
But, that’s not to say that simple conflict does not have replay or entertainment value. In fact, it may be that simple conflict tends to have more of it because of its…well, simplicity. Puzzle games (at least the simpler ones, so I’m not talking about The Talos Principle or Portal, which take puzzling to the next level) have a simple quest: Solve the puzzle. Like Tetris. Like Shariki. Like PacMan. Like Sudoku. The racing or fighting factor brings in the competitive edge that makes playing with other people extremely fun – Super Smash Bros. or Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat or Mario Kart. These are all extremely simple, single-faceted conflicts with one goal (WIN!) but when applied well work great in a game to make it fun. Entertainment encompasses a wide range of players and games, but it is the one thing that unifies them all.
With that, I say, cheers!