I just finished reading an article by “Reverend Anthony” called Fun isn’t enough: why video games have to move beyond simple escapism and I decided to post my comments about it.
Generally speaking I agree with most things said in the article, games are a very powerful medium and very few people are taking advantage of that. To put it simply, interactivity takes conveying emotions to the next level. Even though you may have no real control over what happens in a game, interactivity makes you feel like you do, which in turn makes creates a feeling of responsible for your character’s actions. If I had to pick the most important moment in my gaming experience, [technically, this is a Final Fantasy VII spoiler, but I’m not even going to hide it just because by now everyone probably knows this already] I would pick the moment when Aeris dies in Final Fantasy VII. I was quite young when I played Final Fantasy VII and I hadn’t played many serious games before that, but the when Aeris died I realized how powerful games could be.
Anyway, going back to the article, there are a couple of things I don’t agree with. Firstly, while I do agree that there needs to be a greater focus on serious games, I also think that the games that are “just fun” are also a very important part of gaming. Games like Guitar Hero or Dance, Dance Revolution are proof of this. These games are certainly not very deep, but they’re still great games. And what makes them great is precisely that they are simple games which are just incredibly fun to play. I think these type of games are a completely valid form of art and should continue to be developed. The other point I don’t agree with is that games should become “morally challenging tragedies” (maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but you get what I mean 😛 ). I agree with the fact that there should be more games that explore the world’s shades of grey, but the focus should not only be in the darker shades of grey, the lighter shades also have a lot to offer and therefore they should also play an important role. Instead, I think that the focus of the gaming industry in the near future should be to interact with the player in more meaningful ways.
Two examples of what I mean by this are Shadow of the Colossus and Eternal Darkness.. Shadow of the Colossus puts the player in a situation where he regrets some of his actions. And even though the player is aware that he has no choice but to kill the Colossus if he wants to keep playing the game, he still feels guilty after killing a Colossus which did nothing that might justify its killing. In the case of Eternal Darkness, the interaction with the player is made deeper with the use of sanity effects. What you do in the game doesn’t only affect your character, it also affects you. Some of the sanity effects can be quite hard on the player, for example Show Spoiler when you try to save your game and you get an error saying that the file has been corrupted and your progress has been lost, you'll probably believe for a few seconds until you realize the game is just playing tricks on you.
Games could certainly benefit from more complex story-lines, but I think it is much more important to first work on the way the interaction with the player works. After all, to get a feel of what more complex story-lines are about, game designers can always turn to other forms of art such as books or movies, but player interaction is pretty much unique to gaming.