There have on more than one occasion in the last year or two been some awkward moments between friends and I when talking about certain games. Not to beat around the bush: while many people praise games such as Gone Home and TellTale’s The Walking Dead for being excellent examples of how narrative and story should be done in video games, I’ve always considered them as decent interactive movies or books, but not “video games” as I knew them.
Why? Well, the “video games” I consider all share a few common assets:
- They all have a set of skills you need to learn to progress
- They all require almost constant input
- They all challenge the parameters of your skills as you progress
With this in mind, what do you do in Gone Home? You open drawers, read notes, listen to tapes and scavenge an empty house to see what clues you can get to find out what the hell is going on. The skill you require throughout the entirety of the experience is “what key do I push to move forward and pick something up?”. Does this make it any less of an engaging experience? In my opinion, absolutely not. But it DOES make it “not a game” in very definition. So what about TellTale’s The Walking Dead? Well besides turning the controller into a weird-shaped remote control to tell the protagonist which way to move and what option I want him to say his friends, it does little to really challenge or teach skills in any way other than “if you do this enough you’ll get an ending”. Again, NOT… A… BAD… THING! In fact, one of the things I thought Gone Home did very well was a huge step forward in showcasing a narrative through the means of simple exploration in a familiar environment with the whole side-story of the main characters’ father and mother’s relationship. By the story simply existing in “found items”, the uncovering of it felt like a natural discovery of something important going on only found through the means of interaction with the game world which is why I felt many reviewers missed the mark when they all discussed the comparably unimportant story of the sister being a lesbian.
Where things get dicey for me is why products such as these get lumped into the same form of entertainment as things such as DOTA 2, Demon’s/Dark Souls or even Super Mario Bros.; games that have their set up rules and parameters and, in them, teach you skills to progress while testing those skills in an entertaining way. I mean hell, I actually am enjoying my time with The Wolf Among Us by TellTale games and liked certain things a whole hell of a lot in Gone Home last yet. Saying something is “not a game” shouldn’t be as derisive to the product as it should be complimenting it on perhaps reaching what the creators wanted it realized as. Why does everything have to be a game, anyways?
So the question I’ve asked myself lately is “how important is this fight for ‘what constitutes a game’?”. Well, according to Mark Ceb(@action_pts), writer for GatherYourParty.com it’s important enough to create one of the most well-written and researched videos on the subject matter in a long time. Sure, it echoes my thought process more perfectly than I believe I ever could have so I might be a bit biased but if everyone had an open mind and listened to some of his reasons in this video, maybe we could finally put this ridiculous argument to rest.
A Game by Any Other Name