There is little to debate when talking about what is a game and what isn’t. Games need a controller and in all cases player interaction. There is a greater debate now on how to make games better. Recently the idea of eliminating gameplay as much as possible would make a better game was proposed by ex-People Can Fly employee Adrian Chmielarz. Jeffrey Yohalem, writer for FarCry 3, would debate just the opposite.
Yohalem makes the case that gamers aren’t being given enoughcontrol over what is happening on-screen. Stating that we have to, “treat players like performers.” One of his greatest concerns when writing FarCry 3 for Yohalem, was making sure the protagonist Joson Brody wasn’t another first-person shooter Rambo. Instead, he experimented with giving players the ability to read between the lines. He makes the example of a man fixing a woman’s car, but what happens when you read that his intention is to have sex with the woman? The dynamics almost completely change and you are able to become more invested in the man and the woman’s relationship.
Simply giving players the option to say a certain phrase, is not giving the player the ability to perform. Yohalem goes on to say that simply putting a dialogue choice on-screen doesn’t give enough control to players. Your character may say what you want, but the tone of how they say it can be completely different from what the player may have intended. He praises Team Bondi’s game L.A. Noire to best explain what he means by “reading in between the lines.” With L.A. Noire, you have to look at the at the emotions or facial queues that characters are making underneath the dialogue.
While he wasn’t directly offering a counter-point to Chmielarz comments, he makes a much more “pro-gameplay” case. I had originally neglected to mention the counter-example to Chmielarz that Indie games had broken his theory. The most memorable moments in Super Meat Boy aren’t the cutscenes or “things you don’t have control over,” the most memorable parts are the ones you have complete control over.
Jefferey Yohalem goes on to also bring up the 2K’s BioShock, also an example made in Chmielzar’s blog post. Stating that there was a completely missed opportunity to give control to the player when killing Andrew Ryan after the “Would you kindly?” reveal. Stating that because he had absolutely no influence on the cutscene, he felt almost insulted that it was taken out of the player’s hands.
What do players want when they game? An experience, an escape, or enjoyment? I would argue that all 3 need a heathy amount of gameplay and simply replacing gameplay with cutscenes comes off as “lazy,” or just “uninspired.” To what limit do we have control over what is happening? Chmielarz never really clearly defines this, and so it is open to the extreme of “nothing is yours to control” outside of character movement.
Gamers play a role, and it is the developer’s responsibility to let gamer’s do so. The ways I approach my target in Dishonored is mine and mine alone. And turning the player into a “method actor,” best achieves this feeling. Others may follow a similar script, but I am the actor in this play. Yohalem understands this, and wants people to be more than just killing machines, he wants them to affect the world around them and truly be someone who they have ownership of. Despite FarCry 3 being a game that focuses on violence, this thinking is the right step to evolve gaming into “more than just violence,” as Patrick Redding, Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s director, would have it. Ubisoft is hiring some really awesome people recently, and with this way of thinking, I wouldn’t be surprised if they became the pioneers of the next generation of games transcending the need of violence giving purpose to video games.