[E.N.]: Alternative title: “Is this a video game or an interactive movie?”
Do you know what I hate in video games? The “Press X to do Y” portions of a player control that are built in that do nothing except advance the plot. During a cutscene which you have no control over, you have to once in a while press the “action” button to do something, and not pressing it will leave everyone awkwardly waiting for you to oblige. It is a pitiful attempt to induce immersion. While I try to enjoy any game I get my hands on, I have a taste for realism and immersion – it is more complicated topic than you think.
Since most games aren’t completely realistic, you have to have some suspension of disbelief. You have to give the benefit of the doubt to video games’ limitations in order to fully enjoy and immerse yourself in them. To enjoy the classic game like “Pac Man,” you have to believe that you are the little yellow figure that needs to collect all the pellets around the maze, while avoiding four ghosts whose goal is to exterminate you. Games become more enjoyable if they make you feel like you are in a different reality for a few hours.
Whether it’s playing Sam Fisher in stealth shootouts in the “Splinter Cell” series, or the hunter in “Monster Hunter,” I find myself completely focused on the game by integrating myself into those characters, despite some flaws in mechanics and controls. The fluidity of control is a crucial element of a smooth and immersive game. While I love “Assassin’s Creed,” my gameplay sessions are often ruined by frustration about disappointing controls. When Ezio or any other character I control does something other than what I intend, like jumping off a building or blatantly killing a guard under eyes of everyone in a stealth mission, it’s outrageous. This can partially be attributed to my lack of skill, but time and time again, I am thwarted by poor controls. The bottom line is, a glitchy or frustrating input scheme will not make a game enjoyable.
That brings me back to my lament in introduction. It recently became a trend in video games to require player input during cutscenes, even if it is a trivial one-button input that serves no other purpose than advancing the story. Why do I hate it? Because it sometimes it breaks flow in a scene and only gives players the illusion of control. The worst offender that came to my mind is “Call of Duty.” The fact that I can press the same button to repair a motor, operate a radio, patch wounds, condition equipment, and execute an enemy make me truly question the necessity of requiring that button input instead of just letting the scene play out. Many other games also display this symptom – while it is good to give players controls by allowing them to input in scenes, I feel like it is unrealistic for you to perform a myriad of different actions by pressing the same button. This phenomenon is parodied in a flash game called “Space Bar Adventure” that you all should look up.
That issue ties into quick time events, or the use of combinations of inputs during a cutscene in order for your character to perform a more complicated set of actions. Traditionally, the consequence of failing is usually death, sometimes even after just 1 failed input, but it can be more forgiving depending on difficulty of the QTE. The presence of a QTE can be both exciting and disappointing – good ones will add player control and immersion to the game while maintaining continuity, while bad ones can add “fake difficulty”, unnecessary gameplay, or even fun-breaking elements to a game. A good example is in Heavy Rain, a tear-inducing storytelling game in which players must evade perils in underhanded situations. Adapting QTE in situations like that enhanced the excitement and drama factors and drove me to try to further succeed.
Immersion is more than just how players get to control their characters in game, however. Like a good “Dungeons & Dragons” campaign, a game with immersion would feature colorful characters, a compelling plot, reasonable balancing and other potentially innovative and unique factors that make that game competitive. No matter what, I look forward not to mindless game mechanics, but rather the elements that make games awesome.