Basically we all play games to get something out of them. Whatever you get from games, the end product will always have an element of satisfaction. That is, if the game is good. The question is; what is that we find so satisfactory in games?
Games are about action, and in most cases about reaction. Electronic gaming is not a passive media for the better or worse. As such vast majority of the satisfaction we get is from sort of direct participation. We as players can either take direct control of the game avatar, or we can play god games where we control other entities. ActRaiser is an interesting game as it does both. What indirect and direct control games have in common is the element of becoming or being superior, and this is what gives perhaps most satisfaction of any elements in video games. Perhaps the most infamous example is the ability to shoot somebody. Granted, this is only a small portion of the whole deal, as before you can shoot that you first need to master the controls, and it’s also who or what you shoot and with what. Personally, I do not find modern FPS games exciting because of this, but I do enjoy a good run of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, as Wolf 3D as that extremely nice TUT TUT TUT sound with the machine gun as you gun down Nazi zombies, whereas in Doom you can just let it rip and tear through the armies of hell. I can’t do that nowadays. What happened to games?
The base satisfaction games give is based on the challenge, facing the challenge, and then beating the challenge. It’s a level of action/reaction, where the players is demanded to succeed better after every challenge until to the end of the game. This is mostly tied down to gameplay, and without good gameplay there will be no satisfaction. Early 3D action games, both in PlayStation and PlayStation 2, have horrible gameplay which basically prevent from succeeding simply because they don’t work well enough. 3D controls overall rather hard to make as they should be, and anything less than good controls will always make a good game a horrible one. There’s no satisfaction in getting frustrated over bad gameplay. This is the most notable element, as gameplay is unique to electronic gaming and no other media has it. It’s also the hardest element to control overall due to the young age of the industry, and the overall lack of interest in actually making it stand out the most.
It’s sad and funny that audio and visuals are one of the elements that was most abused in the 90’s in form of FMV games. Both of these give high amounts of satisfaction when used correctly in unison, preferably with the gameplay. For example, timing a rocket punch just right, hearing the deep impact against an enemy unit and seeing the sparks fly and the world shake a little bit feels just right; it satisfies the player to see it. RAD: Robot Alchemic Drive has few other good examples as well, like the simple scale done right, where the giant robots are actually gigantic and humans are like ants, and the giants can actually destroy pretty much every single building in the map. All of these combined with good sound design and actually working controls just makes everything tick the right tock. Nevertheless, most developers just opt using the aforementioned FMVs to tell what the game is about. This is incredibly lazy way to step out of the game development and direct a video. The PlayStation Final Fantasy games actually do fit on one CD, but the FMVs take so much space that they needed to divide the games between multiple discs.
Execution within games themselves does give satisfaction as well, but it’s not really tied down to gameplay or audio/visual side. Fighting games are not only about getting over the challenge, but also learning the proper execution overcome the challenges is its own task overall. This is where bad games step in; sometimes it’s satisfying to execute and overcome a perfect game despite the lacking game play and wrong design choices. Red Ninja stands out from my head at this moment, as the game has nice idea, but it’s held back by its bad camera, control and pretty much everything it has going on. Still, when you find a way to circumvent the bad elements, it’s surprising satisfying to see the enemies splitting in two with your wire. I have no idea why any one of you should ever give Red Ninja a second look or why I have it on my shelf, but it’s one of those lesser known infamous games its generation. Red Ninja doesn’t really demand execution as much it demands some good alcohol and stubborn player.
Of course, multiplayer games have their own element of competition and winning. Personally, I love to play multiplayer games with my friends just for fun and very rarely for competition, but there are equally those who play for the competition alone. Certain balance between co-op and competition has been found to be the best middle ground, as Super Mario has proved. However, if you get satisfaction from making people cry, then you’re just a cruel person who needs to find something better to do.
It can’t be ignored that all the aforementioned hold one common element that depends on the player; the psychological side. Why is that rocket punch so satisfying? Why does it make me feel awesome when I’m using the BFG to kill Baron’s of Hell? Games are fictional, and games that follow real world have their own part in this as well. I find satisfaction in giant robots fighting whereas my friend finds satisfaction in watching his troops advancing and overcoming the enemy army in a strategy game. There’s a fantasy element in games, where we want to act in a fantastic way. It may be an escapist route to some, and to some it’s a way to blow out some steam. The end product is still the same.
What prompted me to type down this entry is that lately I haven’t been able to play games that were giving me that something, that something that would grab me and hold me with it and wanting me to play it. 7 Swords was a disappointment of worse kind, Ar Tonelico has beautiful music and it’s far too Japanese and not in the good way, Red Ninja was just as horribad as I remembered but then I ended up playing RAD and something clicked. What I noticed that when the gameplay is just right, and visual and audio are complementing and completing illusion, the satisfaction is guaranteed. Break one of these, and it’s up to the player to decide whether or not he wishes to overcome what the developer decided to ignore.