Video and computer games are almost the only form of escapist entertainment that puts a wall up and challenges you to do better. Movies, music, books and so on are passive entertainment in comparison, you’re just there listening or watching them. A movie doesn’t stop to tell you to do a task in order to continue the movie. A book doesn’t close itself and tell you to do a math problem in order to keep turning the page. Music doesn’t stop and tell you to solve a puzzle do keep it playing.
But a video game right up tells you to kick a boss’ ass in order you to continue.
This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when most mainstream and the most popular games had no end and the challenge came from advancing to the highest possible level while scoring. When people are talking about game length, they should try to play those fixed versions of Pac-man with infinite amount of levels. Should keep them busy.
Of course, this is all about game design. With games having a definitive start and beginning since, well, since the first computer role playing games, they have obstacles for the player overcome. Not to continue with the story, but to continue with the play.
Movies are a continuation of theatre culture. The only thing that really changed between the two is that now you have a camera to work with, and that little thing opened a whole new can of worms. That one thing changed how acting needed to be done, how sets were made and almost everything else. Similarly, as video games are continuation of children’s play culture (the same could be said of sports and other similar things) and kids like to play up to challenges, especially boys’ play culture.
It’s not any sort of surprise that video and computer games challenge us as people like to be challenged like that. We play against the dragon that threatens the safety and defeat it with valour and friendship and stuff, and that exact same thing is still carried over to electronic games. Monster Hunter is essentially the classic dragon slaying play with friends, just often lacking the whole castle and princess thing. That’s why we have Dragon’s Lair.
Laserdisc games are all the same with QTS, but goddamn they look pretty
The thing kids rarely do in their play is that they lose willingly. There is always some sort of victory or a well done task. All of it is very simple but rather creative, like knights defeating space pirates with the help of Lego men from the future. I’m pretty sure there was a dimensional robot dragon in there somewhere in that play. It wasn’t the Hunt for Red October in storytelling terms, just something the kids played for fun.
That it is exactly something that games seem to have moved away from. Games are for all ages, as all aged people still play. The plays may have changed in form and shape, but they always come back to the same basics. Games have become far more massive, far more demanding and incredibly more complex than necessary. Developing a Triple A game takes a half a decade now, and yet the game ends up being pretty much exactly the like the previous titles or its contemporaries. It’s still says a lot how 2D Mario makes more splash than its more complex 3D brethren.
An example of lack of challenge can be made between most Platinum games, like the recent Transformers Devastation and Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2. Both games are action games, but only one of these requires you to actually play along. You can play CLoS2 through without ever really grasping the finer aspects of the game to any extent. It’s cruising through the game without any worries. The first boss comes after a building high climbing and occasional fight sequences, until you’re to fight a boss that’s not really all that interesting. The game holds your hand on how to avoid everything. TF Devastation on the other drops a building high boss after small intro to controls and tells you to get good or forget about it. It doesn’t hold your hand after that and expects you to get along the ride. It’s simple and it poses a challenge. Just like kids playing with each other, TF Devastation throws you a challenge to beat it one better and to come up with something to overcome what it’s dishing out. CLoS2 is a like a lazy rich kid that tells what he wants to do, but ultimately you end up doing whatever hell you want.
One more thing that needs to be mentioned is that everyone has their own game they want to play. Now all kids want to play that simply because it may be lousy, uninteresting or anything else that people are just not into. The same applies with electronic games, which is a problem within the industry. Games have become a common commodity with little to no value, especially after companies started pushing out free games. You don’t only have insane amounts of games produced, but you also have far too many people working on games. The same problem is with the design industry.
The tipping point will come, where there will be too many games on the market and far too few people paying for them. After that we’ll most likely see more of the simpler games that don’t try to push the developers’ own unique vision on things.