Know Your Place

Ben looks at whether games are involving players in the wrong way.

Developers sign an invisible End User License Agreement (EULA) with the player every time they double-click .exe files or close a disc tray. This goes beyond the obvious “do not pirate or reproduce this product unlawfully”. It begins a relationship with the user based on trust and the developer’s creative intent. Moving past those games that either don’t adhere to this philosophical agreement, or those that approach it with ill intent, there are titles that evoke deep emotional responses.

Everything is possible; from gleeful abandon of the real world, to devastating sadness and shock. The way this articulates itself within a game, especially from a modern context is heavily similar to the way films capture people’s attention, producing meaning and a need for equal, thorough analysis and enjoyment.

A popular gameplay mechanic of the last few years, certainly of the last console generation, less so with the PC market, has been the implementation of Quick Time Events, or QTEs.

While in moderation this mechanic can be used to great effect, it can sometimes damage the link between the creativity poured into the game and the abilities of the player. From here linearity is often formed.

Despite critical shunning of the practice, as well as feedback from many players, there has been a widespread implementation of the mechanic in some of the biggest AAA titles of the past few years. Industry behemoth shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield in particular have adopted linearity and the aforementioned QTE mechanic into their games.

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The important connection to make here is that in taking away player agency through the use of QTEs or any other manner of linear progression, developers are beginning to mistrust the player. They are effectively rewriting the EULA, perhaps with intended exclusivity for their intellectual property or company, but in the end causing the industry to change regardless.

Developers make these design decisions in the hope of creating immersion for the player. A sort of action film copycatting. Every aspect has to be pre-orchestrated, producing other gameplay elements like action set pieces. Once again player control is taken away in the hope remaking that classic Terminator or Die Hard moment within the player’s experience.

The most egregious example of betraying the trust between the player and the developer in recent history came with the 2012 release of Mass Effect 3.

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The controversy that inflamed many of the series’ hard-core fans was the ending. The ambiguity of the three endings supposedly rendered all past decisions inert, causing outrage across the wavy seas of the internet. The response it received was not uncommon, but what came next was indicative of the industry role reversing itself into oblivion.

The decision to change the endings was wrong, not only for the sake of the efforts and long hours contributed by everyone at Bioware, but for players that felt betrayed by something they loved. The quality of the free DLC that came as an answer to the angry masses is negligible compared to the blatant disrespect piled onto the developers and their original creative vision.

It set a frightening precedent that surfaced again at the pre-E3 Xbox One reveal event in mid-2013. Whether the rampant backpedaling of Microsoft was the right or wrong thing to do considering the disgruntled feelings of potential customers – it’s interesting to look at it as a possible harbinger of frightful events yet to come.

Film and television are static. Games should aspire to be more; trying to copy a form of entertainment that doesn’t play by the same set of rules won’t promote growth and credibility, neither will disregarding the prerogative of developers. There is a reason for maintaining the integrity of the developer/consumer relationship; it allows the possibility for genius and creativity to flourish, unabated by the confines of an interfering audience. Once this is achieved – then you can rip it all apart with offensive forum posts, or badly worded emails. Go wild!

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