Monday, January 17, 2011

Non-Combat Gameplay

First things first:  If you think video games can be more than just mindless entertainment, and actually enjoy considering their potential and meaning, then you should be watching Extra Credits over at The Escapist.

That said, their most recent video was about non-combat gameplay.  In short:  A great majority of video games are mostly played through combat, and while this is both entertaining and a cheap way of introducing tension and drama, it neglects the many other aspects of life that video games could entertainingly portray in order to tell a good story.

Why is this so?  I imagine it's the same reason sex, by which I mean scantily clad females, is so ubiquitous in video games.  A great deal of both the creators and the players are male; while this has balanced somewhat in the last decade or so, men seem to be the dominant force in the industry.  And let's face it:  Men like violence.  I don't mean this in any sort of denigrating way, it's just the sort of fantasy which we enjoy.  Let's save psychology and philosophizing about why that is for another time.

Could you make a game that is entertaining which doesn't involve combat?  I've no doubt.  But I think the thing that will ultimately make that sort of game successful is a good story, not good mechanics.

The problem is that unless you have programming good enough to respond to a wide variety of player inputs, these sorts of games will probably be a long series of if/then statements.  If player does X, computer responds with Y.  Which is fine, and I'm sure it can be more complicated than that, but it will eventually boil down to predictable management of minutiae, which is going to be problematic for this sort of gameplay.

The entire idea is that you're offering a different way of overcoming obstacles in these games.  Not combat, basically.  If you don't replace the elements that make combat a cheap dramatic resource (tension, risk, the unknown possibilities), then the gameplay becomes formulaic.

Which is not the kiss of death for game, as I said; it's just that the impetus is then on making a good story.  I loved the Phoenix Wright games, and I think they're an excellent example of this sort of thing.  But I'm skeptical we'll ever see a game that fully replaces combat with philosophical debate, pushing the cloak and sheathing the dagger.

No comments: