Game design video series Extra Credits released a video on de-gamification, their term for the removal of more traditionally “game-y” elements like score, time limits, achievements, or challenges from a video game, earlier today. They discuss its use both as a tool to improve games during development and as a feature for players to enjoy the game world in an unrestricted manner. It’s an interesting watch, and something worth talking about and reflecting on.
When it comes to video games, referring to them as “video games” is, technically speaking, often a misnomer, because they are not always “games” in the traditional sense—not always focused on a form of competition or challenge, whether that be player vs. player, player vs. a time limit, player. vs. a score target, player vs. the game world itself, or otherwise. Rather, the aims of video games sometimes tend to emphasize other values.
It’s especially present these days in the massive resurgence of art games and more narrative-focused games over the last decade, through placing the most emphasis on telling stories or sharing some kind of aesthetic experience over skill-based goals. However, it’s also present in more “conventional” games that, in Extra Credits’ words, act more like toys or sandboxes.
Personally, I often prefer being presented a challenge, whether that be tackling game worlds on my own like any number of Super Mario Bros. games or Bloodborne, or pitting myself against others like in Overwatch or Splatoon. However, there are also several games whose main appeal to me has nothing to do with being triumphant over some adversary.
Now, most of the time, my preferences for games swing hard towards robust mechanics and systems as opposed to narrative or enjoying the scenery. That isn’t to say I never appreciate them. Most memorably, once while playing Grand Theft Auto V, I practically spent an entire half hour just walking around Los Santos during sunset and taking pictures because that moment in time was so captivating and serene for some reason.
However, toys and sandboxes have always been more my style. It has been that way since first messing around with computer programs for Conway’s Game of Life. It was the driving force behind playing Roller Coaster Tycoon games, where the main appeal to me was trying to see how crazy and awesome I could
destroy build all these different roller coasters, rather than attempting to run a theme park. I approached the Command & Conquer series—especially Red Alert 2—this way, too, mostly going to Skirmish mode, turning the AI difficulty all the way down, and just building ridiculous armies full of crazy technology and enjoying the destruction they’d leave in their wake.
Paradoxically, fighting games, despite being so fundamentally competition-focused, are perhaps the most prominent examples of this where I am concerned, for one simple reason: Training Mode. As early as Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Capcom vs. SNK 2, if they gave me a training mode, it was going to be the place where I spent most of my time, and not for the sake of “training.” Sometimes, I would just want to beat up some virtual guy/gal/robot or try out some sick combos without them hitting back. That’s been my biggest source of fun in Injustice: Gods Among Us most recently, because that juggle-heavy system makes combos so satisfying to experiment with, especially without the burden of an opponent who is trying to take you out.
This is where I hand the floor over to you. What games do you play for reasons outside of taking on goals or challenges? How do you like games to be de-gamified, if at all?