I like to think in the world of games, that I'm pretty open to most experiences, and at the very least am interested in a lot of them. Even the games I do dislike aren't because of a failing I can pinpoint down to a whole genre, but more the particular execution of the given title. I thought for a while that I'd never enjoy a top-down shooter, and even though most still disappoint, Hotline Miami decided to exist…upending a lot of the conventions I didn't enjoy. I've never been that big on survival horror games because of their clunky controls as an excuse to generate tension, but Dead Space stepped up to the plate, pitching me necromorphs to bat away with glorious dismemberment. Puzzle games were the same way, yet from Portal to Contrast, designers have changed my mind through inventive mechanics, and even more inventive levels that apply them.
Adventure games though…have NEVER grabbed me. Specifically, "playing" them have never been an enjoyable experience, because out of any traditional genre, they put the very least amount of effort on interactivity. The basis always being the focus was on the narrative above all else instead. A problem for somebody like me, because the basis for me going to games in the first place, is to have some form of meaningful interaction.
That's not to say I don't like story, need all games to have me shooting guns, or must require tons of mechanical complexity. Far from it: Papers, Please told a provoking tale through the eyes of an immigration officer, Antichamber enthralled me solving mind-bending puzzles in non-Euclidean world with its own consistent logic , and Chime only had me forming basic squares from grid pieces.
What isn't meaningful to me however, are those adventure game logic-grade, drag x collectible on y place, puzzles:
Clearly the Doc is as annoyed and confused as me.
Not only is the logic to solve them often convoluted, but even the reason in the narrative for them to exist, frequently makes as much sense as
Another fairly common aspect of adventure games are dialog trees, or a watered down version of what you get in many RPGs:
Do any of these choices really effect anything but some tiny bit of dialog after?…nope.
Choice in games could be called an illusion, god knows enough not so smart individuals think that ends the argument, but I always follow it up with, "Yeah, most stuff in a game is, so what?" A set in a film is also just an illusion supposed to mask as a real place, and the weak ones do stand out badly, while the better ones truly make us suspend our disbelief. In games like Planescape Torment or Fallout, I felt the weight of my choices ripple throughout those worlds, and indeed make me bear witness to a new tale that acknowledged my participation in it. I may admit the writing in the Walking Dead is well done, but no choices I made in that first season did I feel had as tangible effect, as the decision I made at the end of the first act of the Witcher 2.
The new hotness we've seen from more modern adventure games, make use of a trope reinvigorated by cinematic action titles, and that's the context-sensitive action or QTE:
Mmm…making complex stuff as easy as simon says since 1983.
It's an old joke, but if you change the color and letter of the above prompts, all your controller is being treated like, is this:
I'm sorry…this just isn't what I want a game to be, and they deserve better than this. Yeah, a controller only has a finite amount of buttons, triggers and sticks to simulate a lot of different actions, but I'd like to think we could do something less directed and in your face. I've seen people be reductionist about this concept, calling all games a series of buttons we press at prompted times to keep going. If you play Bayonetta however, there is a clear difference between the sections of the core gameplay and the QTEs. The combat allows multiple sets of button combos for the player to deal with enemies, involves 1:1 control throughout the sections, movement is a serious consideration, and importantly the player acts of their own volition to solve the problem. The QTEs…well they ask the player to match pictures in a sequence. At its core level, context-sensitive actions are a shallow method of play, created for the benefit of the game designer wanting to show you something over caring that you're actually doing something.
I don't mind them to say open a door, loot a chest, or what not, because those are secondary actions to get to the primary source of fun or reward. In games focusing on story, heavily relying on context-sensitive actions I think not only muddies the pacing of the narrative, but the fact that it's merely a single shallow system trying to match itself to different events…means repetition sets in faster.
Now where does that leave art games? Well In the last few years with the rise of the wonderful indie scene, I've seen a number of them arrive, often guised in other terms like walking simulators, art installations, explorations games, or the cavalier term "non-games". I'm not going to agree with the last term, but the purpose I can understand. In many of these experiences from Dear Ester to Proteus, the focus seems intent on showing the audience something, with the only real care that you walk around to find more of it. While I can respect the aesthetics these games build, I don't really feel they have much to say, yet say they want me to feel…something. Environmental storytelling I get as a means to convey the "picture is worth a thousand words" philosophy, all the way back to the old Looking Glass games, but in those experiences the environment was directly tied in with multiple interlocking simulation systems.
For me, the same question comes up with both of these genres, "I don't care if these are games, but why even want them to be considered games, where the game part is the least interesting, if not in cases a detrimental aspect to your story?"
The only major thing that makes this medium different is that it's interactive, and both these genres don't seem to care much about that. Most adventure games segregate that interaction from the story, or present such little effect to it; while art games dilute it down so much that it seems the digital equivalent of letting your audience walk around the painting, gazing but never really touching.
I just question if I'll ever want either of these experiences. However, I am curious to those patient enough to read this far: do you like interacting in adventure or art games, and if so why?