The lights are on
We usually have a good idea of what we're supposed to do
when we play games. Shoot the bad guys. Score more points than your opponent.
Craft and quest. And yet, why do we feel lost?
It's a very common occurrence in this office – and I'm sure
you've had a similar experience with your friends – where someone comes in
with important questions for others who've already played a game. How do you
perform this attack? Which weapon is the best to use? Which skill tree should I
avoid? As gamers, we're obsessed with doing things "right" – whether that's to get
a correct ending, see the full game, get achievements/completely fulfill an
objective, or simply not to waste our time. Even if you've played a lot of games, it's easy to feel like you're doing
things the wrong way.
For instance, a lot of people I talked to who played
BioShock Infinite weren't sure which weapons they should keep or discard. Given
that you can only carry two, ammo for your specific weapons isn't always
around, and that you never know which kinds of enemies you are going to face, I
felt uneasy early in the game until I talked to the other editors who assured
me that it didn't really matter.
But how was I to know? Obviously I would have eventually
found out, but it could have saved me a lot of unnecessary hand-wringing and I
wouldn't have altered my playstyle at the time if the whole system was designed
better. I guess I still have memories of getting burned in older games where I
ran out of money or spent skill points on a useless branch of a skill tree.
Sadly, these kinds of guessing games persist to this day. Poorly explained objectives and gameplay systems – as well as unbalanced
components like how a game doles out health, ammo, or money – befuddle players
and leave them guessing. This goes beyond a particularly hard puzzle or
inexplicable bugs in a game. It's strange that as evolved as our medium has
become and how much time and money is often put into integrating all the
elements of a game, it's natural for even experienced gamers to be left in the
Thankfully, there are always fellow gamers out there willing
to help; who are empathetic to your struggles and happy to point the way.
Despite unfortunate circumstances and the fact that you'd think even triple-A titles
would be constructed better, I guess it's just another objective/mission/puzzle
to conquer in games that are already full of them. As always, we're up for the
Email the author Matthew Kato, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
I tend to agree that this circumstance persists in games. However, I find that sometimes (although still rare) that it is actually the creative team and their implementation of good design that causes me to question my gained assumptions about how a game should be. I hope that the commonplace event of players feeling lost in the ways you described becomes less predominate, and is replaced instead by the types of good design implementation I stated earlier.
My favorites are the prompts for actions or objectives that are tiny, of a color that is easily lost in the background of the scenary, and are only on screen for a second before disappearing altogether. Oh, if you go to the start menu it's easier to read, but the description is so vague that it could mean just about anything from kill the next enemy to buy him a hat and gloves. Then there's that NPC accompanying you or the voice on your radio telling you we need to hurry, but offering absolutely zero information as to where or why.
praise thee internet for always being there when i need it!
Eh, that's why there are YouTube videos and GIO!
I totally agree with this. If you're going to offer a lot of choice in your game, you have to make it such that no one choice is "worse" than any other without a clear indication beforehand that it will be, or a way to fix your mistake on the fly w/o having to reload a previous save.
In some ways I like this because it lets me know that the developers don't have to hold my hand while I play it; I make the decision...that being said, I still feel that way in many instances like the recent Tomb Raider.
The first time I played an elder scrolls (Morrowind) I felt like that. It was the first time in my whole life, where I wasn't solely focused on the main quest of a game. Needless to say, it didn't take me long to realize that I was doing it alright.
"Poorly explained objectives and gameplay systems – as well as unbalanced components like how a game doles out health, ammo, or money – befuddle players and leave them guessing."
I don't think that keeping gamers guessing is a bad thing. I'd hate it if a game told me "use weapon x to defeat these bad guys" once I enter a room. I'd rather find out myself.
Also, I don't know if you're using the correct terminology when you say "Am I playing this right?" Most gamers either play a game different ways to see if it gets easier, or if their immersion becomes increased. And those aspects can't be shown to the gamer immediately.
interesting thoughts. i, too, struggle with this at times. most obviously for me was telltale's walking dead. after i would complete each chapter, and eventually turn off the system, i would be thinking that even though i used the best of my intentions and judgement, it still felt like i did everything wrong. of course seeing the stats of how your choices fit in with those of other players made me wonder as well. sometimes it would 'validate' a choice i made in the game, and other times, it made me think...wait, did i do that all wrong?
i like that games can make us think strategically, and thoughtfully. i like that we can question right and wrong, albeit about health or skill trees and the like. it's a fascinating business, to be sure.
Hmm... I felt that exact same way when I played Dragon Quest 9 for DS.