The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 12
"Press X To Not Die", also known as "Press X To Jason", is a meme based on the PS3 game Heavy Rain. The idea behind it is to poke fun at the game's shortcomings and Quick Time Events (QTEs) in general. The meme itself may be directed at QTEs, but I personally think it highlights another area of concern: the out of control use of what I call Passive Contextual Button Prompts - we'll call them PC Button Prompts from now on. They are everywhere. They are annoying. They are unnecessary. And the philosophy behind them does have an impact on the games that include them.
Now I know what you must be thinking: "What's the difference between a PC Button Prompt and a QTE?" The answer is actually pretty simple. Those PC Button Prompts encompass every instance of a button appearing on screen during gameplay that isn't timing based. They're also often confused with Quick Time Events since QTEs have become synonymous with on screen prompts in spite of the all important time element being largely absent in most cases. When a game flashes a button over a door or an enemy's head and requires no further input from the player, that's a PC Button Prompt. It may be difficult to discern between QTEs and PC Button Prompts when they are on the screen, but the intentions behind the inclusion of each in a title are often exactly opposite.
In most cases true QTEs are used during a cinematic sequence and involve multiple button presses. They fill space that you would normally spend watching something happen. When done correctly they aren't obtrusive, they don't replace actions that could be performed by gameplay, and they keep action sequences flowing by allowing players to remain active. Their purpose is to keep players engrossed in a game, even during downtime. PC Button Prompts, on the other hand, are almost always present in the most idiotic places, are rarely useful and almost always in the way. In most cases they prolong a simple process, such as opening a door or stepping down off a ledge. I am no developer, so I can not say this for certain, but prevailing wisdom within the industry appears to be that gamers are incapable of remembering what buttons in a game do or when to press them... hence the inclusion of the PC Button Prompt. That's the bit that get's to me.
I have no trouble with developers making their games more accessible to any audience. If the button prompts I find unnecessary help the more casual players along then so be it. I want to have the option to turn them off though and I don't think they should be on by default for every difficulty. If I've selected the easiest difficulty available then by all means assume I don't know what to do to start with, but don't just take it for granted that I'm incapable of learning and leave them on for the rest of the game. It's borderline insulting, even to the casual crowd that it is meant to help. Why should I have to hit a button to drop off a ledge in Reckoning or Homefront and why do I need a big button floating over the heads of stunned enemies in Darksiders? I'm a big boy, I can remember that the B button interacts with objects and I can finish a combo on my own. What's worse is that those prompts are big, glimmering, spinning reminders that I'm playing a game. Personally, I find that nothing ruins my suspension of disbelief quite like a game advertising just how mechanical and artificial it really is at every opportunity.
I have a brain. I can learn and the opportunity to learn and overcome a challenge is part of what makes games fun. Even having to recall what button does what is a mental exercise that helps keep me engaged in a world. Games should be accessible and easy to jump into, but that shouldn't negatively impact enjoyment of its mechanics. I got bored of Darksiders' combat because I knew exactly how I would be taking out each enemy type the second I engaged in a fight. Any sense of variation or accomplishment withered and died as I pressed B and watched every fight end the same way. The unnecessary button prompt took any thought out of fighting, devolving the game's combat back into mindless hacking an slashing the way to another one shot kill.
A while back I would have been the person rolling their eyes at this subject; writing off the speaker as just another gamer complaining about how there is no challenge left in gaming. Whining about the distinction between core and casual. I might still do that if they're targeting QTEs specifically, but my ideals have actually changed over time. I think this circumvention of thought in even the most trivial tasks is ultimately what's hurting the end product, not the QTEs that most everyone else chooses to malign. There are so many games which I would have liked considerably more if they hadn't decided to take my hand and lead me around every corner. I understand that some people may simply want to sit back and watch a story unfold. That's fine, I've been there, but don't forsake the other side of the coin in the process. The two aren't mutually exclusive and it's frustrating to sit here and watch developers erect an artificial barrier in between them.