No journey is "typical."

Most of the time, when people are trying to argue that gaming ought to be taken seriously, they try to argue that video games are "art."  Considering that there is  such a wide variety of video games out there, that's quite a difficult task.  Pretty much ALL games HAVE art and there are quite a few games that fall into that traditional "art house David Lynch what the heck is going on" stereotype of artistic media, but when it comes down to it, it is all contingent on what you actually consider to be art.

That's not what I'm going to talk about today, though.

What I want to talk about is the Story/Narrative in games.  Many people believe that the point of gaming is to challenge yourself- to have the hardest battles, to grind like you're in a Britney Spears music video and to basically one-up everyone else by making the game as difficult as slogging through back-to-back classes on advanced particle physics and trigonometry.

But what if there is another point to gaming?  Games are interactive, and there are different mechanics in each one.  But exactly HOW interactive does a game have to be?

Case in point.

While I do think that there are some games that are basically movies with a few point and click points (Dragon's Lair is an early example- a video game that played more like a choose-your-own-adventure with a roller ball and some buttons that were the difference between you winning and dying increasingly gruesome deaths); the big question is- if games can literally be ANYTHING interactive, then what is wrong with having games that have complicated stories or MOSTLY story with limited gameplay?

Just in case you think that interactive movie-games don't exist in our enlightened high-res times...

I know, I know, you think it sounds boring.  But tedious monotonous, repetitive battles to grind levels so you can progress in a story or having a ton of random battles between the start of a level and the boss are boring in a different way.  It's one thing if you enjoy strategy and enjoy being able to wear the badge of "I made it through," but if you're trying to get through the game while also remembering that, oh yeah, there is an overarching plot that you want to see progress, and you're tired of auto battles and pushing one or two alternating attack/defend buttons so you can slog on without getting a game over, it can be pretty difficult to want to keep going.  Sure, no one likes when the bad guy dies in one hit, but the wildly popular Mario and Zelda franchises feature characters who can vanquish enemies in a couple hits and bosses in maybe twice as many more hits than regular enemies at the very most, yet  these games are still considered engaging and challenging.    In the end, it's not the fact that you're blitzing through someone's health bar or whacking baddies with a pointed stick to gain EXP that actually makes the game fun- it's the experience of the game world itself.

Cut scenes: a gift or a curse?

Now a lot of games boast hours of gameplay, the more the better.  In an age where the average game costs about as the monthly utility bill, it makes sense that (DLC excluded), the average game has to give enough "shock and wow" factor to merit purchasing it.  Many games try to ratchet up the grittiness, visuals and cut scenes to give the gamer more "eye candy" to ogle at.  And as much as people like to bemoan the proliferation of cut scenes in Final Fantasy games and Kingdom Hearts games, there is a certain beauty in bringing the story to the forefront instead of merely hiding it behind a ton of grind-intensive random battles that artificially pad out the game.

Girl gamers of the future?  Anything is possible!

This brings me to last night.  Now, when I was a child, my father read many stories to me.  Even once I could read to myself (and I did that a lot), my father still read stories like "Treasure Island," "Tom Sawyer," and "The Hobbit" a chapter or two at a time, each night.  There was something comforting in the timbre of his voice, how he grappled the narrative and the voices of the characters that was so completely unlike my own experiences reading to myself.  

However, as an adult, while I do love to read to my children (we are doing a reading program through the library this summer, and it's been awesome!), I also like to play video games around my children as well.  I am more of a fan of non-Mature games, and due to my new PS3, I decided to start playing Ni No Kuni, the new Level 5/Studio Ghibli game that only came out a short time ago. My daughter is a big fan of other Ghibli movies (Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle, etc), so she enjoyed the story scenes and the colorful fanciful characters.  Both my 9 month old and the 4 year old sat rapt, watching me maneuver through the first part of the game to the first save point, and I must admit that I was also enraptured by the story- the loss of Oliver's beloved mom, his revival of Mr. Drippy, the journey to another world, etc.  

While I know that it doesn't sound very hard core of me, I decided to play on Casual/Easy mode to focus on the story.  Even Ni No Kuni described the easier mode as basically a way to enjoy the story more-so than the battle elements, but I'm still enjoying whacking bad guys with sticks.  I must admit that the story set-up so far is both rich and interesting, and I'm hoping that I can keep mindless grinding out of the way of enjoying this game world fully with my daughters.

Save Equestria- Read a book!

In final news, I finally watched the new "Equestria Girls" movie with my daughter.  While I didn't have many positive hopes for it (not really digging the humanized preppy look for the ponies), the characterization and story pulled through what could have been a vapid, stereotypical high school-glorifying direct-to-video animation.  All characters were true to form (including Twilight Sparkle being adorkable), and if anything, the movie neatly brings to light a lot of things that the season finale of the actual show left hanging (ie: so Twilight is a princess now, what the heck does that mean?).

Plus, is it just me, or did the high school seem to be designed based on the high school from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"?  Maybe that's just my geek-dar going off incorrectly, though.


Anyway, so what are your thoughts on cut scenes and interactive story-heavy games?  Do you think they are enjoyable and deserve to have a place in gaming? 

What about grind/hardness in games?  What is "good" difficulty versus tedium and repetition of the same battles over and over again just to get to the next part of the story?

And finally, your thoughts on Equestria Girls and other "humanification" of ponies?

As always, I hope you are doing well, and hope to hear from you soon!


Also- Greetings from the land of Tharsis in Etrian Odyssey 4! :D