Enjoyable Streams of Decisions

Enjoyable Streams of Decisions

Games generate problems we happily solve over and over.

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And yet, people focus more on spectacle than the actual decision-making itself; the gameplay. Hard to imagine why the most potent and important aspect of a groundbreaking and unique medium for communicating experiences is disregarded almost completely by many developers.

Probably 'cause they need to use trailers and screenshots to sell a game. Mrr.

An interesting and very true article. It's not so much that games should forget the story part of the experience, but moreso that they should never forget that they are games. In some ways certainly it's a good thing to aspire to emulate what other forms of entertainment media do well but never at the complete expense of what videogames do best.

Good article.
The problem solving is exactly why I'm so fascinated by League of Legends atm.

So very true. And that's exactly why i can never successfully quit Halo. I always take leaves of absence from Halo, some even last as long as half a year. And I still keep coming back. It took me a while to figure out that the reason i keep coming back to Halo and not sticking with COD or BF:BC is precisely because of everything you said in this article.

Regardless of all the hate Halo gets, its ridiculous to think that a game would even come close to the popularity that Halo has if it didn't merit it in some way. That way is most definitely Halo's ability to keep the same 5 minutes of fun, fun every single time you repeat it.

Hence why games can never be art. Its not so much that what people expect, but what something has to be in order to be a game. Problem -> Solution. You can add all sorts of frills around that basic formula, but they're still just extraneous bits glued on to a very simple formula. Worse, since without a valid solution, problems cease to be problems. Thus every solution must be preordained in some fashion. Running you down strictly defined rails from start to finish. While games of this sort may imitate film to some extent, they're doing nothing with the primary focus of the format, interactivity.

Giving people the illusion they're contributing is nothing more than the "clap to bring tinkerbell back to life," in plays of peter pan, as the story is written in only one way.

Some japanese games are actually closer to what games should be. Small, seemingly insignificant events leading to vastly different outcomes. The problem is theres no logic behind such occurrences and they're usually hard coded. (looking at you, dead rising)

I understand the need to make this relatable to something intensely (and perplexingly) popular, but did you have to jerk halo off quite so hard? Its not a valid example, as due to the extreme lack of complexity on it's part, there wasn't much at all to the decision making. You had one or two guns and some enemies up ahead, you didn't have any real choice of how to proceed. You always had enough health to survive and time to grab one of their weapons if need be. Pre-halo gamers felt that game was an abomination because it aggressively removed most of the decision making process from first person shooters, all so it could fit in the xbox's control scheme.

Nice article. I love games with good stories, but they are still games, and should be fun to play. If its not fun to play, why should I bother?

While the cinematics and story of Modern Warfare, Battlefield 2 or Resistance 2 remind me strongly of many good films and books...

Battlefield 2 had cinematics and story? When did this happen?

I have to admit thats always been one of my biggest pull with some games, is the idea of solvin a puzzle, an idea, and then pulling it through to fruition!

I completely disagree, mostly on this: "Games are problem generators. They create streams of challenges that we love to solve - over and over and over. It is this, rather than narrative or emotional engagement that defines a good game - the other stuff can be left to films and books; they do it pretty well."

Whilst I do not disagree that problem-solving can often be the most attractive part of some games, there are plenty of games where the greatest reward is simply advancing through the story. To disregard that with such a statement is a little insulting to the developers who work so hard to push narrative.

Trying to say that narrative can be left films and books ignores the fact that game narratives are very different: whilst films and books require no input (other than watching/reading), game narratives actively need the player to progress them.

It's because of that that the advancement of story can be just as rewarding as the completion of a puzzle within a game. The latter often leads to the former anyway.

Nice article though.

While I agree that problem solving is [b]a part of[b] the enjoyment in playing games (I can't believe you'd put it about such a crucial thing as the story), I'm surprised at the games that were mentioned. Sure, there's Tetris, there's Civilization, but where are games like The 7th Guest, Myst, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, the King's Quest series, the Zork's... There were so many great games of the late 80s and especially the 90s, which combines powerful storytelling and various problems and puzzles, and you go and take Halo as an example? I'm not saying that Halo isn't deserving, I'm just saying that there were a lot of adventure games which preceded it which fit the bill a lot better. And they also had "narrative or emotional engagement".

I can understand why this is how you experience games (as can everyone who has ever played Tetris and/or Halo, but I still think it is only one part of what games can be. Yes, films and books can also provide emotional engagement and a good story, but that doesn't mean games can't have that effect too. Plus, I think you underestimate the influence of actually being part of a world, of a story. A good book will make you feel like the hero of the story does, but it still is an integral different experience than controlling that hero. Therefore, it is way too easy to frown upon story-based games because 'it has already been done in a different medium'.

By the way, the experience that games like Halo and Tetris give you..not that there is anything wrong with that (hell, it can be a load of fun), but it is exactly the same thing as what I experience when I'm playing a game of tennis. Or when I'm solving a hard Sudoku puzzle. Does that mean that games like Tetris are redundant? Of course not. But it does give you something to think about.

An interesting perspective, and while I do believe that the decision making is a core part of gameplay, I still believe that narrative is crucial to games. Without a good story (even the kind a player can provide for themselves, such as how you think your nation's people think in Civilization) is critical to having a fully engaging game.

It's strange, when you look at it, our hobby - something that should make you relax - actually consists of finding new problems to solve. Seems like a paradox, isn't is?
Very nice article, as always.

Paradox Interactive would like a word with you on the true meaning of "enjoyable streams of decisions". Play an older PI game (2D, Europa Engine) and you'll see that the entire point of those games is to align a stream of events random and historical into a final outcome, but those very random events and unpredictable (for the right reasons, even!) AI mean that even though by all accounts it should be an on-rails history lesson, your decisions ensure it's never the same game twice (1000x more so if you're attempting something like a Paradox 900.)

Narrative can't hold a candle to open-ended for the series-of-decisions gaming paradigm.

Very true article. Games do this, but I suppose what separated good games and bad games, or at least games you can replay and those you can't, are those that are able to convince the player that these "same" scenarios are actually quite different. When it no longer is able to do that, then the player stops playing the game.

Probably why I don't play WoW anymore.

So very true.

I have to leave at least an hour between gaming and sleep so that I don't end up reliving the game for the entire night instead of sleeping.

Used to happen with my physics study as well D:

Hmm, I dunno. While I enjoy a finely constructed puzzle, I do play games for the narrative as well. I think games like Ocarina of Time truly capture the essence of narrative and puzzle solving.

For all the analytical pretense, the entire argument is based on a serious lack of logic. You're a human being. You can't divorce your emotions from yourself, your actions, your decisions, your gameplay, or your memories of any of these. No matter how much you say you can do that the result is the same: you then claim to want games that give you such an emotional experience.

In other words, you're actually describing your favoritism of emotional engagement, even though you try to claim you do not like that in games. Here are your words:
"LOVE to solve"
"don't become DRY or BORING"
"fueled by the DESIRE to create order out of disorder"
"game as a whole is ENJOYABLE"
"a stream of INTRUIGING, PERPLEXING and finely-balanced encounters"

The above capitalized words are descriptors of your emotional engagement during gameplay... If you try to say you "enjoy" logic puzzles, whether or not you admit it an emotional engagement is a part of your experience with logic puzzles.

Games are played for an emotional experience. It's called fun. (Are you trying to say you don't play games to experience fun? That's just silly.) It's not possible to play a game without an emotional experience because it is impossible to experience life as a human being without emotional engagement. Outside of maybe Eastern religious meditation, anything close to accomplishing such emotional detachment is actually a psychological disorder.

See if you can come up with a description of why you LIKE this or that game without somehow using your emotions (intentionally, or in your case unintentionally) to state your preference. No matter how you state it, your LIKING of that logical problem solving is an emotional engagement with that logical problem solving.

Sorry, you fail. Try once again with more feeling. Or try it again with less feeling, as the case may be.

And take some time to learn about drama and narrative experience before opposing it with such grand statements. You're also experiencing (and enjoying) dramatic/narrative involvement even though you're not aware it. Once again, in your own words:
"I'm not fussed about a dramatic story or drama - that's can be left to their live action shorts. I want Reach to deliver one more time on that simple encounter where HUNTED and HUNTER both VIE for SUPREMACY in the a FEW SECONDS OF BATTLE."

In the above quote you claim not to want story or drama and then promptly describe a dramatic scenario with antagonist, protagonist, conflict, goal and time/setting. They are capitalized in the quote.

I was LMAO when I read that line because you proved in one sentence why experiencing story is so central to even Halo. It's so important that you can't wait for more of it. Thanks for making my argument for me. :)

You're clearly not opposed to experiencing drama in your gameplay. I think you're opposed to watching/reading/listening to narration and spoken dialogue in cinematic cut-scenes that interrupt gameplay. There's a big difference. Please, articulate more specifically what you like/dislike rather than using broad, vague, general terms like "story" as the bad boogeyman that gets in the way of the dramatic gameplay you enjoy so much with your emotions.

Overall, I'm curious. Do you intend to boycott Alan Wake out of stubbornness? Have you read the reviews?

As a massive fan of Sid Meier's Civ series AND of the great narrative-based games produced by Bioware, I cannot completely agree with the statement that:

"Games are problem generators. They create streams of challenges that we love to solve - over and over and over. It is this, rather than narrative or emotional engagement that defines a good game - the other stuff can be left to films and books."

It is true that many games are defined by the continuous stream of choices and challenges that a player must undergo. For the sake of not repeating your article, I'll simply say that he success of the Civ series proves this to be true.

But to say that narrative has a 'lesser' place in game design is absurd. Games provide a great opportunity for story telling. Games offer the unique advantage of being able to have the player interact with a story, to feel apart of it rather then simply a viewer. (And no, I don't simply mean by giving a player two endings to a plot. That's a cheap and overused attempt at encouraging replayablity in games.) Engaging stories and characters combined with interactivity can create an emotional experience that is at least equal to that of a well made movie, if not better.

My main point is this: There is no 'better way' to game design. Both provide unique and enjoyable experiences, and to argue that one method is better then the other is stupid. Surely having both is the best direction to head in? In fact, if gaming is to continue to develop as a medium and entertainment product (and art form, depending on your opinion on the topic), then both approaches to the medium MUST be explored. Diversity in games is a good thing.

Except the best part of the best Sid Miers Game out there, Alpha Centauri, was the social and political ramifications of emerging technologies, and how it changes what it means to be human. The philosophical content of Alpha Centauri is what addicted me to it.

Also, anyone else think that sometimes we gamers are unfairly limiting ourselves when we're talking about what does and what does not belong in a game?

Planescape Torment had no really addictive gameplay, and yet it is considered a gaming artistic masterpiece due to its riveting narrative. Half-Life broke ground by telling its story in a nearly 100% interactive way, with you never ever leaving the perspective of Gordon Freeman. X-Com had no overarching narrative, but you constructed your own stories through the dramatic and tense confrontation with aliens.

These are ALL games and they ALL have narrative and gameplay, they are simply going about constructing it in different ways.

What GAMERS should be AGAINST is not how a game's narrative and gameplay are intertwined...rather, we should be AGAINST doing it POORLY.

A game that crams a shitty narrative down your throat with crappy cinematics is just as bad as a game that lets you wander aimlessly through a freeform sandbox with no direction or objective.

In other words: Rage against implementation, not style. Even if a style does not fit your ken, you can still objectively say that OTHER people might like it. But everyone hates crappy implementation.

Woodsey:
I completely disagree, mostly on this: "Games are problem generators. They create streams of challenges that we love to solve - over and over and over. It is this, rather than narrative or emotional engagement that defines a good game - the other stuff can be left to films and books; they do it pretty well."

Whilst I do not disagree that problem-solving can often be the most attractive part of some games, there are plenty of games where the greatest reward is simply advancing through the story. To disregard that with such a statement is a little insulting to the developers who work so hard to push narrative.

Trying to say that narrative can be left films and books ignores the fact that game narratives are very different: whilst films and books require no input (other than watching/reading), game narratives actively need the player to progress them.

It's because of that that the advancement of story can be just as rewarding as the completion of a puzzle within a game. The latter often leads to the former anyway.

Nice article though.

I completely agree. For oh so very many games I've played, the only thing driving me through it is the story. Mostly games with terrible terrible gameplay.
However, that isn't to say hat a game with good gameplay couldn't interest me story wise.
In fact, right now I'm playing Tales of Vesparia. Whilst the gameplay is fun, it's really the story I'm playing it for.

Gotta say i disagree.

A moment that defines this that i have found recently is the last trial in Heavy Rain.

It was the combination of the interactivity and the emotional attachment to the character that made the decision, not a problem that needed solving (i failed the test BTW, despite now knowing the outcome either way).

But then again I'm not a fan of Tetris and the like, so I cant really relate.

Vanilla Vanish:
As a massive fan of Sid Meier's Civ series AND of the great narrative-based games produced by Bioware, I cannot completely agree with the statement that:

"Games are problem generators. They create streams of challenges that we love to solve - over and over and over. It is this, rather than narrative or emotional engagement that defines a good game - the other stuff can be left to films and books."

It is true that many games are defined by the continuous stream of choices and challenges that a player must undergo. For the sake of not repeating your article, I'll simply say that he success of the Civ series proves this to be true.

But to say that narrative has a 'lesser' place in game design is absurd. Games provide a great opportunity for story telling. Games offer the unique advantage of being able to have the player interact with a story, to feel apart of it rather then simply a viewer. (And no, I don't simply mean by giving a player two endings to a plot. That's a cheap and overused attempt at encouraging replayablity in games.) Engaging stories and characters combined with interactivity can create an emotional experience that is at least equal to that of a well made movie, if not better.

My main point is this: There is no 'better way' to game design. Both provide unique and enjoyable experiences, and to argue that one method is better then the other is stupid. Surely having both is the best direction to head in? In fact, if gaming is to continue to develop as a medium and entertainment product (and art form, depending on your opinion on the topic), then both approaches to the medium MUST be explored. Diversity in games is a good thing.

Hi! Welcome to the Escapist. Excellent first post, you made all of the points I wanted to make.

There are a lot of players out there like myself who cannot stomach a game when the story is terrible, even if the gameplay itself is good. Far Cry did that for me. There came a point for me where I just stopped caring about the dumb characters and even dumber plot. I couldn't even make it past an hour in Gears of War before getting supremely annoyed at all of the SUPER MASCULINE MEN RARRGHHHH TESTOSTERONE.

In a game that HAS a story in the first place, the story needs to be good. If it has characters that I play and interact with, they need to be engaging because I'm going to be spending a lot of time with them. A story should never be thrown in as an afterthought. That's just emulating the faults of brainless Hollywood films.

This is why I love Bioware epics. Knights of the Old Republic will forever be my favorite game; I progressed BECAUSE I loved each and every one of the characters. It was emotionally engaging and I found myself on the edge of my seat to find out what happened next. Hell, I'd play for hours upon hours and not realize it because I was enjoying myself so much. Not only that, but the gameplay itself was infinitely fun. There were puzzles to solve and there was a great amount of strategy involved. It had everything and I was kept thinking about it long after the credits rolled.

You can't just discount classics like that. Favorites like Tetris lay a foundation, yes, but great stories build upon that basic principle of problem to solution. It gives the product depth and meaning other than solving a puzzle. I agree that a game needs to be a game, but a great story should never be discounted because it "doesn't belong".

That's just dumb.

You're a ludologist, and that's okay. Narratology is here to stay.

Though, I much prefer games with both, solid underlying game play infused with an excellent story, I can still when it comes down to it, enjoy a game's game -and- what what often amounts to interactive novels with few gameplay elements other than click here and here and on her to proceed, achem. In this regard, it is simply that I am presented with an interesting idea that is executed well in this manner that brings me true joy when playing a game.

 

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