Saturday, 2 March 2013

It's not allowed to be a game

Recently I watched TotalBiscuit's take on Dear Esther. And then Downloadable just had an episode on it. In both cases, neither of them wanted to call this a game. Downloadable called it an 'experience', TotalBiscuit just flat out refused to classify it, just saying 'not a game'.

This raises the obvious question of 'what is a game?' (as Errant Signal recently asked). However it's defined (and no-one gives a definition when talking about Dear Esther), Dear Esther is cited as an example of what it is not.

Which annoys me. In one sense... who are you to say this isn't a game? If you aren't even going to give a definition of what a game is, how are you claiming that this isn't? It's just I know it when I see it, which is an entirely subjective meaning and personal opinion, which is no help at all aside from whether or not you agree with the person on other matters and would thus align yourself with their consideration of this. (This also gets into the lack of real meaning of anything.)

The real problem is that this is the heap fallacy: if there was a button to press, would that make it a game? What if you had to find a key in level one that you used in level four to open the gate to the signalling tower? What if there was one puzzle where you had to move a boulder to divert some water? Or you needed matches to light torches? Or had to avoid something slowly stalking after you? Or you had to defend yourself against an attacker? Or you had to run and gun your way across the island to activate a beaker to save mankind?

At what point does this 'not a game' become 'a game'? I'd bet there's no clear cut so you can just get over your distaste that the entertainment you enjoy also includes this piece of software.

(On the other hand, it might just be that I liked the game [YES, I CALLED IT A GAME! DEAL WITH IT!!!] and am just being defensive.)



Holly Dotson said...

While this is a little vague, it'd fall a little closer in line with totalbiscuits definition of game which would be a line of interaction that equates to more than moving to the next set piece/page.

A great example of the distinction to me is found in Japanese visual novels. Visual novels that fall into the 'game' category, like kanon, and a dozen other porny ones become games when there is the required action for choice and consequences to those actions, even minor ones.

A kinetic novel (ala Planetarian, or Narcissu) which has no choice, but you click through the story would not be a game, but a digitally rendered tale.

While Dear Esther's story may be slightly randomized, you don't have any impact on it as far as one can tell. The main thing your 'choices' do seem to be wasting your own time.

Gone Home fits the term game to me because it's engine does actually give consequence to your actions and there can actually be emergent gameplay (like me making my -own- pillow fort about halfway through the game)

Jamas Enright said...

Thanks for the comment!
Interesting you refer to the level of impact. What impact on the story do you want to have? I've heard people complain about how in some games they get a little bit of story, then they need to do some gameplay to get to the next piece of story. The story is all worked out, you are just getting to the next bit of it.
(As an example, because I've just played it, Tomb Raider. You are doing things, and yet the story is exactly the same every time.)
This streamlines the gameplay down to 'move forward' to get the next bit of the story, which seems too much... but my question is: when is it too far? What do you need for it to be a game?