Sunday, June 16, 2013

Should "fun" be a requirement for videogames?

As I watch playthroughs of The Walking Dead and The Last of Us, the same thought keeps popping up in my head: why would I ever want to play this?

I thought about why I think this, and I believe it's because I don't see a shred of fun in either game. And this got me to thinking: should "fun" be a requirement for videogames?

Now, of course, there are videogames that have less-than-stellar game design that result in them no being very fun, but at least the developers intention was to have the game be fun. But, with the games: The Walking Dead and The Last of Us, they look, imo, to be made intentionally not to be fun. Now, this lack of fun is to drive home the horror experience and help deliver the heavy themes of the story home better; I understand this execution, and I also respect it, as both games deliver very impactful experiences. However, was it "wrong" for the developers to do so with a videogame? Well, according to every professional videogame critic on the internet: no, but here's my interpretation ...

Videogames are an artform, but they are a specific type of artform, just as movies, paintings, music, etc. are a specific type of artform. Each of them has specific factors that they must contain to be part of their artform; for example, paintings need a canvas, music needs sound, and movies need film (I know there are exceptions to this rule, like that silent orchestra thing, but bear with me). And videogames, at their core, are games that need to be played. Perhaps I am too narrow minded, but I feel that the concept of "play" directly coincides with "fun"; and thus, videogames should require some sort of fun factor. A factor I just don't see in The Walking Dead and The Last of Us. The reason being that both games directly go out of their way to make sure you understand how heavy the themes of the story are and that your actions should be taken seriously; whether it be seeing the consequences of your actions play out in often gruesome fashion in The Walking Dead, or Ellie's consistent disgusted reactions to Joel's killing of people; there is no "fun" element to be found.

Other videogames that go for the "visual experience" execution of gaming have similar ideas; such as how Yorda shrieks in fear when Ico gets hurt, or how Snake will throw up if he's killed a lot of soldiers in MGS4. But the difference between these games and The Walking Dead/The Last of Us, is that games like Ico, the MGS series, Odin Sphere, Journey, Shadow of the Colossus, and Killer7, is that, despite having an execution that drives home various heavy themes, they are still all very much videogames; as they have elements such as puzzles, combat mechanics, collecting, etc. Things that make them feel very much like videogames; things that give them a "fun factor". And while The Last of Us does have elements such as combat and collecting, they aren't present to neccessarily reward skill, but rather push the player to kill in a different manner; simply a means to an end to drive home the tone of the story.

So what does this all mean? Well, both The Walking Dead and The Last of Us have been not only universally praised, but hailed as new steps in gaming. And if I were to ask myself why these games were being praised as such, I'd think it was because of they'er lack in fun. Because, without that "fun factor" both games have achieved something else, something beyond simple gaming. I suppose I'd say they may have transcended the videogame artform and become something else. A fusion of videogame and film perhaps? A videogame that can actually criticize and judge on its own merits perhaps?

Whatever these two games accomplished, its impressive. However, was it worth it? Is it worth losing the factor of fun, the core essence of videogames, to become something greater?

This laid-back guy says "No!". I know I'm just a simple guy, so my opinion means close to nothing, but I'd just thought I'd put it out there. Videogames can be amazing experiences, but, at their core, there should always be some fun to be had. If not, then I feel that the videogame loses what makes videogames so unique.  An experience that brings us joy and entertainment through means that no other artform can provide: fun and immediate interaction.

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