Narrative Quality Or Mechanics?
Games have been evolving past the usual “shoot stuff and blow things up” type of mindset and has started branching out into different forms. One of these forms has gathered a significant amount of popularity recently and that’s so called “narrative focused” games. The likes of Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, The Novelist and many others. The Steam community has come up with a creative term for these types of games and that’s “walking simulators”. These games have you doing nothing of significant value in terms of gameplay, but are rather narrative experiences that you’re merely a witness to.
Now, I’m a fan of these types of games. I play so many games with complex mechanics that I like to just unwind with a little narrative driven experience from time to time that doesn’t really require me to put that much effort into it. I consider them interactive movies more than anything else because they don’t require me to shoot everything in the head or jump around a bunch of puzzles. But there are “hardcore” gamers that despise these sort of games simply because there isn’t any challenge involved in playing them.
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If you ask me, these narrative driven games have their place within the gaming landscape because they offer something different than your standard twitch based gameplay. They are essentially interactive art. A living painting that you can control and manipulate while you’re taking in the experience. But I do see where all this hate is coming from. Many people are hesitant to even call them games mainly because generally games let you do stuff within them to get some form of entertainment whereas these games just have you walking from point A to B and experiencing a story in between.
I’ve spoken to or heard of gamers that hated Gone Home because “you can’t do anything in it”, but that was kind of the point. The game gave you a house that you can explore and you can listen to tapes or dick around with boxes and in the process of doing that, become involved in a love story of all things. That certainly took me by surprise when I first played the game because that’s not something you often see in games. The games I usually play involves me being a hetero white dude with a dick and a gigantic gun and after playing so many of these games, I’ve grown bored of it. A game where you learn about a lesbian relationship filled with interpersonal conflict is just something… refreshing.
I believe it all boils down to what you want in your games. Some people like complex and engaging mechanics along to entertain them while others prefer to have a nice narrative experience to stimulate their mind and make them think. Sometimes you can even get both ala The Last of Us. A combination of both narrative quality and engaging gameplay. That’s a match made in heaven because you have two big draws of gaming put into one complete package. If every game was like that then the medium would be a lot more credible than it already is.
Narrative quality is something that is evolving within games. More and more developers tend to focus more on the narrative than making sure that your pewpew is taking down the other men with pewpews. I think it’s great. But not everyone is me. Most gamers enjoy being able to blow the heads off some foreigners because it gives them that caveman-like enjoyment and fulfills their power fantasies. There’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s how you get your entertainment, then more power to you.
Whether you like “walking simulators” and narrative quality games is entirely subjective. So I ask you this: do you enjoy a good narrative or do you much prefer to have some complex mechanics? Or do you like both? And why?