The request of The Omar, the cyborg black marketeers of Deus Ex: Invisible War, is made when you throw something at them, repeatedly. It’s a little strange to hear this retort each and every time you throw a lamp, or cup at their heads but if you are constantly bombarding them with junk and getting the same reaction is the problem with the game or the manner in which the you are playing it? Might it actually be sensible to do as you have been asked and modify your behaviour?
Reading Sande Chen’s article on Gamasutra (Towards More Meaningful Games) and especially the comments, started me thinking on the role the of both the player and the design in crafting a game narrative. Do players have a responsibility to abide by certain guidelines and accept certain restrictions in order to get the most from a game narrative? In essence should there be some implicit gameplay contract between player and designer?
Something akin to:
“Provided I act in a manner consistent with my character and their role in the world and accept certain limitations on my freedom, you will ensure that I am engaged, entertained and that all my actions have meaningful consequences.”
With films there’s a tacit acceptance of certain conventions and strictures of the format in the name of entertainment. Audiences will accept montages, flashback, slow-motion and even split screen if it aids the telling of the story. All too often it feels like games are seen as simulations over entertainment, instead of accepting certain restrictions both players and developers are more concerned with authentic simulation.
A simulation can be entertaining; but entertainment is not simulation. It’s simply not possible for a game to be good at everything, or to be able to respond meaningfully to every possible player action, unless those actions are heavily, often artificially, restricted.
All games feature boundaries, and the more realistic or simulation based the game the more obvious those boundaries can become. They have even become clichéd, the doors than can’t be opened, or the invisible walls. Players should be encourage to explore the possibilities of the content that does exists, but if they go off and try and explore an area that is far from where they need to be, or start to act in a manner that is out of context with the situation should the onus be on the developer to anticipate that action and cater to it? Should a player baulk at a brief lose of direct control if it actually serves to improve their emotional engagement?
Suspension of disbelief is an active thing, it requires that those who want to achieve it consciously turn off their more critical faculties in the service of entertainment. Sometimes in order to be effectively engaged we need to be looking in a certain direction or behaving in a certain manner. Is this why some are more willing than others to overlook the sometimes odd conventions of a game like Metal Gear Solid, because they have made an implicit agreement with the game to accept it’s idiosyncrasies in the name of entertainment?
So might players not owe it to themselves be more forgiving, to enter into a contract with the designer whereby they will except some necessary restrictions in return for an enjoyable engaging experience?