Video Games As More Than Gameplay

Video games are unique as a medium. If you went to read a book you'd likely be looking for well written characters and a good story. If you go to see a movie you're probably looking for both of those things along with good cinematography. If you go to play a game though you could be looking for anything from visuals to story to characters to gameplay. Different people will weigh these factors differently and many will tell you that gameplay is the single most important thing in any game, but lets talk about that and the importance of other factors in comparison to gameplay.

The argument for gameplay as the most important factor in a game isn't a hard one to make. Gameplay is arguably what makes a game what it is. Without gameplay then what's the point of calling it a game and charging $60? You can also point to old games like Pac-Man or Super Mario Bros that manage to be great games that people still enjoy today even while those games lack any other standout features. I'm not really here to argue that gameplay isn't important, in fact depending on the game it may indeed be the most important, but many people fail to appreciate the fantastic amount of variation in our medium.


The first example I'd like to use is Thatgamecompany's Journey. Journey is an utterly fantastic game. It's reasonably priced, has great visuals, and is fun to play through. I have never played another game that exuded such raw emotion. This game was well received and is loved by many, but is its gameplay anything fantastic? Not particularly. You run around, don't really solve puzzles, don't fight anything, you do some basic platforming and run around a lot. Why then did I sit down at my PS3 the night that Journey came out, ready to disagree with the world because there was no way that a game could be that good in that short of a time frame, and then immediately become so fully immersed in that beautiful scenery that I was sad when I lost track of one of the other nameless people online who had wandered into my world?

How about a game that isn't trying to be the ideal example of video games as art? How about a game like Telltale's recent adaptation of Fables: The Wolf Among Us. This is another game that has been well received. It tells a good story, has interesting characters, and yet has very limited gameplay. You do control a character in The Wolf Among Us and you do walk around a world and interact with other characters and do things, but in the grand scheme of things, and in comparison to the large majority of video games, there is very little actual gameplay. You look for clues in the environments and make choices but there isn't really much of a way to fail. This isn't like an old Sierra point and click adventure game like King's Quest where you could leave a room and go the rest of the game without realizing that you missed something necessary to complete the game. Is this game worse off because of its lack of more compelling gameplay?


On the other hand, games like Crytek's Crysis series are paramounts of visual fidelity. They rely on your love of beautiful visuals and "run and gun" gameplay (and your sense of exploration if you're playing the first game) to carry you through relatively mediocre stories with no real interesting characters to speak of. It's fun to go full on Predator and sneak around cloaked, firing arrows from a bush to take battalions down one man at a time, and it's certainly nice to look at, but it's not gonna be for anyone who wants to hear a great story. And if you enjoy any of those games after the point where aliens show up then god bless you.

For the sake of fairness we could easily point out plenty of games that absolutely rely on gameplay to be successful. Look to just about anything that Platinum releases! Metal Gear Rising, Bayonetta, these games thrive on fast and fun gameplay. It's the reason they exist at all. The stories they tell and the writing for the characters is anything but fantastic, but that's not intended to be the draw of those games.


The ideal game, at least in my opinion, would be a balance of all these things. An interesting story, well written characters, fun gameplay, and beautiful visuals. Whether or not a game scratches those itches for you the way it scratches them for someone else is obviously subjective. Personally I find that Last of Us manages to balance these things well. It's a gorgeous game, I enjoy the gameplay, I find the characters interesting, and I like the story. It's set in a zombie-esque world (something that we can probably all agree is a bit overdone) but the game isn't about the "zombies", it's about a man and his evolution from a cold and selfish guy who is just trying to survive and protect this girl because its his job to someone who is protecting her because she means something to him. That may be how I feel, but I know for a fact that plenty of others disagree with me, and that's okay.


Now I'm not here to try and tell you that you should start liking games for different reasons, I just want to show you the importance of variety. The way that you weigh the different factors that make a video game against each other is entirely up to you. No one can rightly tell you that you're wrong for liking a game for its graphics even though the gameplay is mediocre, and no one can tell you that you're wrong for liking a game for its gameplay even if the story is terrible. You should enjoy the games that you enjoy. Never let someone else's opinion of a game make you feel like you shouldn't enjoy it.

Just appreciate the fact that others play games for different reasons than you and have different tastes. I personally have never seen the huge draw that Uncharted has. I dislike the "fight off 15 guys, move 5 feet, fight off 15 more guys" type of gameplay in a game that's supposedly about a treasure hunter / explorer, and I really hate the "we don't believe in anything supernatural even though every game we fight off supernatural things" trope and the fact that they constantly break up the male and female leads so they can redo the same love story every game, but to each their own. The fact that there are so many different games for people of so many different tastes is one of the biggest strengths of the video game medium. If you take anything from this piece then take this: variety is indeed the spice of life, and that absolutely applies to video games.

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