Big budget “Triple A” video games are more complex and immersive than ever before. It’s gotten to the point that when you buy a major title these days, you’re buying more of an experience rather than just a game. That’s really become the point hasn’t it? Major developers aren’t trying to make just games anymore; they’re trying to create fully realized experiences. The common emphasis seems to have shifted from gameplay to everything else, elements like graphics, sound, and story. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, after all I love an attractive game with a good story just as much as everyone else, it’s just that at the end of the day a game is meant to be played. So here’s the question: are modern games made to be fun in the same way that old-school games were made to be fun?
What it comes down to is whether we are enjoying our games because they play well or because we’re enjoying the overall experience they offer. Think about it, why is a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim fun? Is it really the fighting, questing, and looting, or is it the environments, the characters, and the music, everything that accompanies the core gameplay? Or how about Mass Effect? Is the combat (the active part of the game) really what drives your experience, or is it the world you’re in, the characters you interact with, and the over-arching story? This is a question that can be asked of most any game, even one like Call of Duty MW3.
Call of Duty is a franchise infamous for its throngs of loyal followers and its near inability to change from year to year. Now there aren’t many people out there that play it for the story, characters or even environments, they play it because it plays well. However, while the fans of the game are focusing on the gameplay, what is it that its developers/publishers tend to focus on and push in marketing every year? Its graphics, “realism”, and “action”. They show you the campaign cut-scenes, explosions and the graphical fidelity. Really, this is where the focus has been trending ever since the dawn of the last console generation.
Graphics expansive environments are nice but they cannot take the place of good game play. Call of Duty, despite its publisher and stagnant reputation is at least an example that shows that what really makes a game is the gameplay, not the accompaniments. In all seriousness, if more of the budget for the game had gone towards continuous gameplay development rather than graphics, it could very well be a game that most gamers could get behind rather than being derided for being the shooter equivalent of Madden Football.
As gaming technology advances, we can’t help but want more visually impressive and immersive games. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but we must make sure that the quality of gameplay doesn’t get overlooked in favor of elements that are meant to support rather than be the focus. Otherwise we might as well just be watching movies.