Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

God of War III – A Game?

I’m currently trying to get a grant for my dissertation which would deal with the question of how to measure meaningful decisions in games and how those actually impact the fun had by players. Many a game designer has been preaching the importance of meaningful decisions, as have I, yet one of the best reviewed games this year, God of War III, surely would rate poorly on a scale measuring those.

God of War III - game or movie?

The amount of interaction in God of War III is limited to surviving fights and platform sequences and a series of quicktime events and every time the potential outcomes are only “die” and “continue on your path”. Nothing you do affects the later developments of the game in any way so one might even say that the amount of meaningful decisions is pretty much zero. Yet I’m having my share of fun with the game.

This clearly shows something that I’m sure most of you knew already anyway: decision making is not the only element that can make a game fun. An interesting story, bombastic graphics, and challenging action sequences can all create a sense of enjoyment and do so in God of War III for sure. Most of these elements can be found in movies as well, however. Maybe reducing the amount of choices available doesn’t necessarily make the game less fun but less of a game instead?

Yahtzee calls games like God of War spectacle fighters and that term is very fitting. The whole game is a bombastic light show full of blood, metal, and boobs with some fighting sequences sprinkled in. Without going deep into the definitions of what a game is, only the fighting and platforming parts could fit into any reasonable one of those definitions. Even then, the platforming sequences are more puzzles than games and the fighting sequences rather isolated events. God of War would be god-awful (no pun intended) when uncoupled from its presentation because there would be hardly any gameplay left over once you did that.

I can’t help wondering if there is a good definition of games to be found in this uncoupling of presentation and gameplay. If there is nothing interesting left once you remove the presentation, you are talking about a movie and not a game.

But, you say, God of War III is fun, so why should we care? A good question indeed. For one, I have an academic interest in these kinds of questions that you may or may not share. These findings also give us some insight into actually designing games, however, because movies follow different rules than actual games. In a game I don’t mind retrying a difficult fight a couple of times before I get it right, while in a movie I would quickly get bored if the action got interrupted by some repetitive scene of the protagonist failing at something. One of my biggest issues with GoW III stems from this fact. I’m not a very good console player and I often fail at the platforming sequences in the game, meaning I have to repeat them over and over again while the spectacle is on hold.

Chris Crawford puts game definitions into perspective. (image: Chris Crawford on Game Design, 2003)

I’ve had the game for more than a month now and I still haven’t finished it because I tend to get so annoyed by these gaps in the action that I turn off my Playstation in disgust and don’t touch the game for a while. The fighting sequences show how it’s done right – they are full of spectacle themselves and, most importantly, can be tuned to a difficulty level that suits me. I don’t play God of War for the challenges but for the spectacle and the difficulty settings allow me to feel spectacularly powerful while moving through my enemies. The platforming sequences on the other hand can’t be modified in difficulty and are therefore not something I just breeze through. Instead, I have to stop the flow of the game and focus on timing my jumps just right for a couple of minutes.

I suppose the game design lesson to take from this is not that decision making is absolutely vital to a good game, but that you need to be aware of what kind of game you are making (and how much of a game it really is) and design your challenges accordingly.

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