Game or Watch? What Makes A Game Great?

Gamers always have differences of opinion. What makes this industry fun (or maybe nightmarish?) is that the fans are incredibly outspoken and passionate enough to wage wars upon one another over their various points of view.

Although we can be broken down into dozens upon dozens of categories, today I would like to focus on two types of gamers who so often fail to see eye to eye. They are a) those who play primarily for the story that games tell, and b) those who seek refined mechanice and challenge. This is not to say that individuals can’t represent certain degrees of both styles, but that many find one end of this spectrum to far outweigh the other.

I’m sure we all know someone (or maybe this is you) who cares for little other than jumping online and seeking out the most competitive gaming environments possible. For this gamer, storytelling is limited to the recounted tales of his or her last multiplayer session, where an attack strategy played out so flawlessly that it nearly brought tears to the eyes of everyone involved.

Or maybe someone is not the competitive type, but still reaches for games such as Ninja Gaiden (as I’ve been doing over the past few days), where the gameplay mechanics are so well designed that once one gains a solid understanding of how controller commands dictate the final, in-game actions, it flows like poetry in motion.

Both of these gamers can be classified as the “gameplay type.”

Then there are the story whores. These are the people (again, like myself) who will sit down and play the latest Silent Hill, knowing full well that the combat vaguely resembles using chopsticks to slam cardboard cutouts against one another and that the gameplay will inevitably make them feel more than slightly frustrated, if only to experience the deranged events that take place within the game universe. These are also the people who play Final Fantasy games religiously, using the finely crafted, fantastic narrative to justify spending hours upon hours of selecting menu items to attack the same dozen or so enemies in the game.

These sad folk can be referred to as the “story type.”

As I said earlier, preferences for either of these classifications aren’t as simple as black and white, and I’m sure everyone would prefer all games to have phenomenal gameplay with totally engaging plots, but that is rarely the case, and at some point, players will find that they allow their games to err more on one end than on the other.

But which is more important?

My contention to this, although I consider myself one of the most all-around gamers I know and try to embrace as many different types of games as I can, is that a game’s story (concept) is the defining characteristic, the factor that turns something good into something great, and what makes each game special. It is a tough call, because nobody really wants to play games with crappy gameplay, and one can argue that once the main storyline is over, the game has been tapped dry, but is it really?

Will extended online competition or tinkering with physics engines eventually get old, or even become obsolete over a long enough time frame? Perhaps. But does an incredible, engaging, and oftentimes emotional experience last far longer than any play session? I think so.

Which brings me to June 12th, and the spark that originally ignited this flame of cogitation — Metal Gear Solid 4. There has been quite a bit of uproarious discourse regarding one particular aspect of this game, and that it the length of its cutscenes versus the time players will actually spend playing the game. I say that people are complaining just to complain.

The Metal Gear Solid series has proven its chops over the years, and has earned its place among the greatest narrative franchises in the history of video games. Anyone who has played previous Metal Gear Solid games, even if the gameplay wasn’t anything revolutionary, has come away with something unforgettable. If the cinematic execution of expert storytelling is what propels a game to the next level, then I expect Metal Gear Solid 4 to achieve hall of fame status, and then some.

I’ll just make sure I bring the popcorn…


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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