So, a few months ago a furor arose over some comments made by Jennifer Hepler
, a writer at Bioware :
"While I enjoy the interactive aspects of gaming, if a game doesn't have a good story, it's very hard for me to get interested in playing it." She even went so far as to suggest that it'd be nice if games had a "fast-forward feature" that would let her skip the vexing gameplay bits and just enjoy the writing and stories."
About a month ago, Shamus Young at the Escapist commented on this as well, posting in defense of it
So, let me state from the outset that I disagree with Hepler mode ... well, at least I disagree with it depending on what it is. The translaton of Hepler's suggestion seems to be about skipping the gameplay of a game, and just enjoying the story. And for that, I'd like to point out that we do indeed have things like that: books, movies, and TV shows. But as I've commented before what separates a game from those things is, in fact, gameplay. You actually do play games, which means engaging in the gameplay. If you skip all of the gameplay, then you aren't playing a game anymore, but are aiming to watch a movie. And if you really wanted to watch a movie, why are you playing a game?
Ultimately, as a story gamer, I should be inclined towards Hepler mode. After all, I generally turn the difficulty of the combat sequences way down and use any method I can to skip them. So, then, why am I not in favour of this? Because this goes far beyond deciding to focus more on the story than the gameplay or minimizing its impact. It, instead, risks making the game not a game at all. And, to be honest, games are going to be really bad at being movies. Why? Because they are designed to be GAMES, which means adding in gameplay, which means sometimes sacrificing story to make a good game. Things that are actually designed primarily to tell a story do not have that problem at all. Thus, if you're going to pick up a game, you have to know that it's meant to be a game and not a movie. And so, if Hepler just wants a story, then she can watch a movie or read a book or something like that, instead of suggesting that games should become something they're not because they happen to think that including a story makes them a better game.
Now, Shamus seems to disagree with this argument:
"Games are about gameplay!" screams the crazed purist. Actually, games are about fun ..."
Yes, but so are movies and books and sometimes even knitting. But they are meant to produce fun in different ways. For games, that's through the gameplay (mainly). So, yeah, fun through gameplay.
But as it turns out, Shamus doesn't really disagree with this:
"... but even if we accept the premise that we're here for gameplay it's worth pointing out that dialog trees are gameplay too. A properly constructed dialog wheel should let you make decisions about how things play out in the world, let you use your dialog-based skills to get your way, and uncover new lore. Why is one type of gameplay skip-able and not the other?"
Shamus is, I think, absolutely correct that dialog and other story-driven things are, in fact, gameplay too. In my various discussions on "Catherine", I pointed out that I'd love to see this team take the entire block sequence out and focus more on the character interaction gameplay. The Sims, of course, is absolutely famous for having simply living in a world as being the gameplay. So, yeah, what we need is a recognition that gameplay does not have to mean "Go out and kill things for a while". We need to expand into non-standard gameplay elements to make it so that people can enjoy the story with gameplay that's really relevant to what's being done in the game.
But in what cases is dialog really skippable? Cutscenes, of course, are often skippable, but that was added (in my opinion) for replay value or for cases where you might have died without saving; cutscenes are generally considered really important to the game experience, but if you've seen it once already do you really need to see it again? Gamers have exploited this at times to allow them to skip the story and get back to the hurting and the killing and the PAIN, but most game designers would think that that's an exploitation of the skipping mechanism, not the intent of it.
But in dialog which can change the world, how is it skippable beyond simply ignoring it? Dialog as gameplay is precisely as skippable as any other gameplay ... which is to say, hardly ever. Sure, you can click through it all quickly and simply remember to choose the first, then the second, then the first, and finally the last, but you can also run away from all the enemies to get to the next dialog section (yep, done it).
Thus, if dialog is treated as gameplay, it isn't skippable, and nor should it be. We can offer non-standard choices in gameplay. We can offer choices of a more talky or more hitty style of gameplay. We can offer ways of making the gameplay easier so that it doesn't impede someone who finds the story more interesting than the gameplay too much. But we can't eliminate gameplay altogether.
Thus, we need a helping hand, not a Heplering hand ...
Allan C. — Jun 15th 2012