Press The Button To Interact...

By Suffocate Peon / December 31, 2011


Well… it’s happened. I’m a jaded gamer. The doctor prescribed a £109 Nintendo DS bundle and daily takings of Ouendan. And sure, I’m cured; the Nintendo DS is the best thing since melting slugs by pouring salt on them as a small child… whatever. But living in JadedLand got me thinking, mainly stuff along the lines of "playing games is fucking shit, so why do I continue this self-imposed torture?" And all it takes for that question to arise is to play a rubbish, rubbish game and all it takes for it to be momentarily answered is to play a brilliant, brilliant game. A reminder. Aha! THAT’s why!
   Imagine a dreadful world of games of the same crappy quality. There would be no comparing of the bad to the good; it’d just be one smoggy blur; game A plays like game B. So, thankfully, there are the odd exceptions that we play and go "Oh my! I’m enjoying this, why doesn’t game A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K give me this level of satisfaction?" So then, the BIG question 174 words in; why do we all play games? (So big in fact, that’s the second time I’ve asked it.) Is it the need to finish, clock, complete, obtain every item, collect every humbug, and see the revered 100% on the game screen that keeps you playing well after its one trick has become stale? Or is it apparently fun? …What is fun? Remind me again…
   I say this because while sitting on the sofa for hours on end doing precisely sod all bores my tits off, it’s generally not hard, it’s not stressful and it’s definitely not work. And, y’know, twiddling my thumbs around and pressing buttons on a controller isn’t exactly hard work either, but nor is being sat at a desk rearranging documents and applying paper clips. And yet that job sounds mindless, tedious, repetitive and just plain dull.
   "Mindless", "tedious" and "repetitive" — remind you of a few games you’ve played? Try sitting there for hours on end simply twiddling that dual shock "analogue stick" around while pressing a few buttons without actually playing a videogame and if that doesn’t transmute you into a grouchy bastard maybe that low-paid desk job really is for you. But it’s what’s happening on-screen that makes it fun, I know, I know. But why? Interaction then, surely? If I’m pressing buttons and twiddling sticks and nothing on-screen is reacting then I’m going to be an unhappy gamer. Or worse, the on-screen action is reacting to my every demand and I’m still not enjoying it, what then?...
   A little fact for you now; Perfect Dark is a better experience than Timesplitters 2. Okay, so not fact, but common knowledge. With TS: Future Perfect, Free Radical took an abrupt u-turn on their stance on whether blood is acceptable in slapstick humour. Clearly, the absence of blood in both TS and TS2 had more to do with widening the game’s audience, not heightening the game experience. Shooting enemies without sufficient reaction is simply not fun.
   I want blood and I want a thumping sound signifying the enemy I’ve just shot is genuinely damaged and in pain. Playing Timesplitters 2 feels like there’s a transparent glass screen preventing me from interacting with the game.
   Perfect Dark’s regular death animation is a thumping noise with claret spraying everywhere as the enemy yells out "You bitch!" Which contrasts with TS2’s take on a death animation; the enemy performs a soundless dance as sparks fly out from his "body". Sparks are apparently less offensive than blood. Not as satisfying though. And that’s the point; games should offer satisfaction and they only do that if you, the player, actually interacts with the game. Otherwise, you may as well just watch colourful cutscenes and forget the game entirely, and we know how entertaining those are, don’t we Mr M.G. Solid?
   I remember playing Driver and aiming my car at civilians. I wanted to run them over, I wanted them to yell, and I wanted blood in the air and on my smashed windscreen. I didn’t want them to be programmed to always dodge my car even to the extent of performing a magic illusion (a glitch, in other words). It takes away player freedom, and player interaction. It’s another kind of wall. But GTA smashed it down. I was astonished, I was thrilled, and I was suddenly having fun again. And I’m not the only one.
   Some consider Frequency and Ouendan to be among the gaming greats. In the former, if you simply sit there and stare no music will be created; do the opposite however and you quickly become central to the music; you press buttons and the game responds. To me, that’s having a substantial impact on the game. It’s a creation tool that works so well because of the interaction process of button press>instrument noise>music. In the latter, a jittery musical sound accompanies the tapping of the spheres on-screen along with a caricatured explosion and matching Japanese text. And this combination of visual and aural interactivity heightens the game’s addictive quality. Sure, it’s a simple point to make, but it's far more critical to the player’s feeling of involvement than anything else. And it’s that tingling feeling you experience upon playing the game after a prolonged absence that spells out to you why you’re sat down, stylus-in hand tapping a screen. After all, a videogame is simply those 2 second moments repeated hundreds of times. Get it right once, get the player addicted in those 2 seconds of pure interaction, and you’ve got a game worth playing for 200 hours. And when it goes to plan and you’re playing insanely well, hitting every note, the experience is so captivating to the point where (as noted by an Ouendan player): "nothing else in the world matters at that moment in time". Now, that doesn’t sound like the words of a jaded gamer, now, does it?