Thursday, July 05, 2012

Gameplay meets game play meets mechanics within gameplay.

While you wrap your brain around that title, I wanted to talk about the need for gameplay with video games. A number of people will focus on the story, character development, and mostly graphics (go reviewers go!). Very few will discuss the importance of gameplay, which I think helps make or break a game’s success.

But there’s a challenge in all of this because we don’t really have a standard definition for gameplay. Some believe that it’s the interactive aspects built into the game that allow the user to play. There is the argument that it’s another way to say “game mechanics” which are the rules in the game that allow the user to enjoy it. In general, the consensus is that gameplay allows video games to be distinguished from other mediums for its interactive quality versus paper books and film.

The Ambiguity section of the Wikipedia article is probably the best example on why it is difficult to incorporate gameplay into a review for a product. Sid Meier relates gameplay to a series of choices. There’s one definition that it is the interactive process of the player with the game. Or how about this “[a] good game is one where you can win by doing the unexpected and making it work.”

It’s a hodgepodge when you get to it. No one person has the same definition. We can all sort of agree that it has something to do with the game and the playing of said game.

I feel that the true definition of gameplay is an amalgamation of multiple definitions. It we take the concept of game mechanics, include the game designer’s goal, and how users play the game, we can come up with an idea on what gameplay is: A series of mechanics, both intentional and abstract from what the designer pre-disposed, that allows the user to interact with and creates the context for the game.

Take that Webster!

I feel that gameplay is best represented in both how the developer designed the product to be played, and how the user ends up playing the game. In some cases with the latter, that means breaking the game within the laws of what’s possible. Grand Theft Auto for example. We know that RockStar did not intend to make it a game where you can beat up hookers for money after you sleep with them to regenerate your health. But that’s well within the mechanics of the game, and evolved the gameplay for the user.

It's like skipping rocks on water. Just with a Mog.
Come on. It'll be fun, you weird white fluffy stuffed animal.
One of my recent favorites is from FFXIII-2 where you gain the ability to throw Mog, Serah’s moogle/bow buddy, to pick up hidden treasure chests. Obviously you’re suppose to throw the moogle. I don’t think the developers intended it to be so enjoyable; the way that he bounces and squeeks as he gets chucked across the field. A few of us began to make it a game to see how far, or how creative of a throw. Sometimes it was to see how many times we could get Mog to bounce in a ravine, or who would be the first to peg the cactuar statue from an impossible distance. Clearly, not the intent of the game developers, but it became a part of the gameplay once it was placed into our hands.

Gameplay can have a big impact on how the product is perceived. You can take something like GTA and review it as a driving simulation game, or a cops and robbers where you pick which side you want to be. It’s all within the design created by the developers and the consumer can manipulate it to their desires. This isn’t hacking; this is all within the context of what has already been created.

This is an aspect of a video game that can completely transform it. I’d be more inclined to read more gaming magazines if reviews applied the gameplay to their criteria. How did they play the game in order to achieve their responses? Did they follow the guidelines presented to them by the developer or wander off on their own to play the game their way?

This isn’t a new concept either. Think back to some of the first RPG’s. Grinding wasn’t an inherent trait of the genre. There were monsters, random battles and their purpose was to help you progress in levels to defeat the next boss. However, the idea of getting to level 99/100 before you continue with the game was not the intended design. We as gamers came up with that. “Why go smack this level 20 boss when I’m 18? I don’t want that challenge. I’m going to grind and power level until I’m 30.”It affected your perception and gameplay of the product.

That’s the key right there. Your perception of the game is how you interact with it, therefore determining its fate. Think about the next game you play. Do you feel restricted by the rules that the developers have placed on you? Do you like those rules? Are you more concerned about how to circumvent the established system? Have you tried doing something considered “not normal” for that game (i.e. not shooting anyone to complete your objective in an FPS) but it’s within the rule-set?

It may put a whole new perspective on a product that you love or hate.

Gameplay is one of those aspects that I feel could use more development and reviewing (literally and figuratively). Imagine all of those reviews of really great or really crappy games according to the reviewers. How do we know that they were playing the way the game was intended, or not trying something new outside of the confines of the instruction manual? I know I’m not suppose to intentionally throw Mog around to see how many times he’ll bounce on a cliff, but it put a new spin on the game for me.

Personally, I’d love to see more gameplay discussions implemented into reviews. I’d like to know how the reviewer played the game and the intent of the developers. This is beyond the “well you push this to shoot that”. I want more substance. Something to think about for future reviews~


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