Video Games as Entertainment

While reading the essays out of The Game Design Reader, I noticed that a lot of the developers talking about their development process made a specific point of saying that they tried to make their games fun. One quote in particular stuck out to me, emphasizing this point, from Ken Birdwell’s The Cabal: Valve’s Design Process for Creating Half-Life: “I had never worked on anything whose primary constraint was that ‘it had to be fun.'” This stuck out to me for several reasons, one because there were certain points during Half-Life where I remember not having much fun (too little health, too many enemies) but I remember continuing to play through the game because I was already so invested in the story and the character. Secondly, though, I have one friend in particular who believes that no game has yet been made that could be considered “art,” because games are always focused primarily on entertaining the player, on giving them a “fun” experience. This line of thought is explained somewhat by article linked to at the top of this post. I disagree with his initial claim that there is no game available right now that can be considered art (Shadow of the Colossus, Flower, Braid amongst others) but I do agree with both my friend, as well as the Destructoid article, in that games being made now are tailored mainly towards entertaining the player. It’s rare that a game comes out that actually challenges players. When’s the last time you stopped shooting aliens with your laser rifle to ask yourself, “why am I shooting these aliens?” Specifically because, for many “mainstream” video games, the story is used as an excuse to put the player in a situation where they are able to just have fun without thinking about it. Anyway, that article is pretty interesting and I recommend giving it a read. Here’s a quote to get you interested:

“If I told you that from now on, literature should only be written if it’s deep and surreal and complicated, you’d think I was a pretentious windbag. If I told you that movies should only be made if they’re loud and action-packed and pointless, you’d think I was a simpleton. Why, then, has it become socially acceptable to say that video games should only be entertaining? Or that one can only play games to be entertained?”


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