(Today’s topic: Video Game Logic – These writings are topics that I have held in reserve and originally meant for videos but I never got around to making them. I’m releasing them on my blog as written pieces as I might eventually expand them into full videos but I don’t want them to just sit on the benches)
People don’t think it be like it is, but it do!
Using sheep to conduct reconnaissance. Jumping off a tower to land in a bit of hay. Shoot someone in the chest, “MUST HAVE BEEN MY IMAGINATION”, they exclaim loudly as you return to stealth.
These are all examples of gameplay situations that you might have already come across. Spend any amount of time thinking about it and you will realise that they not only don’t make sense but are ludicrously unrealistic. Why then, do these kinds of immersion breaking experiences happen all too often in video games?
A video game’s objective is to be ‘enjoyed’ but that could mean almost anything. Some have taken to using the word ‘engaging’ as a broader definition of what makes a good video game over other words such as ‘fun’, ‘interesting’, ‘unique’, and so on. It is of course entirely subjective, though if we look at any kind of game we could say ‘engagement’ is inconvenience with a theme—if we’re being really reductive about the whole thing.
‘Inconvenience’ is a weird thing to be looking for but what sets video games apart from other media is its interactivity and challenge. As Dara Ó Briain comedically expresses, you can’t be bad at watching a movie, listening to a song, or reading a book, but you can be bad at a video game and the game will deny you access to the rest of the game for being so.
(Warning: Strong Language)
So, inconvenience is a requirement for enjoying a game even if it’s just the inconvenience of having to control your character. Without it, there’s no challenge and you don’t get those endorphins releasing from overcoming something you initially thought impossible (hello Dark Souls). Inconvenience also creates an artificial sense of purpose—you get an objective, an aim, a goal to strive for—as it acts as a barrier to break through.
How does this relate to weird video game logic?
Well, that interactivity is what can break a game into many pieces when it really should be one. Gameplay is something that rarely exist in other mediums and it’s often the case where the writers of the story don’t fully sync up with what’s in the heads of the game developers, or the other way around. It could also be a case where the theme or setting of a game doesn’t match the gameplay. The lack of synchronisation between story and theme with the gameplay leads to us experiencing ‘video game logic’.
Plus the fact that collecting trophies is so not Batman.
Ludonarrative Dissonance—Story/Gameplay Conflict
Ah, we get to the term that’s become somewhat controversial and generally pretentious sounding but lets keep it simple. What this is really about is when the story of a game is telling you to behave in a certain way but the gameplay rewards you for doing otherwise. Like in the new Tomb Raider games where Lara is shown in cutscenes to be unfamiliar with guns and fearful of harming living things then off you go into the wilderness to mow down your enemies by shooting them in the face multiple times without remorse. Here’s a handy video about it by Jim Sterling:
(Warning: Strong Language)
It’s about how gameplay and story come together and if they come together badly we get a conflict. As Mr Sterling says it, “A contradiction of premise and practice”.
Sim-toy Dissonance—Realistic or Cartoony?
Not another dissonancy thing! Let’s stay basic and just ask if the game is realistic or cartoony and don’t get me started on what is ‘realistic’ because that’s another subject entirely!
Basically, is a game trying to be more ‘believable’ in a real life sense or is it more gamey, arcadey, and toy-like? Themes could be realistic like Tomb Raider or playful like Mario Kart while mechanics tend to follow suit. The problem arises when the theme is realistic but the mechanics arcadey, much like in the new Tomb Raider games where thematically it’s trying to be very realistic and ‘survival’ but you still have your collectibles, your nemesis’ journal entries lying around the map, and machine gun upgrades in ancient tombs.
This isn’t about the story, like before, and is more about how mechanics just aren’t believable. The story has nothing to do with gun parts in tombs; it’s just a gamey/arcadey mechanic from the old days of weapon pickups in a modern ‘realistic’ game. Those mechanics can be fun and a lot of games rely on things like these to be great games but in the wrong setting it just feels weird. This causes the conflict and ‘video game logic’ becomes apparent. It’s less of an issue when a game’s theme is not realistic but the mechanics are, though that could still be a problem if it’s too jarring.
Why do we have video game logic?
- Interactivity is core to video games and generally sets it apart from other media.
- Inconvenience = gameplay
- Gameplay doesn’t match the story and/or theme = ‘video game logic’.